Will Russia ever have its own aircraft carrier?

It seems that water and air are incompatible as natural element. However, there is such a thing as naval aviation. Judging by modernization plans, Russian naval aviation will see great changes in the future. 

After years of debate about whether Russia needs a fleet of vessels with aircraft on decks or surface ships and submarines would be enough, Russian admirals have chosen a sort of "American" model of the fleet: naval groups with an aircraft carrier in the center.

Here is a bit of history. In general, naval aviation per se in Russia has nearly 100 years of experience. On 30 November 1916, the Chief of Naval General Staff, Admiral A.I. Rusin approved "Regulations on the division of naval aviation."

During the Great Patriotic War, for example, naval aviation proved to be most effective of all naval forces. Combat aviation destroyed 407 enemy ships, which accounted for 66 percent of enemy losses. Almost all of their victories took place in 1944 -1945.

Yet, the first Soviet bombing of Berlin in 1941, was carried out by the crews of the 1st mine and torpedo regiment of the Baltic Fleet Air Force. 

Today, naval aviation is a branch of the Navy of Russia. Before 2011, the branch consisted of missile-carrying, ground attack, fighter, anti-submarine, search and rescue, transport and special aviation. It is divided into naval aviation and land-based aircraft.

After 2011, naval aviation was divided into coastal, deck-based, strategic and tactical. From the point of view of the management of military units, this division of naval aviation is quite logical.

Back to aircraft carriers. Here is an opinion from naval expert, historian and publicist, first-rank captain, Sergei Aprelev:

"Whether Russia is going to have its own aircraft carriers or not depends on the nation's Maritine Doctrine. Does it involve the solution of problems in the ocean or is it limited to covering up the coastal zone? According to the latest edition of the doctrine, the presence of Russia in the ocean is not going to be canceled, and we intend to position ourselves as a great sea power. This is what we should proceed from.

"By the way, the notion of a single aircraft carrier is absurd - any expert will tell you that! One single aircraft carrier is only needed to create a prestigious image - that's all.

"Speaking of sea power, the meaning of it starts from a group based on an aircraft carrier that would be capable of solving not only the tasks of demonstration, but also operational and strategic tasks. This stipulates a completely different procedure of budgetary expenditures: coastal infrastructure, logistics, carrier-based aircraft, pilot training system for deck-based aircraft, extensive monitoring and targeting systems, including satellite monitoring.

"Finally, aircraft carriers themselves should have reliable power-generating units that would enable such vessels to address all its tasks. Most likely, the creation of the fleet of aircraft carriers will, perhaps, be just as expensive as the creation of a virtually new nuclear submarine of the fourth generation, which is now underway.

"It is clear for me that the prospective construction of aircraft carriers has been related to the distant future - it is not fully included in the state program of armaments, which will last before 2020. This is too costly a case. The state budget will not be able to cope with several areas of fleet modernization...

"A year ago, I remember, the Command of the Navy sent the draft of Russia's first nuclear aircraft carrier with estimated displacement of 60,000 tons to further development. The project was developed jointly by the Krylov Shipbuilding Research Institute and Nevsky Design Bureau. The project was based mainly on the technology of the 1980s.

"The offered the Russian Navy, in fact, the old Soviet aircraft carrier, Ulyanovsk, which was never built due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yes, at the end of the 1980s, it would have been a modern aircraft carrier, an adequate response to U.S. aircraft carriers, such as Nimitz. But by 2020, the U.S. will already have state-of-the-art floating airfields of Gerald Ford series that are almost twice the size of the ship proposed by the above-mentioned designers. So there is a lot of work to be done."

Russia does not have key technologies to produce a full-fledged aircraft carrier. There is no, for example, full-fledged airplane catapult. The only current heavy aircraft carrying cruiser, Admiral Kuznetsov, which became part of the Northern Fleet in January 1991, is equipped with a take-off ramp, rather than a catapult.

In general, a full-fledged domestic aircraft carrier is basically a matter of distant future. But once they have decided to build them, adequate measures should be taken already now.

The state program of armaments before 2020 does no contain anything about the construction of new aircraft carriers. In the long term, it was decided that Russia would have two carrier battle groups - in the Pacific and Northern fleets.

It was also decided that new aircraft carriers will be nuclear-powered vessels, although their number has not been specified. To crown it all, it was determined that the construction of the new Russian aircraft carrier will be conducted at two different shipyards in a modular fashion.

In was previously reported in specialized shipbuilding press that the Russian Navy was completing specifications for a new aircraft carrier. It initial appearance will be determined as early as in 2015, and the final draft of the ship should be ready by 2018.

The first ship of the real aircraft carrier class was expected to be lowered on the water for finishing works in 2024. By this time, the navy has to complete the formation of escort groups for each aircraft carrier. The group will consist of missile cruisers, destroyers, submarines, frigates, corvettes, landing ships and support vessels including icebreakers for the Arctic zone - about 10-15 ships in each group.

Along with the construction of aircraft carriers, the military will create new bases for their maintenance, as well as pilot training facilities.

Under to the state program of armaments before 2020, it is planned to conduct a large-scale modernization of Project 1143 Admiral Kuznetsov (before 2020). The not enough reliable boiler-turbine power plant will be replaced with a gas-turbine or nuclear power plant.

The aviation fleet of the modernized ship will consist of 26 new MiG -29K. Plus, the Navy has the intention to extend the resource for heavy carrier-based fighters Su-33 (20 aircraft) for at least five years, or before 2025. In addition, it goes about helicopters and the naval version of the fifth-generation fighter PAK FA T-50, which is now being developed.

In early 2012, Russia launched the modernization of ten transport and combat helicopters Ka-29 designed for deployment on Russian Mistral vessels (purchased from France). The on-board equipment and weapons systems of the helicopter will be upgraded to modern standards.

By 2014, the Navy of Russia will adopt the naval version of the Ka-62 Killer Whale chopper. They will be based on smaller ships, particularly on 20380 Project corvettes.

From 2014 to 2016, MiG Corporation is to deliver 20 single-seat MiG- 29K fighters and four double-seat MiG-29KUB to naval aviation. The aircraft will be part of a separate naval regiment of the Russian Northern Fleet and will be based on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.

Andrei Mikhailov


Read the original in Russian 


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov