Air University Review, July-August 1982

Admiral Gorshkov and the Soviet Navy

Dr. Donald Chipman

Never in peacetime history has a nation expanded its navy as rapidly as have the Soviets in recent years. Every month new submarines, destroyers, and frigates join the Soviet Navy while aircraft carriers, cruisers, and vessels of all types continue to roll out of the Russian shipyards.1 In contrast, thirty years ago the Soviet Navy was primarily a coastal defensive force with few major surface combatants. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviets underwrote an aggressive ship construction program and began deploying their navy to the far corners of the world. Today, some experts believe the United States Navy’s "narrow margin of superiority is gone."2 Others think that the Soviet Navy has the capacity to dominate any maritime environment they choose: surface, subsurface, or air.

Of the various ways to describe the Soviet Navy, one approach is to consider the policies of the most remarkable admiral of our time, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Sergei Gorshkov (b. 1910). Not since Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), United States Navy, has any individual so dominated naval policy as has Gorshkov. Gorshkov’s ingenuity was in his ability to promote the belief that Russia’s future lay at sea. He successfully challenged the conventional dogma that classified Russia as only a land power and supplemented this with his sea power doctrine. With Gorshkov’s help, the Soviet military has suddenly developed a keen desire to dominate the maritime frontier.

For more than twenty-five years, Gorshkov has influenced Soviet naval doctrine. (In the same length of time, the United States has had nine different Chiefs of Naval Operations.) In 1956, just after assuming power, Nikita Khrushchev decided to scrap most of the Soviet Navy’s large surface combatants. Soviet Admiral of the Fleet Nikolai G. Kuznetsov disagreed so strongly that he was fired and replaced by Gorshkov.3 Eventually, Gorshkov survived Khrushchev to become one of the world’s foremost strategists and architect of the new assertive Soviet Navy. Although Gorshkov is now more than seventy years old and destined to retire, his ideas will continue to dominate future Soviet naval doctrine and maritime strategy.

Recently Gorshkov’s writings appeared in the Soviet Naval Digest, Morskoi Sbornik.4 These articles were followed by one of the most comprehensive naval publications since Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660-1783 (1918), Gorshkov’s book The Sea Power of the State.5 The Morskoi Sbornik articles and this book emphasize one constant Gorshkov theme: Russia is a maritime nation, and its destiny will depend upon the seas.

Today, after twenty-five years in which Gorshkov has controlled Soviet naval policies, there is ample evidence of his success. Russian ships are found in all parts of the globe, and their influence on United States military strategy is apparent. Thus it is appropriate to view the Soviet Naval threat in terms of Gorshkov’s doctrine. His use of Soviet Navy history, his assessment of the constraints challenging his navy, and his outline of the various Soviet naval missions provide a common theme by which to evaluate this new maritime threat.

Soviet Naval History

Like Mahan, Gorshkov used history to demonstrate the necessity for a strong navy. Drawing on various history lessons, Gorshkov suggested that most Russian czars failed to use sea power properly. The exception was Peter the Great, whom Gorshkov credits with the founding of the first Russian fleet. About 1700, Peter decided to build a navy. He hired Dutch and English engineers to construct these first Russian ships. Soon, the Russians were at war with Sweden. In a series of Baltic Sea battles, the Russians successfully drove Sweden from the region.6 Since Peter was one of the few czars who understood sea power, Gorshkov often quoted him: "Every potentate who has only ground forces has only one hand; yet whoever has a navy, too, has both hands."7

After Peter, no czar contributed significantly to Russian naval development. In 1853, for instance, the Russians were defeated by the French and English navies and subsequently forbidden to have a fleet in the Black Sea.8 Misuse of the navy continued into the twentieth century. In 1904 and 1905, the Japanese overwhelmed the Russians in two major naval battles. Initially, the Japanese surprised and fatally crippled the Russian Pacific Fleet at Port Arthur in the Yellow Sea. Gorshkov researched this surprise attack and included it in his doctrine, calling this a tactic of "The Battle of the First Salvo."9 In a second battle, the Japanese sank the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Tsushima Strait.10 Thus concluded Gorshkov, the czars did not understand how to develop or deploy their navy, and they suffered for this deficiency.

With the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution, Gorshkov had to tread lightly, trying to indicate navy deficiencies yet not offend any of the Communist elite. He accomplished this by overlooking naval ineffectiveness and concentrating on the Marxist-Leninist concerns for a strong navy. Since the navy’s activities were inconsequential in World War I, Gorshkov had to search for something significant to praise. He decided to stress the loyal Communist theme, pointing out that Russian sailors were the first to join the Bolshevik Revolution. "The cruiser Aurora and the minelayers Amur and Khoper," stated Gorshkov, "took up station in the Neva [river] to bombard the Winter Palace,"11 proving that the navy was the first military service to join the revolution.

