Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled on Monday to the northern city of Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk oblast, to speak at the ceremony marking the beginning of construction of the 4th Borei class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, and to preside over a meeting on the future naval construction program. This is the latest in a series of meetings Putin has held in visits aimed at strengthening the military capability of Russia. Previously he held meetings on the ground forces, the air force, the Strategic Rocket Forces and with the Aerospace Defense Forces. Putin underlined the importance of the naval capability of Russia.
"We feel our nation must maintain and strengthen its status as one of the world's leading naval powers," he said. "At the same time, our Navy must have the opportunity to efficiently resolve a broad set of challenges." This means both further development of the naval component of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, and secondly, building general-purpose forces capable of fending off a variety of threats. "The Navy is an instrument for defending our national economic interests, including in regions like the Arctic, which holds a rich concentration of bio-resources, as well as deposits of hydrocarbons and other natural resources," he added.
The importance of the Arctic in Putin's economic policy as well as the enhancement of Russia's engagement in the Asia-Pacific goes hand-in-hand with the need to re-build Russia's naval capability. The Northern Sea Route to the Pacific, along the Arctic coast of Eurasia, is now being labeled the "Arctic Mediterranean" by its proponents, requires new maritime capabilities for defense and for rescue operations. The shipyards at Arkhangelsk in the Arctic are also being refurbished to meet the maritime construction needs. They will also be employed for the construction of new icebreakers and for research vessels, which will have greater access now in the Arctic region for more sustained scientific research. The plan also calls for upgrading the space and satellite observation capabilities in the Arctic region.
The naval construction program that Putin laid out, calls for investing about 4.5 trillion rubles over the next several years, for the construction of 51 modern surface warships, 16 nuclear attack submarines and 8 nuclear ballistic missile submarines by 2020 (two of which are now undergoing trials), all but two of the surface ships to be built in Russian shipyards. This will allow the share of modern vessels and equipment making up the naval forces to be brought to 70 percent by 2020, Putin said. An explicit part of the program is the upgrading of Russia's defense industry, which has been slow to deliver new weapons in recent years.
He also drew attention to research and development on shipboard weapons systems, to be produced for the new vessels that will be built. Why? "Because their reliability and efficiency have always determined a ship's combat capacity, and in many cases, even led to the creation of new classes of ships." And finally, he added, "resuming the serial construction of new-generation ships should go hand-in-hand with modernizing shipbuilding enterprises and other defense industry companies. Otherwise, they will not be able to implement the state armament programme in full, or they will fail to ensure the necessary quality."