While Russia’s aircraft carrier plans are still on the drawing board, the Russian Navy has expressed a desire for two carriers in each fleet: one at sea and one in reserve. That would mean a total of eight new carriers by 2040, compared to the US’ current 10 and China’s allegedly planned five.
The new carrier would also need to address an entire complex of challenges, from new multirole submarines to ballistic missiles and possibly even drone attacks. At that rate, the cost of systems to defend the carriers could outmatch the cost of the carriers themselves.
In that respect, the Russian Navy’s ambitious plans for a supercarrier could be more of a political bargaining chip. The demands for an ambitious eight carriers and effective defense measures that even the US Navy has not been able to develop after decades of attempts, and even the plans for a “supercarrier” may be part of a political strategy to build a reserve ship for the Kuznetsov.
Such an arrangement would also be practical in that Russia’s Navy would get an updated carrier to maintain its naval aviation capabilities. A slim program that does not make politicians and the public see the idea of carriers as a boondoggle would also keep the door open for future plans to expand the program.
Krylov boasts that it has early designs for a carrier that “can carry 100 aircraft on board,” surpassing all competitors, according to Defense Ministry television news agency Zvezda.
A diagram of the unfinished Soviet super-carrier Ulyanovsk.
The existing Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only current aircraft carrier, displaces 43,000 tons of water. U.S. Nimitz class carriers displace 97,000 tons.
But the collapse of communism torpedoed the project in 1992, and Nikolayev 444, with its vast experience in carrier building, found itself in independent Ukraine.
Without access to Nikolayev 444, “Russia wouldn’t be able to build any naval vessel larger than 60,000 tons displacement or so,” said Gorenburg.
Housing up to 100 aircraft, Krylov’s design is much larger than the Ulyanovsk, which could only hold about 70 aircraft.
No Russian dry dock exists that can house such a large carrier. Either one would have to be built, or they will have to attempt to build two halves of the ship in different yards and then weld them together at Sevmash, Russia’s largest military shipyard, which has a deep basin nearby that could work for such a task, Gorenburg said.