Washington — If Peter the Great could have heard what Rear Adm. Sumner Shapiro told a US congressional subcommittee last week, he would have swelled with pride. Admiral Shapiro is the director of US Naval Intelligence, and in a somber report to the Seapower Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee he declared that the Soviet Union's burgeoning naval might "represents a direct and growing challenge to the economic, political, and strategic interests of the United States and our allies."
It would have been music to the ears of the Czar who founded the Russian Navy and for whom all things nautical were a consuming passion.
Noting that the Soviet Navy not only grew larger in 1980 but made technological advances that "in some cases, are superior to our own," the admiral declared: "We can no longer depend on superior American technology to offset Soviet numbers."
Having launched its third Kiev-class VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft carrier last fall, Moscow now is well under way on a fourth, said Admiral Shapiro. The Kiev itself, he says, is becoming increasingly adept at operating its Forger VTOL fighters and Hormone helicopters.
"We continue to estimate that the Kiev-class carriers are but a steppingstone , and that the Soviets are well along in the planning for a larger, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier capable of handling high-performance aircraft much like our own," the admiral told the Seapower Subcommittee. Accumulating evidence indicates that the first Soviet "flattop" will put to sea with its aircraft by the end of the decade, he added.
Admiral Shapiro, a Russian linguist who has held a variety of Navy intelligence posts, seemed particularly impressed by the Soviet Union's first nuclear-powered surface warship, the guided missile cruiser Kirov. "This is a ship of monstrous proportions, twice the size of any surface combatant, other than an aircraft carrier, built since the battleships of World War II," he exclaimed.
The British Royal Navy has released reconnaissance photographs of the Kirov that show it bristling with antiship, anti-submarine, and both short- and long-range air-defense missiles -- not to mention a pair of 100mm guns and a number of multibarreled Gatlings to deal with any overadventurous cruise missiles.
"Kirov is, by far, the most heavily armed multipurpose combatant in the Soviet inventory," Admiral Shapiro told the subcommittee, explaining that it is designed to provide improved defense against Western carrier aircraft and long-range cruise missiles.
Its own long-range, antiship cruise missiles will "significantly enhance" its ability to stike at allied warships, he said, adding that a second Kirov-class cruiser "is well along in construction."
In July 1980 Moscow deployed a second new class of surface combatant, the gas-turbine-powered guided missile destroyer Sovremennyy, the admiral disclosed.
Four months later it deployed another new class of guided missile destroyer, the Udaloy, he added.
"Finally . . . we have identified a fourth major surface combatant program under way in the Soviet Union," Admiral Shapiro asserted. "This new class of conventionally powered, multipurpose guided missile cruiser is being constructed in the Black Sea and has been temporarily designated 'Blackcom-1.'"
Soviet submarine production showed no sign of abating last year, Admiral Shapiro informed the subcommittee.Following the introduction of the Oscar-class (which can launch up to 24 long-range, antiship cruise missiles while submerged) , Moscow unveiled Typhoon, the world's largest ballistic missile submarine with a 25,000-ton submerged displacement.
"The new Soviet [submarine] will probably carry a new type of strategic, ballistic misile with a range over 4,000 nautical miles and be capable of delivering independently targetable warheads," said Admiral Shapiro. If it is so armed, he said, it will be able to operate "from the relative security of Soviet home waters."
Last year also saw continued production of the Soviet's newest nuclear attack submarines, the Alfa-class boats, whose hulls are made of a light-weight titanium alloy, Admiral Shapiro continued. "With a demonstrated speed capability in excess of 40 knots, Alfa is judged to be the fastest, deepest diving submarine in the world," he said.
But Admiral Shapiro declared that Soviet naval construction programs pale "when compared with the long-rage implications of what the Soviets have done to revitalize their entire shipbulding industry." He said they have made an immense capital investment in expanding and modernizing all of their major shipyards and repair facilities. Such investment, he declared, "not only suggests present capabilities but, more importantly, proves Soviet intent for long-term naval growth."
Shapiro foresees an ever-increasing Soviet naval effort in the years to come. But US naval analysts point out that the Western alliance as a whole continues to outbuild the Soviet Union, which would be outnumbered on the high seas in the event of war.
Moreover, three of Moscow's four fleets --limited in their effectiveness by geography which forces them to pass through narrow waters commanded by hostile powers.