Tag Archives: Ulyanovsk

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.

Shamanov on the VDV’s GOZ

General-Lieutenant Shamanov (photo: RIA Novosti / Petr Chernov)

Last Thursday VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov returned to a bit of media spotlight for the first time since returning to duty following serious injuries in a collision with a truck last fall.

Shamanov said the VDV’s part of the state defense order (GOZ) isn’t necessarily proceeding well.  But he claims the BMD-4M was ordered.  He lobbied for a piece of the Arctic defense mission.  And he repeated past calls for his own helicopters.

RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported Shamanov saying he’s satisfied “on the whole” that the rearmament of the VDV:

“. . . is going according to the strict parameters which were established.  First of all, this concerns the modernization of BMD-1 and BMD-2 and ‘Nona’ self-propelled artillery with automation means.”

But he added:

“The issue of fulfilling the 2011 state defense order for 10 BMD-4M and for 10 standardized ‘Rakushka’ armored personnel carriers, built on a BMD-4M base, is not completely resolved.  The thing is Kurganmashzavod didn’t give a guarantee it would produce them.  Presently, Kurganmashzavod’s financial situation is causing concern.  There are no guarantees that, if all the money comes, the order will be met.” 

Last year Shamanov said the firm was developing and producing the first BMD-4M models on its own to the tune of 200 million rubles.

Still he hopes the problem with fulfilling the 2011 GOZ for the VDV will be resolved soon.  He said there are negotiations, and the problem should be resolved in week or two.

The VDV Commander indicated he’s sending the Genshtab a proposal under which his branch would participate in defending Russia’s Arctic shelf jointly with the Ground Troops.

He told journalists he gave his deputy, General-Major Aleksandr Lentsov,  the task of developing options for VDV units to work with the Ground Troops and Navy in the Arctic.  Shamanov invited the commanders of Naval Infantry brigades and Ground Troops’ air-assault brigades to the VDV’s operational conference in Ryazan the week before last.

Shamanov opined that establishment of an inter-service grouping for the Arctic is “fully possible” but how it might happen remains a topic of discussion.

The press services said Shamanov resurfaced his previous calls for a helicopter regiment co-located with the VDV brigade in Ulyanovsk or division in Pskov.  He said he plans to submit two variants of such a proposal to the Genshtab when it is finished.  

Press sources said he requested the same thing at this time last year.  The Ground Troops-dominated Genshtab apparently frowns on an idea that would eat resources and possibly duplicate the capabilities of the army’s own air-assault brigades.  For his part, maybe Shamanov benefits by repeatedly laying down a marker indicating that the VDV lacks something he considers essential.