Over the last five years, the previously sustained high level or Soviet naval activity has declined dramatically. Ships and aircraft operate less frequently far from home fleet areas, in fewer numbers and over less distance than during the 1970s to the present. Following two large-scale Soviet naval exercises in 1984 and 1985, annual Soviet naval exercises, once a continual focus of official NATO interest, did not recur in 1986, 1987 nor in 1988. Only small-scale, unit-level naval training events have been noted during the last three years, these limited principally to the in-area sea regions within a few hundred miles of Soviet naval bases. Even there, in the Barents Sea for example, Norwegian defense officials report that Soviet naval operations are down by 501 since 1985. Moreover, permanent, out-of-area Soviet naval forces – – squadrons deployed since the 1960s in the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas — are observed to operate at relatively lower levels of activity than in the earlier years.
Meanwhile, Soviet naval building programs appear to have had their delivery schedules stretched out — apparently taking longer to produce fewer ships. These building programs seem to be encountering technical difficulties in delivering ships. Submarine building programs, which have run at a flat rate of production for SSBNs over the past ten years, have shown a decrease in the rate of production of SSNs. Thus, the Soviet Union’s growth of naval forces now gives evidence of having been cut back to a level considerably less than expected.
Explanations of the Soviet’s unusual operations phenomena have been inconclusive. In 1987 the U.S. Secretary of the Navy said that whatever the cause, “the net strategic result appears to be a Soviet fleet positioning and training to counter the U.S. maritime strategy.” Moreover, in 1988 the editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships discussed the possibility that the Soviet Navy’s reduced operations could indicate ominous preparations to vigorously attack NATO naval forces entering Soviet home waters in the event of war, thus requiring the Soviet Navy to concentrate and train only in those areas.
The changed nature of Sovietnaval operations and of naval hardware programs is seemingly not caused by a fear of the u.s. forward maritime strategy since the Soviets appear not to regard it as particularly threatening or innovative. Nor is the down turn in Soviet naval activity a diplomatic gesture in support of the changed Soviet arms control policies.
Rather, the new nature of Soviet naval readiness and force structure is in keeping with that of the other Soviet military services since 1985. It represents the new national economic, political and technological policies and practices of the Soviet Union’s government. Based on the late 1985 reformulation of the USSR’s national economic plans for the period 1986 through 1995 as well as economic and scientific forecasts through 2000 and 2005 respectively, these new policies and national plans were approved in March, 1986 by the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. These are policies and plans based on glasnost (i.e., internal frankness in monitoring and reporting the new plans’ status and progress) and Perestroika (i.e., the reformation of organizations and ways of going about the daily businesses of the USSR). In turn, these government measures are aimed at realizing the time-projected and defined goals of uskorenie (i.e., the technological acceleration and scientific rejuvenation of the USSR) which, unlike the means of glasnost and of perestroika, is the end-game.
To achieve progressively the ends required at three critical points in time, 1995, 2000 and 2005, the Soviet Union has taken the extraordinary step of re-aligning its entire science and techno-logy resources by re-distributing its science and technology resources from the 60/40 split which characterized the fifteen-year outlook from 1971 – 1985, to a new ratio of 10/90 pertaining to the outlook period, 1986 – 2000. The long-term consequences of depriving the pursuit of science in the USSR in order to drive up sharply the achievements of technology are potentially disastrous. But the short-term results for technology can be as dramatic. Moreover, the actual distribution of resources on the order of 35/65 seems a more likely possibility.
The way in which the five Soviet military services, the Navy included, are required to re-structure their activities in order to accelerate technological force modernizations is to pay for those modernizations at the near-to-mid term expense of readiness and force structure. But, sacrificing present military readiness and force structure in order to achieve technological advancements is uncharacteristic of the Soviet Union even though they strongly believe in producing technological surprise. The re-structuring of the Soviet defense budget resources over the period, 1986 through 1995 (the 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans) is seemingly based on a military strategy which is “defensive” and which carefully calculates a low likelihood of war over the period of the total plan period. Such a strategy must, in practice, ensure the low probability of war by means of a series of substantial diplomatic maneuvers and accomplishments. This limits the development and deployment of armaments and, importantly, the operations of military forces while lowering incentives to maintain high military readiness and constantly renew force structure. Such measures, moreover, are time phased to provide a payoff at a particular point in future time. It is by such a device that the political leadership of the USSR gains the cooperation of the military for a temporary reducing of foroe structure and readiness in order that technological advancements will eventually provide even more capable armed forces.
In fiscal year 1988, the operations and maintenance (O&M) component of the u.s. defense budget (that part which funds military training and readiness) was 28.5% of the total defense budget and 8.2% of the total federal budget. For the same year, the O&M equivalent component of the USSR’s defense budget was only 4.6% of the USSR’s total national budget, i.e., slightly more than half of the U.S. commitment to military readiness.
Soviet military readiness during the period 1986 – 1995 is apparently being resourced at half the level of the United States in terms of national budgets. This means that the Soviet Navy can not be expected to operate as extensively as it has in the past. It becomes a “technology development Navy” in contrast to a previous “readiness and force structure Navy.”
Operations at sea are not the only sceneof change. The acquisition of new ships, aircraft and materiel as well as the rates of replacements of older hardware also have fallen off.
General Secretary Gorbaohev stated that ship-building norms would remain unchanged for the entire 12th Five-Year Plan (1986-1990).
For each Plan the goals of readiness training have been defined. For the 12th Five-Year Plan “proficiency training” is the only goal; there is no rationale as in the past for training for prolonged conventional war-fighting or theater nuclear war-fighting or wars of national liberation, as in previous five-year plans. In the Soviet Navy there is now a reduction in individual ship training while there is a new emphasis on formation and fleet training in home areas. This is not a hedge against war nor part of a new coastal defense strategy, but rather the result or outs in readiness and hardware resources. Soviet naval flag officers (captains first rank and above) are being enjoined not to go to sea to train individual ship commanders, but to go to sea only to train their whole formation at once in order to economize on labor and resources. Submarine weapons drills are being discouraged except as they are conducted annually as “fitted into an exercise or a joint cruise by a formation of ships.”
Indications are that in terms of the USSR’s current period of economic and technclogical reformation, i.e., 1986 through 2000, the economic and technological causes of Soviet naval conduct as suggested in this paper, corresponds reasonably well with reality. It is important to note the reports over the last three years of uncustomary Soviet naval behavior pertaining not only to operational behavior essential to readiness but also to shipbuilding and systems acquisition behavior. The now uncertain technologiesof strategic anti-submarine warfare, particularly non-acoustic technologies for detection and tracking of submarines will have the opportunity to mature into reliable capabilities.
The present emphasis on technological acceleration, means that Soviet defense R&D must become more distributed. The impediment to the Soviets will be the difficulties they encounter by their quantitative orientation, while trying to use qualitative measures by which to technologically evaluate change and progress.
In the near term, NATO should not have to guard against technological surprise, though attention ought to be perked for it in the next decade. It is necessary now to determine how applied R&D and technological developments, which now are being bought at the costs of readiness and force structure, will re-shape and improve the Soviet Navy over the remainder of this century.