A Russian Navy task force has docked at Havana, Cuba on a goodwill stay that sends a pointed message to the United States. The guided missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov, accompanied by an entourage of support ships, pulled into Havana earlier this week. The voyage is meant to project Russian strength, but that quickly fades when the circumstances of the frigate visit are examined closely.
The Admiral Gorshkov pulled into Havana on Monday, the latest stop on a ‘round-the-world tour that kicked off on February 26 in St. Petersburg, Russia. According to U.S. Naval Institute News, Gorshkov is the lead ship in a four-ship formation that includes the multifunctional logistics vessel Elbrus, the medium sea tanker Kama, and the rescue tug Nikolai Chiker.
The Russian task force has already visited Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and China, and made a stop in Ecuador before passing through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean. This is the first significant voyage for Admiral Gorshkov, which entered Russian Navy service in 2018.
Admiral Gorshkov is 426 feet long and displaces approximately 4,500 tons. The frigate is armed with one 130-millimeter A-192M Armat naval gun, eight SS-NX-26 Yakhont anti-ship missiles, and the Hurricane surface-to-air missile system. According to reports, the ship is also equipped with BrahMos anti-ship missiles.
Developed by India and Russia and named after the Brahmaputra and Moscow rivers, BrahMos is a ramjet-powered anti-ship missile with a 600-pound high explosive warhead. BrahMos is perhaps the fastest anti-ship missile in existence, capable of zipping over the wave tops at Mach 3 (2,300 miles an hour.)
The Russian government uses fleet visits such as these to show support for its allies—or former allies—abroad. The Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, for example, has made two voyages to Syria. While the prospect of a Russian warship visiting Havana—only 227 miles from downtown Miami—seems unusual, it really isn’t. U.S. warships regularly sail near Russian territory, particularly in the Black Sea, and this is just Russia returning the favor.
Under closer scrutiny, the trip hardly looks threatening. Gorshkov may be a new ship, but it’s a poster child for everything wrong with the Russian military. Construction began in 2006 and was only completed in 2018, meaning it took 12 years to complete. Frigate-sized ships typically take only two to three years to complete. Here’s the ship during the 2018 commissioning ceremony.
Like much of the Russian military, Gorshkov experienced repeated setbacks with funding and technical problems. The fact that Gorshkov is a new ship but traveling with a rescue tug says Russia is not confident in the ship’s mechanical reliability, nor in the willingness of local authorities to allow a broken-down Russian warship to dock locally.
Finally, although just 4,500 tons—less than half that of a modern U.S. destroyer—Gorshkov is the largest surface ship built in Russia in nearly 20 years. The U.S. Navy has received nearly three dozen ships during the same time period; Arleigh Burke- and Zumwalt-class destroyers, for example, are two to three times larger than Gorshkov by displacement.
USS Jason Dunham destroyer visits Gdynia port, Poland
USS Jason Dunham visiting Gdynia, Poland, 2015.
According to USNI News, the U.S. Navy is keeping tabs on the Russian task force. The guided missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham is shadowing the four Russian ships from a distance. U.S. Northern Command, also known as NORTHCOM, told USNI News, “We are aware of the deployment of the Russian ship Gorshkov and are taking steps to actively track it. We won’t discuss all measures being taken, but NORAD is conducting air operations in defense of the U.S. and Canada and USNORTHCOM has deployed maritime assets to track Gorshkov.”