Large Russian Aircraft Carrier Design Unveiled

 - July 8, 2015, 11:17 AM
A scale model of a large aircraft carrier on display at a maritime and defense show in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

A design for a large, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was unveiled at the seventh maritime and defense show (IMDS’2015) held last week in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Krylov State Research Center—a government-owned scientific institute specializing in marine technologies—showed a scale model of a “multipurpose aircraft carrier” that was comparable in size to the U.S. Navy Nimitz class. The Russian ministry of defense is funding Krylov’s work under Project Shtorm (Storm).

The carrier measures 95,000 to 100,000 metric tons by displacement, with a length of 330 meters (1,082 feet) and a width of 40 meters (131 feet). It has a “twin island” layout similar to that found on the new British Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. In addition to the big ski jump in the bow, characteristic of previous Russian carriers, the Shtorm comes with a second, smaller, one at the end of the angled deck. According to Krylov’s leaflet, the carrier is outfitted with two catapults. The scale model showed four. Other visible characteristics include four arrestor wires, four aircraft elevators, two cranes and several multi-tube rocket launchers.

The carrier would have a crew of 4,000 to 5,000, and an air wing of 80 to 90 aircraft. The scale model included combat aircraft on the flight deck that were reminiscent of a navalized version of the Sukhoi T-50 PAKFA fifth generation fighter with folding wings and empennage; AWACS aircraft that resembled a single-tailed American E-2C Hawkeye; and Kamov Ka-27 series helicopters. 

Vice admiral (ret.) Vladimir Pepelyaev, head of R&D ship design and programs division at the Krylov’s center, told AIN that “we determined the ability of the industry to build such a ship…the associated risks and costs…as well as development potential of such a project.” Pepelyaev described the model exhibited at IMDS’2015 as “an export version…a derivative of the main one developed for the Russian navy.” He said that a key design target for the carrier was the ability to launch multiple aircraft—a mix of air defense fighters and heavily loaded strike aircraft—using several catapults and ski jumps. Russian industry has built and trialled an experimental electro-magnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), but the Russian Navy has not yet confirmed whether it is an option for the new carrier.

Local media outlets estimated the construction cost of such a ship at 160 billion Roubles (nearly $3 billion), not including the air wing. The high cost of aircraft carriers has previously discouraged the Russian navy, whose only operational carrier—the Admiral Kuznetsov—was commissioned in 1990. The Shtorm is roughly 1.5 times larger the Kuznetsov, and twice the size of the INS Vikramaditya that Russia delivered to India in November 2013.

In Pepelyaev’s view, Russia and India can cooperate in executing their national carrier programs. Perhaps the main idea behind the Shtorm design is not so much about the Russian navy but about keeping India’s and China’s interest in military-technical cooperation. Both countries have ambitions to develop powerful blue-water fleets. But they lack experience, technologies and knowledge, which the Kremlin is eager to sell to its largest international customers for weapons.