Replace cannot be left
Despite the obvious successes of Russian shipbuilding (in particular, the transfer to the fleet last year of the second project 22350 frigate “Admiral of the Kasatonov Fleet” and the laying of the first universal amphibious assault ships), the main problem is in no hurry to leave the agenda. You can argue about the prospects of the hypersonic “Zircon” as much as you like, compare it with Western counterparts, talk about carriers, and so on. However, it is obvious that this complex will not fundamentally change the balance of power. As before, aircraft carriers will remain the “first fiddle” in tactical terms. Replacing them with frigates or destroyers with missile weapons will be (if) “insofar as”.
Even if we assume that the range of a promising hypersonic missile is 1000 kilometers (according to other sources – from 400 to 600 kilometers), this still does not give a decisive advantage over carrier-based aircraft carrying anti-ship missiles of the AGM-158C LRASM type, which have such or even greater range defeat. We also note that the carrier strike group has a versatility that cannot be compared with anything else.
Speaking of the Russian Navy, everything is unchanged here: the country, as before, will rely on Admiral Kuznetsov. After the fire that occurred on board in 2019, rumors often appeared about the decommissioning of the ship, but, as far as can be judged, they do not correspond to the truth. The reason the problematic aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser will continue to serve is trivial: there is currently nothing to replace the ship with. The above-mentioned UDC are helicopter carriers and cannot be considered as a substitute for it. In December, a shipbuilding source said sea trials of the upgraded aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov should begin in 2022. Most likely, this is close to the truth.
Alas, the modernization does not solve key conceptual problems, such as the lack of a launch catapult, a relatively small air group and, therefore, vulnerability to air attacks. It is not surprising that projects of new aircraft carriers are periodically proposed in Russia. The projects are very different.
Aircraft carrier of project 23000 “Storm”
Photo: Wikipedia, Artem Tkachenko
Displacement: up to 100 thousand tons;
Length: 330 meters;
Width: 40 meters;
Travel speed: 30 knots;
Navigation range: unlimited;
Swimming endurance: 120 days;
Crew: 4000-5000 people;
Aviation group: up to 90 aircraft, including the carrier-based version of the fifth generation Su-57 fighter.
The model of this ship was shown to specialists in a closed mode as part of the international naval show in St. Petersburg in 2013. The general public was able to see it at the Army-2015 International Military-Technical Forum.
Judging by the size and potential of the ship, its concept, in general, fits into the concept of a “supercarrier”: that is, a conditional analogue of the American “Nimitz” and “Gerald R. Ford”, which can also carry up to 90 aircraft. On the flight deck of the Russian ship, there are four launch positions: it is supposed to use four electromagnetic catapults. The landing of aircraft will be provided by one aerofinisher. It is known that they want to equip Storm with RITM-200 nuclear reactors: the same was chosen for the Arctic icebreaker.
In the spring of 2016, it became known about the possibility of building a promising ship at the facilities of the Far Eastern Zvezda plant, but since then information on the promising aircraft carrier has practically not appeared in the public domain.
Aircraft carrier of project 11430E “Manatee”
Displacement: 80-90 thousand tons;
Length: 350 meters;
Travel speed: 30 knots;
Autonomy: 120 days;
Crew: 2,800 people, the air group should include 800 people;
Aviation group: up to 60 aircraft and helicopters, including aviation radio detection and guidance systems.
In July, TASS reported that the Nevsky Design Bureau, part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, presented a project of a new aircraft carrier with the original name “Manatee” at the International Maritime Defense Show in St. Petersburg. According to the plans, the nuclear aircraft carrier should receive a springboard, two electromagnetic catapults and four aerofinishers. Aviation ammunition ranges from 1,600 to 2,000 tons of ammunition and aircraft weapons.
Attention is drawn to the appearance of the ship. It is difficult to say what exactly this is connected with, but it is easy for a non-professional person to confuse the aircraft carrier with the above-mentioned TAVKR “Admiral Kuznetsov”, which can hardly be called successful in the full sense of the word. It is also noteworthy that the developers did not “fantasize” about the deck version of the fifth generation: judging by the layout, the ship will be able to carry deck versions of MiG-29 and Su-27 (Su-33?) Fighters. Of course, such an air group in the 21st century can hardly be called fully modern. Obviously, the issue of creating a fifth-generation carrier-based fighter will be no less “interesting” than the actual development of a new ship itself.
Despite all the differences between the projects “Storm” and “Manatee”, there is one aspect that makes them in common: the almost complete lack of information in the media.
Aircraft carrier “Varan”
Photo: JSC “Nevskoe Design Bureau”
Displacement: approximately 45 thousand tons;
Length: 250 meters;
Width: 65 meters;
Travel speed: up to 26 knots;
Navigation range: unlimited;
Aviation group: 24 multipurpose aircraft, six helicopters and up to 20 UAVs.
The last known project of a promising Russian aircraft carrier is the universal naval ship (UMK) “Varan” presented by the Nevsky Design Bureau in the new year. Judging by the image, the carrier-based version of the MiG-29 is seen as the basis of the air group. There are no other reliable data to date.
The aircraft carrier is significantly smaller than the previously presented samples. In general, over time, the size and capabilities of promising Russian aircraft-carrying ships became smaller and smaller. Obviously, this can be viewed as a reflection of the objective economic realities of the Navy and the state as a whole.
It is difficult to say whether this or that project will get a start in life. Today, the likelihood of another “deep” modernization of the TAVKR “Admiral Kuznetsov” in the future is much higher than the construction of any of the aircraft carriers presented.
One of the most important problems is the complexity of international cooperation in this area, aggravated by the sanctions pressure of the West and the difficulty in accessing new technologies. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the presence (or absence) of full-fledged aircraft carriers dramatically affects the combat capability of the entire Navy. This means that the topic will not go off the agenda soon: if it ever happens in the future.