Not until 1937 did the Communists begin rebuilding their navy. At the time, Germany was rearming, and Stalin decided to prepare for war. By the beginning of World War II, the Soviets had one of the world’s largest submarine forces.12 Yet the navy’s help was seldom needed, for there were only a few naval battles in the Black Sea area. Often the Soviets would take sailors off the ships, hand them guns, and send them to the army. According to Gorshkov more than 400,000 enlisted personnel and officers were sent to the ground forces, including several naval detachments from the Baltic Sea Fleet, to help defend Leningrad.13 Gorshkov’s leadership was about the only bright light in Soviet naval operations during World War II. With a naval squadron in the Black Sea, he distinguished himself in landings on the Kerch Peninsula and later helped liberate the Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary.14 By this time Gorshkov was thirty-one years old and had attained the grade of rear admiral. According to Gorshkov, World War II proved the need for a balanced military, one that included a strong Soviet Navy.15

After World War II, there were modest efforts to rebuild the Soviet fleet. Yet with more than 50 percent of the Russian industrial capacity destroyed, these efforts were delayed. Initially, with the help of captured German technology, the Soviets began building some new attack submarines.16 However, not until the arrival of Khrushchev and the elevation of Gorshkov to Admiral of the Fleet were the plans for a powerful Soviet Navy proposed. Gorshkov’s first task was to convince the Communist Party that a powerful navy was not only a necessity, it was a part of the Russian heritage. The Russian land power doctrine, stated Gorshkov, was nothing more than imperialist propaganda designed to keep the Soviet from the seas. Russia has the world’s longest maritime frontier, and the Russian people have always loved the sea. It is Soviet manifest destiny, argued Gorshkov, that the nation should go to sea.17

So in using the lessons of history, Gorshkov established the fundamental rationale for the development of the current Soviet Navy. The doctrine’s seeds were planted, ship designs were drawn, and plans for a powerful Soviet Navy were established. Calling his navy "the Faithful Helper of the Army," Gorshkov began the process of convincing the Communist Party of the necessity of building a large fleet. These ideas were soon reinforced when in 1962 the United States Navy blockaded Cuba, denying Russian access. After this, more and more Soviet military funds found their way into naval development.18

Soviet Naval

In thinking through the various challenges for a strong Soviet Navy, Gorshkov faced three basic constraints: ice, chokepoints, and distance. To begin with, most of the Soviet naval fleets are located at high latitudes. The Northern Fleet is located along the Kola Peninsula coast, with a principal port at Murmansk and in the White Sea at Arkhangel. Arkhangel, in particular, is closed with ice for about six months each year. The Baltic Sea Fleet, located at Kronstadt Naval Base and Riga, is also constrained since ice closes these ports about three months a year; at times the ice is so thick that the Russians can drive trucks across it. The Black Sea Fleet, of course, does not have ice problems. The Pacific Fleet, located at Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk, is also clogged with ice for several months each year.19 Historically, because of these ice problems the Russians have sought warm-water ports.

To overcome the ice, Gorshkov has developed one of the world’s foremost icebreaker fleets.20 These ships are diesel powered and break channels into and out of the main ports. Yet despite this capability, ice-clogged ports are a major problem, one not easily corrected.

A second major constraint for the Soviet fleets consists of the chokepoints through which Soviet ships must pass. In the Pacific Ocean, just north of the Japanese Islands, lies the La Pérouse Strait, which hinders the Soviet Pacific Fleet’s ability to gain access to the ocean. Toward the south of the Japanese Islands lies the Tsushima Strait through which the Soviets must pass to move down the China coast. Together these two Pacific chokepoints in time of war could prove to be extremely critical.

In the Atlantic, the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom (GIUK) gap is another major chokepoint. Although this area looks porous, in fact, it is well patrolled. Other chokepoints are more confined. The Skagerrak/Kattegat straits, the Turkish straits, Gibraltar, and Suez restrain the Soviets from easy access to the oceans. In time of war these chokepoints could become critical.21 For instance, during World War I, the United States, working with the British, planted more than 100,000 mines in an area just west of the Skagerrak Strait. This great North Sea mine field effectively contained the German U-boat threat.22 Today this option is available.

