New Russian Carriers : Following the announcement that the Admiral Kuznetsov, the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, had returned to dry dock after three years, speculation about the ship’s possible early retirement was largely dispelled, with the vessel expected to serve in the Russian Navy for well over a decade after refurbishment and modernization.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s intentions for the battleship may have changed as a result of the commencement of war in Ukraine in February and the quick escalation of tensions with NATO, which has been accompanied by a rapid increase in state finances as a result of high oil prices.
Modern electronics and sensors are envisaged, as well as a thorough revamp of propulsion systems and the integration of new close-in weaponry systems and Zicron hypersonic cruise missiles to replace the Soviet P-700. Along with the Kuznetsov, which is expected to return to duty by 2024, the Russian Navy will receive two new lighter carriers in the middle of the decade, which are presently being built in Crimea.
The Sevastopol and the Vladivostok will be named after the cities of Sevastopol and Vladivostok, respectively. Displacement estimates for the ships have ranged from 25,000 to over 40,000 tonnes. As assault ships, they will use Ka-52 attack helicopters as their primary combat aircraft, with the possibility of deploying vertical landing fighters that have been under development since the late 2010s.
While Russia has not invested in cruiser or destroyer-sized ships since the fall of the Soviet Union, the addition of two additional carriers to the Admiral Kuznetsov would give a sizable fleet for force projection operations, albeit one restricted by the range of escorts and logistical assets available.
With work on the Kuznetsov underway and both attack carriers set to be lay down in 2020, it’s safe to assume that all three will be operational in the second part of the decade. However, it is unclear how capable the warships will be, with issues ranging from whether the lighter ships would deploy fighters to whether the Kuznetsov will be equipped with the Navy’s newest Zicron missiles.
Furthermore, the forces under which the ships will be deployed are unknown, as is whether they will be escorted by newer but shorter-ranged frigates or heavier but much older destroyers and cruisers.
The Russian Navy is currently divided into four fleets and a single flotilla, none of which has open ocean access. Whereas the Caspian Flotilla may be completely ruled out due to its remote location and tiny size, the Black Sea Fleet and Baltic Fleet are likewise unlikely to obtain carriers for a variety of reasons.
Both are largely encircled by NATO member states’ territory, and their more constrained environs are more suited to the deployment of frigates, corvettes, and coastal defence systems like the Bastion. Because of the tiny size of both maritime theatres, carriers will be of limited value, vulnerable to hits and outclassed in their prospective usefulness by the capabilities of shore-based aircraft, which can fly over both seas comfortably.
As a result, carrier deployments are expected to be concentrated in the Pacific and Northern Fleets, which are probably the Russian Navy’s two most strategically important fleets.