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Question of the day: does Russia need to build new aircraft carriers?
25 December 2020, 15:58
Technology
Question of the day: does Russia need to build new aircraft carriers?
Plans to build new aircraft carriers look very dubious against the backdrop of a virtually disrupted rearmament program for the Russian navy.

Victor Kuzovkov

The head of the United Shipbuilding Company Alexei Rakhmanov said on Tuesday that the construction of a new Russian aircraft carrier is planned at the Sevmash plant. The main reason for this choice, he called the experience available at the enterprise, gained during the modernization of the Russian heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser "Admiral Gorshkov". Then, let me remind you, the result was the Indian aircraft carrier "Vikmaraditya" of the classic scheme. And there would be nothing strange in this statement, if not for one "but" - the fact is that the question of the need to build aircraft carriers for the Russian fleet is still debatable. More precisely, the fleet would have ordered them with pleasure, but only there is no money for them, and it is not expected in the near future...

The appearance of such stuffing, especially from the head of the USC, on the one hand, may indicate that, in principle, the issue of starting construction has already been resolved. On the other hand, one must also remember that Rakhmanov represents the side of the performer, that is, he is decisively interested in the appearance of such a large order. Therefore, we will not rush to conclusions, but still try to understand the issue...

In the USSR, which had some experience in the construction of aircraft carriers, ships of this class were built exclusively at the shipyards of the Ukrainian city of Nikolaev. There were several reasons for this: the presence of stocks of sufficient size, the nearby industrial base of eastern and southern Ukraine, the presence of a sufficient number of qualified specialists nearby...

And there were not many alternatives - the same "Sevmash", aka "Northern Machine-Building Plant", traditionally engaged in the construction of nuclear submarines of various types, and this was a priority for the USSR. The Kerch plant "Zaliv", although it had a large dry dock, was not particularly involved in the creation of large military surface ships and did not have the necessary experience. And there were some logistical problems with the delivery of large cargoes to Crimea. The shipyards of St. Petersburg (at that time Leningrad) were very actively used for military shipbuilding, but due to a number of reasons, the possibilities for their expansion were limited. River shipyards, such as those located in Nizhny Novgorod or Komsomolsk-on-Amur, for obvious reasons also fell away. Therefore, the choice of Nikolaev was logical, and to some extent there was no alternative.

But with the collapse of the USSR, the situation for Russia became seriously complicated. Nikolaev shipyards turned out to be abroad, the competences available there and the accompanying industrial base became virtually inaccessible. Russia did not even invest in the completion of the Varyag aircraft carrier, the twin of our Admiral Kuznetsov, although it was in a high degree of readiness. What can we say about the new aircraft carrier "Ulyanovsk", which, for the first time in the USSR, was built according to the classical scheme and in size almost corresponded to its American counterparts - the readiness of this project in 1991 barely reached 18.3 percent, after which the financing of the project was terminated. and in 1992 it was dismantled for scrap.

Strictly speaking, Russia found itself without factories capable of building such ships as an aircraft carrier. The situation was partly resolved due to the fact that the construction of new nuclear submarines for the Russian fleet, to put it mildly, stalled, the load of Sevmash significantly decreased and the freed up capacity was able to be used to solve some specific tasks, such as the already mentioned complete reconstruction of the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Gorshkov...

In the past years, the situation has improved significantly. The fact is that in the Far East, in the seaside town of Bolshoy Kamen, the Zvezda shipyard was practically rebuilt. It was not created from scratch - earlier this enterprise was a ship repair company, it was engaged in the repair of nuclear submarines of the Pacific Fleet, including the maintenance of their nuclear reactors. That is, the set of competencies at the enterprise is very significant. The capacity is also great - the plant has built the largest dry dock in Russia, the dimensions of which are quite suitable for the construction of aircraft carriers: 485 by 114 meters, with a depth of 14 meters. There were also installed Goliath heavy-duty cranes capable of lifting structures weighing 1200 tons. This is quite enough for the construction of an aircraft carrier - as a rule, modern ships of this type are about 350 meters long, and modules weighing up to 700 tons are used during the construction (from such modules, in particular, the American aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford was built).

Therefore, there was still a certain intrigue. We, for once, were faced with a double choice of aircraft carriers - not only "whether to build at all", but also "where exactly?" And this, no matter how you look at it, is good and very useful. If, of course, both of these questions are answered correctly...

