The Yuri Dolgoruky, Russia’s newest ballistic-missile submarine, officially entered service in the Northern Fleet on 17 January, completing a long and arduous journey into Russia’s navy. While the submarine is often lumped in with Russia’s aggressive new armaments program, construction actually started back in 1996, when Vladimir Putin was not the Kremlin’s overlord but an obscure bureaucrat serving as deputy chief of the Presidential Property Management Department, and Russia was not an oil-fueled “energy superpower” but a bankrupt economic disaster. A great deal has happened to Russia’s navy since construction of the Dolgoruky began, very little of it good. So while the submarine’s newness has been highly touted—by, among others, a Russian government intent on promoting “modernization”—when viewed in context it’s not nearly so impressive.
In 2010, Rear Admiral Zhang Huachen, China’s East Sea Deputy Commander, said, “With our naval strategy changing now, we are going from coastal defense to far sea defense.” Over the past 30 years the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has built a defensive navy operating within coastal waters, but in late 2008 the PLAN seemed to be transitioning towards becoming a global naval force—the capability to project power or diplomacy through sustained maritime operations anywhere in the world.
China’s far-sea defense—far-seas operations—comprises the maritime area 1,000 nautical miles beyond its territorial waters. Based on that definition, far seas operations equate to approximately three days’ travel from China’s mainland and require at least six days of total transit time to include at-sea refueling operations. Since late 2008 the PLAN has achieved four significant metrics in the far seas:
- Task forces deployed to the Gulf of Aden
- A flotilla of warships operating in the Philippine Sea
- The “Harmonious Mission” of the ship Peace Ark, and
- The training ship Zheng He’s worldwide deployment