Why and What kind of aircraft carrier does Russia need?

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
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There is no doubt that Russia urgently needs a new aircraft carrier. Given the high cost, An aircraft carrier is a symbol of prestige and power for the navies across the world.

Now Russia does not have an aircraft carrier and has been completely suppressed by the US Navy. This is unacceptable to Russia! Curently country only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is in the dry dock for an overhaul and modernisation program. The overhaul and upgrade of Admiral Kuznetsov is expected to be completed in the first half of 2023

In short, why Russia needs an aircraft carrier, one is for the “image of a superpower”. The second is to ensure the safe deployment of strategic nuclear submarines before nuclear strikes against the enemy. In theory, surface ships can also cover strategic nuclear submarines, but the sea-based air defense system of large Russian warships is quite weak and cannot withstand large-scale air strikes by dozens of carrier-based fighter jets in large US aircraft carrier battle groups. 

Considering the quantity and quality of the U.S. Navy, Russian nuclear submarines have little chance of surviving and carrying out their combat missions in wartime, which means that an underwater nuclear counterattack may not work.

In other words, without proper cover, the maritime part of Russia’s “nuclear triad” is almost unarmed, and its use becomes “Russian Roulette,” just depends on your luck? So for Russia’s national security and nuclear deterrence, Russia must have aircraft carriers.

What kind of aircraft carrier does Russia need?

In the Soviet era, the ideal was the Ulyanovsk heavy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. It was originally planned to build 2 ships. Its hull was laid down in 1988, but construction was cancelled at 40% complete in January 1991 and a planned second unit was never laid down.

But today’s Russian aircraft carrier project simply can’t pull it off. It will be long and expensive, and a lot of money will be drawn from the budget to service four nuclear supercarriers. Why so many? At least two ships will be deployed in the Northern and Pacific Fleet, one in combat readiness and the other in service and maintenance.

Another reasonable alternative is to build light aircraft carriers with a displacement of 40,000 to 50,000 tons and install conventional power plants. Although there is no direct conflict with Nimitz or Ford-class aircraft carriers, 24 fighter jets, 6 helicopters and 20 reconnaissance and attack drones will cover and escort nuclear submarines out, and can also attack land.

It would be several times cheaper to build and maintain a light-displacement light aircraft carrier than Ulyanovsk, and can be built much faster. For example, the Kerch Shipyard in Crimea is currently building two amphibious assault ships of Project 23900 with a displacement of 40 000 tons. Nevsky’s Varan general-purpose amphibious assault ship can also be used as a prototype light aircraft carrier.

Deck Based Fighter

In addition to aircraft carriers, Russia’s carrier-based aircraft are also a particular headache. The MiG-29K light deck fighter is long outdated, and the heavy Su-33 has been discontinued. The ideal choice might be a fifth-generation Su-57 fighter, but the plane is produced in small batches because the “izdeliye 30” engine is not in place, let alone a carrier-based version, and launching a heavy aircraft requires a catapult and a long enough deck. In other words, the Su-57 can only be equipped with the Ulyanovsk heavy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

To be more realistic, it would be reasonable to export a simplified version of the Su-57, the Su-75. You can refer to the model of the US F-35 fighter, which has three versions: the F-35A of the US Air Force, the F-35C of the US Navy and the F-35B of the US Marine Corps.

The Russian Su-75 is likely to replace the aging MiG-29K fighter jets aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov and Russia’s promising light aircraft carrier and exported to other nations.

Due to the short take-off and landing, the Su-75 can be equipped with a general-purpose amphibious landing ship, making it a light aircraft carrier that can be used as a means of air support for the navy or escort formations.

If necessary, the Su-75 can be placed on the deck of a large amphibious ship, turning it into a light aircraft carrier (like Japan Izumo-class). After World War II, many countries have made attempts in this regard. If the Su-75s could take off not only in a shortened mode, but also in a purely vertical manner, they could be deployed on mobilized civilian ships if necessary, with decks reinforced with heat-resistant coatings. For example, they will perform air support missions for the Marine Corps and can be deployed on several dry cargo ships, each of which can carry up to 20 VTOL fighters.

Therefore, the future modification of the Su-75 is most likely to be on the aircraft carrier. Of course, the ideal is very full, and the reality depends on the development.

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