The third major constraint is related to the deployment of ships in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Once there, the Soviets have trouble replenishing their fleets. Their tendency to build small vessels limits the amount of supplies they can carry and thus the time they stay on station. Many of their larger ships do not have at-sea reload capabilities so they must return to port for supplies. Realizing this as a problem, the Soviets have worked on their sea replenishment techniques.23 Recently, a new replenishment-type ship has come on line to help overcome this deficiency. This class of vessel is called the Berezina, a 40,000-ton multipurpose ship with six replenishment stations and helicopter capabilities.24 Another way in which the Soviets are overcoming this replenishment problem is by acquiring overseas ports. For instance, they can replenish their ships in Cuba, Angola, South Yemen, and in one of the finest harbors in all of the Pacific Ocean, Camranh Bay.25

Ice, chokepoints, and distance comprise the basic constraints that Admiral Gorshkov designed his new ships to overcome. Icebreakers help open the winter ports, and ships of the Berezina class offer ways to circumvent the effects of chokepoints and long distance cruises.

Soviet Naval Missions

Within the last few years, the Soviet Navy has increasingly moved away from its coasts to the blue waters of the oceans. In so doing, the Soviets have changed their naval strategy from a basically defensive one to a more assertive forward deployment posture. During the l960s the first phase of this transformation took place. Initially, the Baltic, Northern, and Black Sea fleets progressively extended their spheres of influence out of their traditional deployment areas. The Black Sea Fleet began deploying into the eastern Mediterranean while the Northern Fleet journeyed into the mid-Atlantic. By the early l970s, the Soviets were deploying to the Cuban and South African areas and into the Indian Ocean. Thus by the late 1970s, Soviet naval deployment patterns were clearly established.26

As the Soviets moved farther from their coasts, there was a subsequent shift in mission priorities. While there are many different ways to label these missions, most would agree that there are four basic types. The first Soviet naval mission is "sea presence," which accounts for the peaceful use of naval ships in foreign areas. The second mission is "sea control," and this involves antisubmarine warfare and interdiction. The third mission encompasses amphibious warfare and is labeled "power projection." The last mission is "deterrence," and it involves the use of ballistic missile submarines.

sea presence mission

Sea presence is the newest of all the various Soviet naval missions. Gorshkov spent a great deal of effort convincing the Communist Party that, unlike the army, the navy is extremely influential during peacetime. In other words, the work of the navy exceeds traditional military roles. As a historian, Gorshkov was well aware of the ways in which the United States used its ships to influence foreign policies.27 "Speak softly and carry a big stick," Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition, became an accepted truism within the Soviet naval hierarchy.

Consequently, with the goal of increasing Soviet prestige abroad, the navy began deploying ships to the coastal waters of other nations. Warships sailed for such ports as Cienfuegos, Cuba; Conakry, Guinea; and Berbera, Somalia. Often Soviet ships would dock in these countries and send their crews ashore to organized sports and other programs. Usually these visits were timed to coincide with some significant military event. For example, a recent Soviet visit to Mozambique just happened to occur about the same time the South Africans announced they were moving fighter aircraft to the common border area.28 Through these visits, Gorshkov noted, the navy serves as an important instrument of peacetime policy while protecting the U.S.S.R. and supporting national wars of liberation.29

A significant part of the sea presence mission is fulfilled by Soviet merchant ships. With more than 1700 merchant ships, most of which are relatively new, the Soviets have opened trade with many other countries. One of the unique features of these merchant ships is their ability to convert to a wartime mission quickly.30 Generally, these ships are small and were constructed to convert to military supply ships if needed. According to Admiral Gorshkov, the merchant fleet is now a major constituent of the Soviet naval force.31

Fishing trawlers comprise another element of the sea presence mission. The Soviets have one of the world’s largest fishing fleets, with approximately 4000 ocean-going vessels.32 In terms of tons of fish caught, they rank second to Japan.33 The Soviets also have fifty or so intelligence-gathering ships, called AGIs, that look very much like the fishing trawlers.34 These AGIs are often seen monitoring traffic near U.S. Navy bases in Scotland, Spain, and Guam. Frequently, other AGIs are sighted off the East and West coasts of the United States, where they play an active part in relaying intelligence data to the Soviet Union.

Thus, by placing their warships in strategic territorial waters and by using their merchant ships and trawlers, the Soviets influence the daily activities of foreign nations. The overall purpose of the sea presence mission is well summarized in Gorshkov’ s statement:

Friendly visits by Soviet seamen offer the opportunity to the people of the countries visited to see for themselves the creativity of the socialist principles in our country, the genuine parity of the people of the Soviet Union and their high cultural level. In our ships they see the achievements of Soviet science, technology and industry. Soviet mariners, from rating to admiral bring to the people of other countries the truth about our socialist country, our Soviet ideology and culture and our Soviet way of life.35

sea control mission

The sea control mission is based on broad Soviet military doctrine and foreign policy objectives. These involve, first of all, the avoidance of war, but if war comes, the Soviets plan to win.36 Thus Gorshkov has promoted a more assertive navy, one that will move out from the coastlines and into the oceans to challenge the West. The mission of these forward-deploying Soviet ships is to counter the West’s sea-based strike force and interdict sea lines of communication. Gorshkov is quite specific in this objective:

