Russia's once-mighty navy faces further dramatic decline after 2015, when most Soviet-built ships will have to be mothballed, a retired admiral was quoted as saying Friday.
The warning follows comments by Russian officials they were planning to buy a French amphibious assault warship able to carry at least a dozen helicopters or to land forces.
Russia currently has no big ship with the power to anchor off coast and deploy troops onto land. With the likely decommissioning of other aging warships, distant deployments would be impossible, Retired Adm. Vyacheslav Popov said in remarks carried by RIA Novosti news agency.
"If things remain as they are, we will have to mothball most ocean warships by 2015," Popov was quoted as saying. "That will sharply reduce the navy's capability," which he said was now five to six times less than Britain's or France's, and 20-30 times smaller than the U.S. Navy's.
Popov and other retired military officers have described the Russian navy as being in a pitiful state _ a sharp contrast to the Kremlin's attempts to flex military muscle abroad.
Russia has sent warships to patrol pirate-infested waters off Somalia, and in 2008 dispatched a navy squadron to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy and for several port calls.
But Popov, a former Northern Fleet chief who is now a member of parliament's upper house, warned that the navy would only be capable of acting near Russian shores after 2015.
Only a handful of big surface ships, such as missile cruisers and destroyers, remain seaworthy, after Russia failed to commission new ships and properly maintain Soviet-built ones amid the post-Soviet economic meltdown in the 1990s. The flow of petrodollars in the 2000s failed to reverse the navy's fortunes.
Popov said that, despite increased military budgets, the government has failed to allocate money for building new warships or even maintaining the old ones.
In the last decade, the navy had commissioned only one relatively small surface warship, he said. Its single Soviet-built aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is much smaller than U.S. aircraft carriers and has been plagued by mechanical problems and accidents.
Russia has been in talks with France about a possible purchase of a Mistral-class assault ship and building several others under license _ a deal military leaders say will allow Russia to import new Western technologies and modernize its industries.
Russia's struggling shipbuilders oppose the purchase, arguing that instead of buying a French warship the government should invest in domestic production. A shipyard in Severodvinsk has tried for years to fulfill an order to modernize a Soviet-built aircraft carrier for India and sought to swell a contract price.