After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the impressive blue water fleet built up by Admiral of the Fleet Gorshkov soon disintegrated into almost utter irrelevance. Russia simply had no money to maintain the fleet. Further, many of the hulls were obsolescent, held in service to artificially boost fleet size.
Russia simply scrapped, abandoned, or sold off huge chunks of the fleet, focusing on maintaining a kernel of capability, primarily its nuclear armed ballistic missile submarine force.
Beginning about the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, however, as Russian economic fortunes began to improve, renewed emphasis was placed on naval capability.
The Office of Naval Intelligence recently released an overview of the Russian Navy’s past, and its current status.
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Take note that the first emphasis in renewed shipbuilding was on strategic capital ships. The top priority was to develop and deploy a new class of strategic ballistic missile submarines. The uttermost priority for Russia must be to continue to field a credible nuclear deterrence force. After that, only then does submarine building focus on attack submarines.
Contrast that with developments in the surface forces. Shipbuilding capability, particularly for warships, is quite limited. And so rather than stress building large combatants, they’ve focused on building small, but quite capable, light combatants. New classes of corvettes, light frigates, and guided missile frigates are in production. Only after serial production of these types will Russia begin development of guided missile destroyers.
Note also that concurrent with our own Navy’s CNO’s emphasis on payloads over platforms, the Russians have taken a similar stance. Whereas our own LCS has a main battery consisting of a 57mm gun and Hellfire short range missiles, the Russian light warships have a Vertical Launch System capable of firing either the KALIBER series or YAKHONT series cruise missiles.
And Russia was sending a message recently when its corvettes and frigates used KALIBER cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea to attack targets in Syria. The targets almost certainly would have been easier to service via air strikes from Russian jets based in Syria. But that wouldn’t have served to remind a whole host of nations that Russia has a currently fielded capablity to conduct deep strike missile attacks at will from a stand off range that renders the launch platforms invulnerable.
The Russian Navy is unlikely to rise again to challenge the US Navy (nor the PLAN) for control of the high seas across the globe. But it is showing that it is becoming a genuine power in the region capable of complex operations and effective results.