The imperialists are turning the world ocean into an extensive launching-pad, less dangerous in their view to their countries as compared with land, of ballistic missiles, of submarines and carrier aviation trained on the Soviet Union and the countries of the socialist community. And our navy must be capable of standing up to this real threat.37

In other words, the Soviets are sending their ships out to gain and maintain command of a large sea area and deny the enemy this extensive launching pad. In this type of mission, argued Gorshkov, the enemy must be countered in the air, on the surface, and below. Thus arose the need to build multipurpose ships with anti-submarine warfare capabilities. In 1967, the first of these ships was completed, the Moskva, followed by a second ship in 1968, the Leningrad. The design resembles a cruiser bow with a carrier stern. The Moskva displaces approximately 17,000 tons and is propelled by steam. It is well armed carrying 18 Ka-25A Hormone helicopters, antisubmarine rockets, torpedoes, and antiaircraft guns. In 1976, a new class of Soviet aircraft carriers was launched. It was the Kiev, followed by a second carrier the Minsk. Unlike earlier carriers, these have angle decks that stretch the length of the ship. Both are steam propelled and displace approximately 37,000 tons. The Minsk is extremely well armed, with weapons which reach out to over 250 miles. An enemy ship trying to attack the Minsk would have to maneuver through five concentric circles of weapons beginning 250 miles out and continuing to the bow, where 500-rounds-per-second Gatling guns would take effect. As with earlier carriers, the Minsk has a series of weapon systems designed to be effective against enemy ships, submarines, and aircraft. One of the unique aspects of the Minsk is the torpedo tubes on either side of the bow region. Yet, of all the weapons on board, the Yak-36 Forger vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft is the most versatile. Usually there are about eighteen Forgers on each aircraft carrier, complementing about the same number of Hormone helicopters. The Forger uses two engines to take off and then a third to cruise out from the ship. Each Forger carries an assortment of rockets, machine guns, bombs, and air-to-surface missiles.38 Although building aircraft carriers is a relatively new Soviet program, they plan to launch two more within the next few years.

Complementing the aircraft carriers in the sea control mission are the various surface combatants. The newest and most sophisticated of these is the battle cruiser Kirov. This ship is approximately 860 feet long and displaces about 23,000 tons. It is similar to a World War II pocket battleship, and it is nuclear-powered, providing great staying power and long range. It has several weapon systems similar to the Minsk but with a much more advanced surface-to-air antiaircraft capability and surface-to-surface antiship capability. Recently, Rear Admiral Sumner Shapiro, Director of United States Naval Intelligence, had this to say about the Kirov:

The Kirov is by far, the most heavily armed multipurpose combatant in the Soviet inventory. Its own long-range anti-ship cruise missiles will significantly enhance its ability to strike allied warships.39

Smaller than the Kirov are the various Soviet naval cruisers. Late in 1962, the Soviets sent to sea the first Kynda class guided-missile cruiser. On board this ship, the most sophisticated weapon system is the SS-N-3 antiship cruise missile (equivalent to the land-based SA-8) with a 200-mile range. A follow-on Soviet cruiser called the Kresta was launched in 1967. This Kresta class cruiser displayed new Soviet technology. The Kresta-Is were primarily antisurface warfare-oriented while the second generation, the Kresta-IIs assumed more of an antisubmarine role. The weapons on the Kresta-IIs include a sophisticated SS-N-14 antisubmarine missile, torpedoes, twin antiaircraft missiles, and a helicopter. Aside from the Kresta, one of the newest Soviet cruisers is the Kara. This ship is propelled by a gas-turbine engine, which is capable of approximately thirty-five knots. In terms of weapons, it carries approximately the same systems as the Kresta-IIs.40

The use of destroyers in the sea control mission centers around the Soviet’s Kashin and Krivak vessels. In the late sixties, the gas-turbine, guided-missile destroyers, the Kashins, were launched. With antiaircraft missiles, antisubmarine rockets, torpedoes, and mines, pound for pound these ships were considered some of the most heavily armed vessels afloat. With gas-turbine engines the Kashins were capable of moving through the seas at 35 knots. The Kashin class was followed by the Krivak class, which was launched in the early 1970s. Unlike the Kashins, this ship does not have the bow-mounted antiship missile launchers. Instead it is configured for an antisubmarine mission carrying various antisubmarine missiles, rockets, mines, and torpedoes.41 Reports indicate that the Soviets have launched two very powerful new destroyers called the Sovremennyy class and the Udaloy class.42

While destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers conduct their functions on the surface, attack submarines and cruise missile submarines complement these ships with their subsurface activities. The Soviets operate about 190 attack

submarines, most of which are diesel-electric powered, providing quiet maneuverability. About a third of these attack submarines are nuclear powered. The November, Echo, Victor, Foxtrot, and Tango classes are their primary attack submarines. The principal weapons are the antisubmarine and antiship torpedoes. Some of the newer vessels have rocket-propelled antisubmarine weapons.43 Recently the Soviets launched a new class of attack submarine, the Alfa. Although little is known about the Alfa, reports indicate that it is built of titanium alloy and has an underwater speed greater than that of any submarine in the world. One U.S. naval officer claimed that when an Alfa submarine came down off the coast of Greenland, he tried to intercept it but was left standing behind. "She walked away from us," he commented. "We estimate her speed at around 50 knots submerged and she can dive to 2000 to 3000 feet."44

A second type of submarine used in the sea control mission is the cruise missile submarine. The Charlie class is the newest of these, and it is nuclear powered. Its weapon systems consist of eight short-range, 60-nautical-mile antiship cruise missiles that are fired while submerged. Its underwater launch capability makes this craft one of the most potent antiship submarines in the Soviet Navy.45 Lately the Soviets have built an extremely large guided-missile submarine capable of launching 24 antiship missiles, with a range of approximately 250 miles.46 Like the Charlie class, these missiles are fired while the ship is submerged. The classification of this new submarine is Oscar. With their Oscar, Charlie, and Alfa submarines, the Soviets have approximately 260 vessels to provide submerged sea-control capability.47

Complementing both the surface and subsurface elements, the Soviets possess several classes of naval aviation capabilities. The Tu-95 Bear-D, for instance, is used for long-range reconnaissance. It is a turboprop aircraft and quite often flies on trips to Cuba, Camranh Bay, and West Africa. In addition, the Soviets use the I1-38/May for maritime antisubmarine patrol. The prime strike force in the Soviet naval aviation consists of some 290 Tu-16/ Badger aircraft that are fitted with antiship cruise missiles with an effective range of about 150 miles.48 As the Badgers are retired from the navy, the Soviets are replacing them with the new Backfire bombers. The twinjet Backfire is a supersonic aircraft with variable swing-wing configuration. Recently, several Backfires joined the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok. This aircraft carries a very sophisticated air-to-surface antiship cruise missile with an effective range of approximately 300 nautical miles. With refueling capabilities this aircraft can fly up to 2500 nautical miles out into the Atlantic or Pacific.49

Thus, with the surface combatants, submarines, and naval aircraft, the Soviets are quite capable of seeking out enemy forces and destroying them. In a conflict, the West’s aircraft carriers and ballistic submarines are the prime targets. Although the Soviets have spent a great deal of money on developing antisubmarine techniques, most naval experts believe they do not have the capability to pinpoint U.S. submarines. Yet each year, as the Soviets launch sophisticated weapon systems such as the Kirov, Oscar, and Alfa, the technological gap narrows.

power projection

The power projection mission is a function of the naval infantry’s capabilities. As a student of history, Admiral Gorshkov was impressed with the United States Marine Corps assaults at Saipan, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. Yet in comparison to the United States Marine Corps, which numbers approximately 180,000, the 12,000-man Soviet Naval Infantry is small. There is, however, at least one naval infantry regiment on each of the major Soviet fleets.50

In contrast to its United States counterpart, the Soviet Naval Infantry has very little staying power or organic firepower. If naval infantry were committed to combat, it would have to be reinforced within four or five days. Soviet doctrine indicates that the naval infantry is intended to be used as shock troops spearheading an assault, closely followed by the ground forces.51 Recent reports of Soviet Naval Infantry exercises in the Kuril Islands north of Japan confirm the speculation that the prime targets of these troops are shores bordering the various chokepoints.52

Complementing the Soviet Naval Infantry are the amphibious assault ships. The Alligator tank landing ship is a typical vessel used for this power projection mission. Propelled by diesel, this ship is relatively small, displacing about 4500 tons. In 1978, the Soviets launched a new amphibious ship, the Ivan Rogov. It is twice the size of the earlier ships and can launch amphibious vehicles from its open bow doors. In addition, it carries helicopters. Among the various small assault landing vehicles to launch from the bow are the hovercrafts, such as the Aist, which can carry the naval infantry ashore at speeds of fifty knots.53

The small naval infantry is one of the few elements of the Soviet military that are not powerful. In a conflict, these troops would most likely be sent ashore to capture the Dardanelles or the Kattegat straits and then wait for rapid reinforcement. Yet with the arrival of the Ivan Rogov, there are indications that Gorshkov is planning to strengthen the power projection mission.


