It’s been awhile since I wrote about developments in Russian naval shipbuilding. Spurred on by a recent article in NVO, the following is the first installment of an update on recent developments and future plans in this area.
Return of the Nuclear Cruisers?
In recent weeks, the Project 1144 (
Kiev Kirov class) nuclear cruisers have once again been in the news because of reports that all three ships of this class currently in reserve will be refurbished and restored to the active fleet by 2020. Modernization of the Admiral Nakhimov is slated to begin this year and it is scheduled to return to active service in 2015. As part of the modernization, these ships are to be equipped with “modern radio electronics, radar, control and communication systems, and means of electronic warfare. In addition, the body frames and nuclear power units will be repaired.” The ships’ armaments will also be modernized — the older Granit missiles will be replaced with universal ship-based firing systems that could be loaded with a variety of different armaments depending on the ship’s specific mission. The ships would also be armed with S-400 long-range and unspecified short-range air defense systems.
While it seems that the Admiral Nakhimov actually will be modernized and returned to the fleet in the next five years or so, to be followed by a refit for the currently active Peter the Great, I have grave doubts that modernization of the Admiral Lazarev and Admiral Ushakov will ever move beyond mere talk. The Ushakov in particular suffered a reactor accident back in 1990, which was never repaired. It may also have been cannibalized for spare parts to some extent. The Lazarev had its nuclear fuel unloaded back in 2005. Both would thus need essentially new reactors, as well as significant hull repairs.
While this type of modernization is certainly possible, it doesn’t seem to be cost-effective, especially given the uncertainty surrounding these ships potential missions. As noted by Konstantin Makienko of CAST, these ships do not fit into any existing scenarios for using battleships: “This type of ship cannot be involved in the possible conflicts that we may have in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and in the case of a hypothetical war with NATO or Japan, it will still be destroyed as the enemy has a much greater numerical superiority at sea.” While I can see the desire to have at least some large ships for showing the flag around the world, I can’t imagine that it would be worth the expense to rehabilitate a rusty, radioactive old hulk such as the Ushakov (former Kirov), just to get 10-15 years of life out of it. In the end, I imagine the Russian Navy will be satisfied with having the Nakhimov and the Peter the Great for showing the flag.
No new aircraft carriers, but a much improved old one
Back in June, the head of the United Shipbuilding Corporation stated that Russia will begin to design new aircraft carriers in 2016, with construction on the first ship to start in 2018, followed by commissioning in 2023. This statement was quickly rejected by the defense minister, who noted that while research on a future aircraft carrier is continuing, no decisions about design and construction have been made. Nor will they be made until the research is complete. In other words, don’t hold your breath.
At the same time, the Navy’s one existing aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be undergoing a complete modernization over the next several years. When it is relaunched (sometime between 2017 and 2020, depending on which report you believe), it will in many ways be a new ship. The following description of planned changes comes from Ilya Kramnik:
First of all, the defective propulsion unit comprising steam turbines and turbo-pressurized boilers will be replaced either with a gas-turbine or nuclear propulsion unit. The ship’s 3M45 P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship cruise-missile launchers will be dismantled, and her internal layout changed. Consequently, the hangar area will be expanded to 4,500-5,000 sq. m. for storing additional fixed-wing aircraft. The Admiral Kuznetsov’s air defenses will be strengthened by replacing 3K95 Kinzhal (SA-N-9 Gauntlet) missiles with a multi-role naval system featuring 80-120 new-generation and medium-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Moreover, 4-6 Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) combined short to medium-range SAM and anti-aircraft artillery weapons systems will be installed.
The new weapons systems will feature state-of-the-art radio-electronic equipment, probably including the standard Sigma combat information and control system, due to be installed on all new generation Russian warships. The system facilitates unprecedentedly effective cooperation between task force elements. The carrier will also receive aircraft catapults, a logical option. Considering the fact that her ski-jump will remain intact, one or two catapults can be located on the angled flight deck.
The carrier’s air wing is to comprise 26 new Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K Fulcrum-D multi-role fighter aircraft, helicopters and navalized Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA (Future Frontline Aircraft System) fifth-generation fighters, currently under development. It appears that 15-20 of these aircraft will be built pending the ship’s re-launching, which is likely to take place in 2020 rather than 2017.
In other words, when the Kuznetsov returns to active status, it will be a substantially different ship, with a new propulsion system, new aircraft, new armaments, and new electronics.
Moving towards a new destroyer
Finally, plans for building a new destroyer seem to be progressing, though for the moment it is still in the design stage. What is known so far is that design plans call for a 9000 ton ship with a nuclear power plant that would make extensive use of stealth technology. It would be armed with the usual assorted Klub missiles and would have space for two helicopters.
If all goes according to plan, construction on the first ship will start in 2016. There have not been any reports so far about how many ships would be ordered or how long they would take to build, though my guess is that it will take at least six years to build the first ship and that the total order may reach 8-10 ships.
I’ll cover frigates and corvettes in the next installment.