Tag Archives: Aircraft Carriers

Second Tier Pacific Power?

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Militaryparitet.com wrote recently about Jane’s Defence Weekly’s report on the possible start of construction of an indigenous Chinese aircraft carrier on Changxing, near Shanghai.  A new one, not an old one bought abroad and refurbished.

It may, or may not, be a carrier in the end.

Nevertheless, Militaryparitet quoted a 23 [sic] December Russia Today story about the Chinese carrier program:

“China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier will be a larger version of Liaoning.  The design is reportedly based on drafts of a Soviet-era, nuclear-powered, 80,000 ton vessel capable of carrying 60 aircraft.”

In other words, a later-day Ulyanovsk.

Militaryparitet also cites Voice of Russia.  It quoted Pavel Kamennov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the Far East, who claimed China will build two conventionally-powered carriers by 2015 [sic?] before constructing a nuclear one by 2020.

The government broadcaster tends to see a threat from China.  Its report came against the backdrop of Liaoning’s first deployment.

Then VoR turned to nationalist military commentator, retired naval officer Konstantin Sivkov to describe how the “geopolitical situation” will change when Chinese carrier groups take to sea in the future:

“. . . somewhere across 10 years China could put naval power comparable to the Americans on the Pacific Ocean.  This will signify that Russia has moved to the second tier on the Pacific Ocean, and the main players will be the USA and China.”

Now it seems likely China will soon surpass Russia as a carrier power.  Though one notes Moscow, even with a less than robust program, still has years of experience operating Kuznetsov that constitute a final remaining advantage over Beijing.

China catching the U.S. Navy is altogether different.

To its credit, Militaryparitet wrote that acquiring carriers is complex and expensive.  They take years to build, and many more to master their tactical and strategic operation.  There’s no substitute for experience in controlling carriers and battle groups under real-world conditions.  And the U.S. Navy has launched aircraft into combat from flattops for decades.

Those aren’t the only hurdles.

As the Russians learned, and the Chinese are learning, perhaps the most difficult step is fielding a high performance, carrier-capable fighter that can deliver a large combat load.  As RIA Novosti’s military commentator wrote in 2008:

“. . . to turn an ordinary fighter into a deck-based one through a small modernization is not possible.  The aircraft has to be designed from scratch, because the airframe of a deck-based aircraft experiences stress 2-3 times greater on landing than its ‘land-based brethren.'”

Not to mention the stress when the cat hurls it skyward.

So where does this leave us?

It’s no surprise Russian military observers and nationalist-minded elements lament the rise of China’s naval power and its fast-developing and emblematic carrier program.

But were it not for politeness, they could be reminded that China quite some time ago supplanted Russia as a “first tier” power in the Pacific in many ways.  Demographically, economically, diplomatically, and perhaps even militarily.

Other China-watchers (including many Russian ones) have a more benign, less zero-sum view.  They see Beijing as simply preparing to represent and defend its interests, which may or may not conflict with Moscow’s (or Washington’s for that matter).

Meanwhile, Western Russia-watchers tend a little cottage industry of trying to divine how Moscow really feels about China.  And the wisest ones probably say there’s more than one correct answer to this question.

Ulyanovsk Redux

Artist’s Rendering of Ulyanovsk Under Construction (photo: Soviet Military Power, 1984)

A Glavkomat source has told Izvestiya the Navy plans to send a draft plan for a  60,000-ton displacement nuclear-powered aircraft carrier back to the designers for revision.

The Krylov TsNII and Nevskiy PKB have been on the task for 2 and 1/2 years, and have not received official word back from the Navy, according to the paper.

The source said:

“They essentially proposed the old Soviet ‘Ulyanovsk’ aircraft carrier to us, which wasn’t built due to the USSR’s collapse.  At the end of the 1980s, it was a modern carrier, a worthy answer to the American ‘Nimitz,’ but today it’s literally last century.”

This is the same complaint made by at least some generals and defense officials and commentators — the OPK is proposing (or providing) Soviet- or 1990s-era weapons systems to the military.  By the same token, that may be about all it can do in its current condition.  The Russians don’t seem to have an answer for breaking this vicious circle.

The Russian carrier design is half the size of the future Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), envisions steam rather than electromagnetic catapults, and lacks AWACS aircraft.  But the designers claim the Navy gave them little to go on.

Izvestiya recalled former Navy CINC Vladimir Vysotskiy saying last year he hopes for one carrier strike group each for the Northern and Pacific Fleets by 2027.