Of all the Soviet naval missions, deterrence is by far the most important, according to Gorshkov. In his book he labels the deterrence mission as "fleets against shore" and has this to say:

The traditional operations of fleet against fleet which, since ancient times, have been characteristic of the struggle against sea communications of the opposing sides, are now being used in a new, decisive sphere—operations of a fleet against shore. This trend in the operational and strategic use of the fleet is becoming increasingly prominent and assuming the features of the main field of operations of a fleet, governing all others at all operational levels.54

This total reliance on the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) began in earnest during the early l960s according to Michael MccGwire, authority on the Soviet Navy. In a sense, the rapid buildup of the Soviet ballistic missile fleet began as a reaction to the deployment of Polaris submarines by the United States. The Soviets and the West define deterrence somewhat differently. The Soviets hope their ballistic capabilities will be sufficient to dissuade an aggressor, which, of course, is deterrence in the traditional sense. But a crucial distinction lies in the Soviets’ belief that if war should come, their armed forces must recover from an initial strike and fight on for a victory. In such a scenario, submarine forces would play a significant role.55

Basically, current Soviet ballistic missile submarines are categorized as either theater nuclear or intercontinental nuclear. The first category centers on the older ballistic missile submarines while the latter includes the newest vessels. During the early 1960s, the Soviets began building the Hotel and Golf class ballistic missile submarines. Initially, these submarines had to surface to launch their missiles. After some modification, these submarines became capable of submerged launchings. The Hotel class submarine was first built in 1958. It is nuclear-powered and carries three SS-N-5 missiles. Following the Hotel, the Soviets built the Golf class submarine. It is diesel-powered and also carries three SS-N-5 missiles. The effective range of these SLBMs is about 700 miles. With this short range, the Golf and Hotel would have to transit undetected through the GIUK gap. To avoid this, the Soviets use the Golf and Hotel class submarines as theater nuclear weapons. That is, these submarines are assigned targets in the European area, thereby nullifying the need to transit any chokepoint. From their patrols in the southern Baltic and southern Norwegian Sea, the Hotel and Golf submarines become an effective theater nuclear force.56

In the late 1960s the Soviets began launching a series of larger ballistic missile submarines called the Yankees and Deltas. In the period between 1968 and 1977, the Soviets placed a priority on submarine construction. Each year they constructed approximately ten new submarines, of which six were ballistic missile submarines.57 The first of these vessels were the Yankee class submarines. The Yankee is nuclear-powered and carries sixteen SS-N-6 missiles. Each missile is nuclear-tipped and has an approximate range of 1600 miles. The follow-on class of submarines constructed in the early l970s was the Delta. The Delta is nuclear-powered and carries sixteen SS-N-8 missiles, each with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles and a range of approximately 4200 miles. This means that the Delta can sail undetected off the Kola Peninsula coast or in the Okhotsk Sea and target practically any part of North America.58 According to Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1980-81, the Soviets have about seventy ballistic missile submarines of all classes.59

Even with seventy ballistic missile submarines, the Soviets have not slowed down their construction program. Reports indicate they are building the world’s largest ballistic missile submarine, the Typhoon. Estimates indicate that the Typhoon will displace about 25,000 tons, making it more than twice the size of the Delta class submarines. In addition, this submarine will carry 20 long-range missiles, each with a multiple independently targeted warhead. The effectiveness of this new submarine, comments Admiral Shapiro, is enhanced by the fact that it, like the Delta, can operate in the security of the Soviet home waters.60

When the Delta, Yankee, and Typhoon are evaluated in conjunction with the Soviets’ land-based missiles, the effectiveness of their strike capabilities is quite impressive. Their theater nuclear and intercontinental nuclear capabilities comprise the basic functions of the deterrence mission.

Soviet naval personnel

Weapons without manpower are useless so it would be well to consider those who operate the Soviet weapon systems. Like their American counterpart, the Soviet naval officer is well trained and highly skilled. Typically he is a volunteer, carefully selected, and professionally motivated. When he qualifies, the young officer is educated in either surface-warfare subjects or naval-engineering courses. The engineering officer is rather specialized, while the surface warfare officer performs the line functions. Naval aviators are trained by the Soviet Air Force. After completing basic training, the surface warfare officer joins a ship, where he will earn his specialty rating by standing watch and learning his division duties. His responsibilities to his sailors consist of teaching them the technical specialties, their ship duties, and caring for their ideological well-being. Thus, working as a manager, technician, instructor, and loyal Communist Party member, the junior officer is quite busy during his first sea duty tour.

