Russia's Shipbuilding Struggles
The Russians have not built a large surface vessel for the military from scratch in more than 20 years. The refurbishment of India's INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier, currently under way at a shipyard in the Russian city of Severodvinsk, has been beset by constant delays and obstacles, highlighting Russia's declining ability to work on large military vessels. And while the Russian navy regularly announces plans to construct new aircraft carriers (the navy currently operates a single, Soviet-era carrier), concrete plans have yet to materialize; the Russians are exceedingly unlikely to construct a fleet aircraft carrier within the decade.
Limitations to Modernization
However, as demonstrated by the opposition to the Mistral deal, the country's plan to overhaul the navy will face serious constraints. The decision to allocate significant funding for the defense sector did not go unopposed. Among other power struggles within the Kremlin, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin lost his job in September 2011 after opposing the increase in funding. The modernization plan has already proved to be vulnerable to modification, and aspects of it will likely evolve to accommodate future needs.
Moreover, while the $13.2 billion annual shipbuilding allocation is substantial, Russia's entire fleet is in dire need of modernization. Thus, even if the funding was fully allocated, the bulk of it would go to the construction of submarines, particularly the costly Borei and Yasen class ships. Russia would also like to bolster and modernize its nuclear arsenal, a task that would take precedence over acquiring new amphibious capabilities. Moscow is also unlikely to remove funding from the Admiral Grigorovich- and Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, the production of which has so far been successful.
The opposition to the Mistral deal in part marks an acknowledgment by Russia that it will have to make tough choices on the force structure it requires. The country's defense establishment has been known to announce plans to develop the military Russia would prefer rather than the one the country can realistically maintain. Moscow's refusal to rescind its million-man military doctrine is particularly illustrative of this dynamic. As older systems retire in growing numbers, demographic and economic trends increasingly affect the military, and as the need to recapitalize the defense industry increases, Russia's debate over defense funding will increasingly reflect what is actually possible.