Kuznetsov Air Ops

Colonel Nikolay Deriglazov

We’re gradually reaching the end of the slow news season . . . here’s a picture and a couple videos.

Colonel Deriglazov commands the Su-33 squadron aboard Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.  He speaks about flying off the Russian carrier in the video below.

Hat tip to Militaryparitet.com for highlighting this Vesti.ru report on Kuznetsov pilots in action.  The video shows an officer (an LSO-type) at the “visual landing post.”  Some Russian carrier pilots have 160 landings to their credit, according to Vesti.

The Defense Ministry’s TV Zvezda had this video as well.

The Kuznetsov group remained in port (or at least at anchorage near) Tartus, Syria today, as RIA Novosti reported.

Nyet Means “Not Yet”

Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov (photo: Denis Abramov)

Russian aircraft carrier lobbyists — admirals and shipbuilders — define persistence.  To them, nyet means “not yet” or “keep trying.”

Izvestiya’s Denis Telmanov reported this week on future plans to build two new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers by 2027 — one for the Pacific Fleet and one for the Northern Fleet — along with 15-ship battle groups to surround them.

After years of arguing, the admirals reportedly decided they need carriers (not just nuclear subs and cruisers) to “broaden the Russian Navy’s zone of influence in the Pacific Ocean and North Atlantic.”

The Navy is reportedly completing the “technical tasks” for a new carrier, with a first design due next year, and the final one by 2017.  The first hull is supposed to be launched in 2023.  According to Izvestiya, sections and components will be built in several shipyards, but final assembly will be at Sevmash to save resources instead of building a new yard large enough to put a carrier together.

The article might be as much about where carriers would be built as if they will be.  There has been talk that the nascent New-Admiralty Wharves could get this work.

Izvestiya says land-based carrier trainers at Yeysk and Saki (NITKA) in Crimea will be used.  The paper also notes the new carriers will need new support bases because the lack of them “killed” or complicated the service lives of Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruisers,” including the Kuznetsov.

One surmises that Russia’s coming experience with building, basing, and operating Mistrals will affect all this too.

But let’s rewind a bit . . . Navy CINC, Admiral Vysotskiy said in early 2010 that Russia plans to launch a carrier by 2020.  Defense Minister Serdyukov, however, has said twice in the last year that Russia has no plans to build carriers in the near future [by 2020].  On July 1, he emphasized that the Genshtab and Navy will decide on the need for an aircraft carrier after a “preliminary design” is complete.

No matter how much some say “Russia must have aircraft carriers,” it ain’t necessarily so. 

It ain’t so because (1) Russia may have more important requirements to fill with its limited resources, and (2) the people talking about carriers ain’t the same people who ultimately decide which requirements get met. 

Telmanov’s article is full of this:

“Strategists insist . . . .  The Navy has decided . . . .  The admirals have selected . . . .  In the military’s opinion . . . .  A Navy Main Staff representative explained . . . .  The military is deciding . . . .”

Not this:

“The president has decided . . . .  The government has selected . . . .  The VPK insists . . . .  The defense minister explained . . . .  In the General Staff’s opinion . . . .”

When we read that these types of people have decided to build carriers, it might really happen.

Difficult Course to a Grand Fleet

Konstantin Bogdanov sees reason for pessimism when looking at the course ahead for rebuilding Russia’s fleet.  Writing in Friday’s Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, he says, despite an intention to spend 4.7 trillion rubles of the ten-year GPV on the Navy, there are technical challenges, clearly impractical schemes, and failures in what he calls the “organization-financial plan” ahead. 

Bogdanov provides us a handy review of the state of Russian shipbuilding.

He points first to OSK’s insistence on seeing new aircraft carriers (with nuclear-powered destroyers in their battle groups) on the Russian Navy’s horizon.  But Defense Minister Serdyukov has only a cold rebuff for the idea.  Early R&D into what a new carrier might look like is as far as he’s being willing to go.  It was made pretty clear that a carrier isn’t part of this GPV.

Bogdanov says OSK may be looking for work for the New-Admiralty Wharves it sees on Kotlin Island in the future.  The 30- to 60-billion-ruble shipyard could be ready in 2016.  An aircraft carrier project would help launch this idea.

Then Bogdanov turns to the Navy’s more immediate needs — frigates and corvettes.  