At the same time, the third key question remains open - what exactly to build? The fact is that at the moment the Russian shipbuilding design bureaus have already presented two preliminary designs for aircraft carriers. This is a project under the code 23000 "Storm", developed by the Krylov State Research Center, and 11430E "Manatee" of the Nevsky Design Bureau. Both aircraft carriers are classified as "large", that is, their displacement reaches or exceeds 80 tons, they are able to carry on board a serious air group exceeding 60 aircraft and helicopters of various types, and in addition, quite large ones can rise from their deck aircraft that do not have a fighter thrust-to-weight ratio, for example, carrier-based AWACS aircraft.

True, the "land party" is also strong in Russia, believing that our country does not need aircraft carriers at all. The maximum they agree to is "small" aircraft carriers, with a displacement of about 40 thousand tons, without a nuclear power plant. According to representatives of this group, Russia will not be able to “pull” a full-fledged aircraft carrier fleet either financially, organizationally or technically, therefore it is better to focus on protecting its maritime borders and simply not getting involved in a serious confrontation with NATO at sea. The adherents of this sect, if they allow the construction of aircraft carriers by Russia, then only in the above-mentioned standard size, that is, small, with a weak air wing, unable to solve many problems, but cheap. So (I repeat, this party is very strong, and it is largely supported by industrialists who find it easier to master the budget on relatively small ships), we can expect the construction of a series of relatively small aircraft carriers of a project that is still unknown to us.

One way or another, as long as we can state that we still do not have complete clarity about what we are going to build. R&D on the aircraft carrier theme is included in the current army rearmament program, so let's hope that in the design bureaus things have gone beyond mock-ups and conceptual sketches.

In his interview, Rakhmanov separately stressed that construction can begin only after the Ministry of Defense makes an appropriate decision. That is, while it is "a pitchfork on the water." Still, there is reason to think that the authorities are inclined to order a certain number of aircraft carriers for the fleet. And the first confirmation of this is the above-mentioned decision of the USC. Still, it was not born out of nowhere - officials, who in principle do not like to take responsibility, would hardly rush to make such decisions on their own initiative. Another indirect confirmation is the information that recently appeared that the Sukhoi Design Bureau is ready to create a carrier-based modification of the fifth generation Su-57 fighter. Given that the market for such vehicles is very limited, and one can rely almost exclusively on purchases for the needs of its own fleet, this is very significant information.

In any case, while it is clear that the key issue will be financing. If the state finds the appropriate amount, the task of building new aircraft-carrying ships for the Russian fleet can be solved in a relatively short time (7-8 years). In any case, a lot of preparatory work in terms of creating the necessary industrial infrastructure has already been done.

At the same time, the funds will be required really rather significant. Considering that the deck-based version of the Su-57 is still only in the project and will still require serious investments, and the deck-based AWACS aircraft, without which the whole undertaking does not make much sense at all, is not at all even on paper, in addition to the actual construction of ships, we will need significant additional costs ... That is, we can safely estimate each aircraft carrier at a minimum of 10 billion dollars, if, of course, we are talking about full-fledged ships, and not about "forty-thousand" ships, capable only of guarding their own berths under the cover of coastal air defense systems.

The number of such ships is also under discussion. It is clear that there should be at least two of them - one each for the Northern and Pacific fleets. But since one of the main tasks of the aircraft carrier fleet is the constant presence in the zone of vital interests of the country, it is more reasonable to speak more about four ships of this type. This is with the expectation that two, for technical reasons, will stand at their bases in Russia, and two more will “project force” in different regions of the World Ocean and give weight to the quiet words of Russian diplomats.

That is, very roughly, but not greatly erring against the truth, the entire program can be estimated at about $ 40 billion. This, of course, if everything is done well. The figure looks frightening, but we will immediately make a discount on the fact that they will have to be spent, taking into account the number of ships, within about fifteen years, no less. And this order of numbers looks much more sane, even with the current state of the Russian budget. True, there is a big problem - other items of expenditure, including the construction of other warships. In a situation where the fleet rearmament program has actually been disrupted, new initiatives seem very dubious.

Unless the industrialists will still be able to deceive the authorities and push through a project of some kind of "mosquito aircraft carrier", on which one can make good money without straining too much. In this case, it will, of course, be cheaper. But I'm afraid this will be the only advantage of this option...