Following a series of fruitless attempts to win government funding for a next-generation aircraft carrier program for the Russian navy, the shipbuilding industry is making yet another effort by offering what it describes as “an affordable nuclear carrier without exotic solutions." A scale model of the Project 11430E Lamantin (Manatee) was unveiled at the International Maritime Defense Show in St. Petersburg earlier in July.
While previous proposals were drafted by Krylov’s state scientific center, an establishment specializing in concepts, the new proposal comes from the Nevskoye design bureau (NPKB), the nation’s oldest surviving shipwrights. NPKB has been responsible for development of all the large aircraft-carrying ships built for the Soviet and Russian navies, including the 1143 series employing the STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) concept. NPKB employed STOBAR in the Admiral Kuznetsov (Project 1143.5), the Russian navy’s only aircraft-carrying cruiser and the Indian navy’s Vikramaditya (R33), rebuilt from the former Admiral Gorshkov under Project 11430.
“What sets our proposal completely different from the other known concepts [by Krylov’s Center] is that we offer to stick to the documentation and experience our design bureau acquired during development and construction of the Ulyanovsk of Project 1143.7. In effect, this means no exotic solutions: instead, all those implemented in this design are clear to understand and materialize,” NPKB chief designer Alexei Yukhnin told AIN.
Laid down at the dockyard in Nikolaev back in 1988, the Ulyanovsk was meant to be the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier built to the STOBAR concept. Funding shortages after the breakup of the Soviet Union forced the builder to sell the hull—which was around 60 percent complete—for scrap in 1992. The Lamantin would displace the same 80,000 tonnes, and have a hangar measuring over 44,000 square meters. While the number of nuclear reactors remains at four, they would be of newer design, since the original KN-3 is no longer available. The model on show in St. Petersburg was displayed with over 30 fixed-wing aircraft on deck, a mix of Su-33s and MiG-29s, plus notional airborne early warning aircraft. The carrier would also be expected to carry six to 10 UCAVs.
Most of the aircraft-related systems are derivatives of those installed on the Vikramaditya. “The reason behind placing this scale model on display is to show that the national industry has the capability to develop and build large carriers, for which it has the necessary skills and experience. There are no technical risks embedded in the Lamantin project, including those to do with vendor items, all of which can be sourced locally,” stressed Yukhnin.
In the meantime, the Kremlin remains in doubt over providing funds for the construction of next-generation carriers. Yuri Borisov, deputy prime minister responsible for the military-industrial complex, explained that the current armament program does not contain financing for such warships but “this does not mean a ban on their development.”
He further said that there are some ongoing discussions on whether the Russian navy actually needs carriers in view of the rapid development of strike naval weapons such as precision guided missiles. “Will the investment [in new aircraft carriers and their escorts] pay off or not? This is a kind of question that keeps surfacing,” Borisov said. “From my perspective, this is a matter for further debate,” during which those in favor of carrier-building should present their compelling arguments “to prove the necessity and reason behind building new carriers.”