Proyekt 22350 frigates are needed by tens, if not 30, or even 40, of them.  But Northern Wharf is having trouble building them.  Lead unit Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov was five years in construction, and its underway testing isn’t complete.  Fleet Admiral Kasatonov was laid down just about two years ago.  Its SAM system, Poliment-Redut with 9M96 missiles isn’t ready, and will have to be fitted right to finished frigates.  But Bogdanov sees the frigates’ VLS — the Multipurpose Ship Fire System (UKSK or УКСК) as a positive step.  It could fire antiship, antisubmarine, land-attack cruise missiles, torpedoes, and possibly SAMs.

When proyekt 22350 didn’t come along quickly, Bogdanov says, the Navy went for its own proyekt 11356M frigates like those being built for India.  But, he notes, Baltic Shipbuilding Plant “Yantar” in Kaliningrad isn’t having an easy time constructing them for its Indian and Russian customers.  There are delays in the Indian units, but Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen have been laid down for Russia, and Admiral Makarov should join them soon.  The contract for a second batch of three was just signed.  They’re supposed to be “localized,” but may actually be more like the Indian versions.  They’re slightly cheaper than the proyekt 22350 at 10 billion vs. 16 billion rubles per ship.

Northern Wharf has the order for nine proyekt 20380 Steregushchiy-class corvettes (with the proyekt 22350 frigates this comes to more than 220 billion rubles).  Soobrazitelnyy (proyekt 20381) began sea trials this year, Boykiy was launched, Stoykiy is under construction, and Provornyy (proyekt 20385) was laid down.  Sovershennyy (proyekt 20380) remains under construction at Komsomolsk-na-Amure.  Bogdanov says the proyekt 20385 ships will have an eight-cell UKSK.

Bogdanov notes, however, that Northern Wharf’s production won’t be steady until its ownership issue is finally resolved.  If OSK takes over, this could have a good or bad effect on fulfilling defense orders, but the current financial questions around Northern Wharf are even worse.

Turning to submarines, Bogdanov believes the situation is more transparent, but there are still questions.

The SSBN picture is pretty clear.  Proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBNs finally have a missile that looks like it works.  Yuriy Dolgorukiy has fired it, and Aleksandr Nevskiy might this year.  Vladimir Monomakh is under construction, and they’re preparing production materials for Saint Nikolay.

The problem, he notes, is units 1 and 2 used sections and components of proyekt 971 and 949A submarines never built.  Units 3 and 4 will be built from scratch, and it’s too early to say how this will be reflected in their cost.  Bogdanov concludes another battle over inflated prices awaits, and there is, of course, still no 2011 contract with Sevmash.

It’s less clear with the multipurpose proyekt 885, Yasen-class, of which the Navy wants ten by 2020.  But these boats have been the focus of the Defense Ministry’s familiar complaint about unjustified price increases.  Unit 1 Severodvinsk was built from materials and resources on hand, and its rising price was frozen at 47 billion rubles in 2005.  The Defense Ministry says Sevmash wants 112 billion for unit 2 Kazan

Bogdanov thinks it’s hard to tell who’s justified here.  There is structural industrial inflation, and a higher costs could be the result of the frozen handover price on Severodvinsk.

Bogdanov mentions the thought given to cheaper attack boats like the Victor III or Akula, or proyekt 957 Kedr which never left the design phase.  The Yasen is intended to replace Soviet-era SSNs and SSGNs, but Bogdanov thinks it’s too complex and expensive to be built in the numbers Russia may need.  Twenty years ago the Russian Navy was planning for not less than 30 [sized of course against the U.S. fleet], and currently it has not more than 30 SSNs and SSGNs, and this is considered insufficient. 

Despite the uncertainty above, Bogdanov says one still hears talk about the need to develop a fifth generation submarine, but it’s unknown if there will be any development work on one.
 

Naval Aviation Chief Interviewed

Hero of Russia, General-Major Igor Kozhin

On Sunday, RIA Novosti interviewed Naval Aviation Chief, General-Major Igor Kozhin on his branch’s 95th anniversary.

The news agency’s recap reminded that Naval Aviation lost its strike assets to the Air Forces on 1 April.  And, by year’s end, all remaining Su-27, MiG-31, Tu-22 and part of its transport aircraft will move to the VVS.  Only land-based ASW and carrier aviation will remain.

Asked about training, General-Major Kozhin focused on cost and retention.  He claimed training a pilot costs a rather exorbitant $1.5 to 2 million annually.  He indicated the need to keep older, experienced personnel — even in a civilian capacity — to train his younger pilots.