To gain command, the midlevel officer must broaden his career from a specialist to a generalist through a series of sea tours with the fleets, serving in different professional capacities. If he is selected for command, he will first serve as an executive officer and then succeed to command. Certification for command comes after a series of ship-handling tests. At one time or another, most senior officers attend the war college, Grechko Naval Academy, where undoubtedly they study about the American naval threat. Overall the officer corps is technically competent, well motivated, and a formidable adversary.61

Enlisted personnel are usually drafted from various Soviet Union regions. Typically, the Soviet sailor is a conscript with limited training and little career motivation. He begins his tour by attending a nine-week basic training course, after which he is sent to sea to learn shipboard skills. At sea, the Soviet sailor’s life is strictly regimented and closely supervised. While many of the new Soviet ships provide fair living conditions, they are not known for their comfort or habitability. On shipboard, time is specifically planned. For instance, idle chitchat, card playing, or other frivolous activities are curtailed in favor of political lectures by the ship’s propagandist. From early morning through the night, the Soviet sailor’s day is completely scheduled:

Reveille is at 0600 followed by calisthenics at 0630; breakfast at 0700 and turn-to or political classes from 0800 until 1300 when lunch is served. Following the noon meal, the crew turns-to until dinner at 1800. Between 1800 and taps at 2300, either more political lessons, ship’s work or "constructive" recreational time is scheduled.62

The technical skills of the enlisted sailor are quite limited. Each sailor is usually responsible for only one shipboard task, such as maintaining a specific piece of equipment or painting the bow. Advancement comes after a specific time in service and is automatic. For the first year of the three-year hitch, the sailor is paid about $10 a month, while in his last year he may make about $30 a month. With low pay and few privileges, only about 10 percent of the enlisted force reenlist. For those who do, the rank of michman (warrant officer) becomes a goal. With the constant rotation of sailors, senior enlisted personnel are in chronically short supply.63 This lack of technically qualified senior enlisted personnel is one of the few weaknesses of an otherwise strong Soviet naval force.

What, then, is the purpose of this rapid peacetime buildup of Soviet naval power? Sir John Moore, editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1980-81, had this to say:

It is hardly surprising that the USSR, a determined state, with increasingly imperialistic ambitions, has watched the process of American self-immolation with the same satisfaction that it has the industrial dismemberment that has followed in the wake of labour and management upheavals in Western countries. Although suffering from its own internal problems, economic, demographic and agricultural, the Soviet Union has maintained a basic aim of world domination which allows an impressive continuity in military planning.64

Indeed, Admiral Gorshkov is quite explicit in defining naval operational goals: "The sea power of our country is directed at ensuring favorable conditions for building communism. . . ."65 Sooner or later, he argued, the United States will have to realize they no longer control the seas.

In terms of numbers, the Soviet Navy compares favorably with the U.S. Navy. Discounting the NATO allies, the United States has only about half the ships the Soviets possess. The Soviets outnumber the United States in surface combatants, attack submarines, and ballistic missile submarines. Yet, as Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic Command, Admiral Harry D. Train II has pointed out, numbers alone are only part of the assessment. The Soviet Navy is deficient in several categories. In comparison to the United States, the Soviets’ naval aviation is vulnerable. They have fewer aircraft carriers providing little or no sea-based tactical air support, while their land-based planes have limited flexibility. Second, while the United States Navy can sustain combat operations at sea for long periods of time, the Soviets cannot. Third, without long-range staying power, the Soviet power projection mission is limited.66 In the Soviets’ antisubmarine programs, they are apparently lagging in acoustical detection capabilities but are attempting to make up the deficiency with space-based optical and radar systems. Reports indicate they have not made much progress here.67

Yet added all together, the Soviet Navy remains a sea power of great magnitude. If past Soviet naval developments continue into the future, their navy will be increasingly involved in maritime operations around the world. Into the l980s there are signs of no letup in the Soviet shipbuilding program. Certainly the Soviet acceptance of Gorshkov’s theoretical doctrine of sea power substantiates previous naval policies and will sustain these efforts for decades. Indeed, Admiral Gorshkov emerges as a twentieth-century Mahan, "the articulate advocate of seapower as a vital, indispensable, attribute of real power status."68 And just as the U.S. Air Force was called on to perform maritime operations in Vietnam, there is an increasing probability that our Air Force will be needed to counter this growing Soviet naval threat, also.

Squadron Officer School
Maxwell AFB, Alabama


1. The NATO designation for the Soviet aircraft carriers Leningrad and Kiev is antisubmarine cruisers.

2. "U.S. Has Lost Sea Superiority, Navy Men Say," Washington Star, February 6, 1981, p. 3.

3. Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (New York, 1974), pp. 28-34.

4. Herbert Preston, editor, in Sergei G. Gorshkov, Red Star Rising at Sea (Annapolis, Maryland, 1974).

5. S. G. Gorshkov, The Sea Power of the State (Annapolis, Maryland, 1979).

6. Rear Admiral E. M. Eller, USN (Ret), "Russia’s Road to the Sea, Peter I to Napoleon," in Red Star Rising at Sea, pp. 11-21.

7. Michael W. Cramer, "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, An Operation Code and Thematic Analysis," unpublished document (Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School, 1975), p. 116.