On upcoming training, Kozhin said his one regiment of 20 carrier-qualified pilots will conduct 100 takeoffs and landings from the Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov in August and September.

Kozhin said Kuznetsov is currently preparing for sea, and there’s no plan for capital repairs even though a replacement isn’t foreseen at this time.

He gave no hint of any impending carrier deployment as rumored earlier this year. 

RIA Novosti asked about renting the NITKA carrier trainer in Ukraine.  Kozhin answered by updating the construction of a similar facility at Yeysk, in Krasnodar Kray.  He said toward fall the takeoff and landing strip will be complete, then landing systems will be installed, and the ground-based carrier simulator will be functional in 2013.  He said the entire Naval Aviation training complex will be finished in 2015.

Finally, on new aircraft, Kozhin said the first four MiG-29K for Naval Aviation could apppear in 2012, but the Defense Ministry will have to sign the contract before mid-August.  Otherwise, the first delivery will be in 2013.  In all, a Navy buy of 20 is planned, but the factory is busy now filling India’s order for fighters for the ex-Gorshkov being renovated at Sevmash.

More on Carriers from Gorshkov Conference

Navy CINC Vysotskiy (photo: RIA Novosti)

RIA Novosti has more coverage of Navy CINC Vysotskiy’s carrier comments from yesterday.  Vysotskiy said there’s a plan to build and launch an aircraft carrier by 2020, and the technical proposal for it has to be developed and ready by the end of 2010.

“According to the plan, by year’s end we’ll receive the technical proposal for a future aircraft carrier with the basic tactical-technical characteristics.  Then development of the working documentation will begin.” 

He said experimental-design work (OKR) was already under way.

Vysotskiy noted that a Federal Goal Program (FTsP) was needed to construct an aircraft carrier, because financing to do it in the State Defense Order (GOZ) would be very complex.

Former Navy CINC, now advisor to the Defense Minister, Vladimir Masorin, remarked that carriers make it possible to influence the situation in the world, and its different regions.  He added that, if Russia wants to become a great naval power, it has to have carriers and they will have to be nuclear-powered.  He believes the main thing is preserving Russia’s scientific potential and carrier pilot skills:

“Aircraft carriers can’t be built in a short period.  We have to preserve our scientists, designers, and pilots.”

Navy CINC Vysotskiy on Parity, Space, Carriers

Navy CINC Vysotskiy

ITAR-TASS reported Navy CINC Vladimir Vysotskiy’s remarks at a military-historical conference dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of long-time Soviet Navy CINC Sergey Gorshkov.  Vysotskiy said: 

“For the first time in history Russia threw down the gauntlet to old naval powers.  Having achieved nuclear parity with the U.S. Navy, the [Soviet] Navy became a strategic service of the armed forces.  Thanks to this we are developing many of the most serious goals to ensure keeping this parity, and we are correcting all approaches which were laid down in the ‘unforgettable’ 1990s.  Russia is the inheritor of a great state that has to possess an oceanic fleet capable of defending national interests wherever they are.  And they are everywhere in the world’s oceans.” 

In Vysotskiy’s estimation, “putting the fleet into operationally important areas of the world’s oceans allows us to look with certainty into the future, with the support of the Supreme CINC.”

Vysotskiy pointed to Gorshkov’s emphasis on nuclear weapons, submarines, and naval aviation, and noted that, “The memory of Gorshkov allows us to stand not on a crude defense, but to move forward.” 

RIA Novosti’s account quoted Vysotskiy on space and aircraft carriers:

“Without air supremacy it’s impossible to conquer space.  The one who understands this is on the right path.” 

He observed that space and air forces are the main danger even for submarines.  And submarines have to rely on space-based comms.  Vysotskiy said it’s essential for Russia to build ‘aviation-carrying systems’ which are very similar to space systems in their own way. 

“Today it’s necessary to understand the significance of these systems, it’s necessary to do this today, this must be a collective work of the state.” 

In other words, he wants the state to see things the same way and pay for it. 

He said today 9 countries have ‘aviation-carrying fleets,’ and 14 will by 2014. 

“If China intends to have one, this is understood, and if even Thailand intends to have one, then we also need to understand this in Russia today.” 

He also noted that costly investment in [naval] construction is justified even in a time of crisis since 90 percent of the world’s cargo is delivered by ships which need to be protected.  But one wonders how much of Russia’s is.  All in all, a weak justification.