8. Gorshkov, p. 81.

9. Cramer, p. 94.

10. Gorshkov, p. 91.

11. Gorshkov, p. 125.

12. Vice Admiral J. F. Calvert, USN (Ret), "The Soviet Navy Rebuilds, 1928-41," in Red Star Rising at Sea, pp. 65-75.

13. See "The Soviet Navy in the Great Patriotic War," in Red Star Rising at Sea, pp. 89-96.

14. Ibid., p. 95.

15. Gorshkov, p. 148.

16. Don East, "The Evolution of the Soviet Navy as an Instrument of Foreign Policy," unpublished report (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air Command and Staff College, 1980), p. 20.

17. Eller, p. 22.

18. Cramer, p. 60.

19. David Fairhall, Russian Seapower: An Account of Its Present Strength and Strategy (Boston, 1971), p. 18.

20. John Moore, editor, Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1980-81 (New York, 1980), p. 537.

21. Admiral Harry D. Train, USN, "Sea Link 80 Remarks," paper presented before the Sea Link 1980 Conference, Annapolis, Maryland, June 19, 1980. Admiral Train is the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic.

22. E. P. Potter, Illustrated History of the United States Navy (New York, 1971), p. 142.

23. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Understanding Soviet Naval Developments (Washington, D.C., 1978), p. 22. Hereafter referred to as Chief of Naval Operations.

24. Keith A. Dunn, "Power Projection or Influence: Soviet Capabilities for the l980s," Naval War College Review, September-October 1980, pp. 31-47.

25. "U.S. Naval Buildup Is Challenging Soviet Advances in Asia and Africa," New York Times, April 19, 1981, p. 1.

26. Michael MccGwire, "The Rationale for the Development of Soviet Seapower," United States Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1980, pp. 155-83.

27. Gorshkov, pp. 245-53.

28. "Soviets Send Warships to Mozambique," Chicago Tribune, February 24, 1981, p. 12.

29. Gorshkov, p. 39.

30. Chief of Naval Operations, pp. 51-53.

31. Gorshkov, p. 39.

32. Moore, pp. 123-55.

33. Chief of Naval Operations, p. 55.

34. Moore, pp. 521-22.

35. Gorshkov, p. 252.

36. MccGwire, pp. 155-83.

37. Gorshkov, p. 280.

38. Chief of Naval Operations, p. 21.

39. Stephen Webbe, "Soviet Navy a Growing Challenge to West," Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 1981, p. 6.

40. Chief of Naval Operations, pp. 80-91.

41. Ibid., pp. 85-90.

42, "Soviets at Sea: New Ships for Distant Bases," New York Times, January 25, 1981, p. 3.

43. Chief of Naval Operations, p. 33.

44. "Soviets Planning Advances in Maritime Capabilities," Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 16, 1981, p. 18. Hereafter referred to as "Soviets Planning Advances."

45. William Ruhe, "Soviet Navy Threatens Mideast," Defense Electronics, February 1981, pp. 75-80.

46. "Soviets Planning Advances," p. 18.

47. Chief of Naval Operations, pp. 33-34.

48. Ibid., pp. 99-100.

49. Clarence A. Robinson, Jr., "Soviet Moves Spark Defense Support," Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 21, 1980, pp. 74-91.

50. Chief of Naval Operations, p. 37.

51. Dunn, pp. 31-47.

52. Robinson, p. 81.

53. Moore, pp. 513-17.

54. Gorshkov, pp. 221-22.

55. MccGwire, pp. 155-83.

56. Floyd Kennedy, "Theater Nuclear Encirclement, Soviet SLBMs Targeted on Western Europe," National Defense, February 1980, pp. 42-45.

57. MccGwire, pp. 155-83.

58. Chief of Naval Operations, pp. 35-36.

59. Moore, pp. 123-55.

60. Webbe, p. 4.

61. Chief of Naval Operations, pp. 41-45.

62. Don Wheeler, "Life in the Soviet Navy," All Hands, May 1977, pp. 20-25.

63. Chief of Naval Operations, pp. 41-45.

64. Moore, p. 123.

65. Gorshkov, p. 284.

66. Train, pp. 1-9.

67. MccGwire, pp. 155-83.

68. Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., "Introduction," in Red Star Rising at Sea, pp. 1-2.


Donald D. Chipman (B.A., California State University, Chico; Ph.D., Florida State University) is the Commandant’s Advisor on education, Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He was a professor of education and history at Georgia Southwestern College and served as a U.S. Navy flight officer and navigator for the EC-12l Typhoon Reconnaissance Squadron in Agana, Guam. Dr. Chipman is coauthor of Philosophical Reflections on Education and Society and Critical Issues in Philosophy of Education. He is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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