Russia set to rebuild its nuclear-powered cruisers

© RIA Novosti . Grigory Sysoev / Go to the photo bankPyotr Veliky
Pyotr Veliky - Sputnik International
The Russian Defense Ministry plans to overhaul its four Project 1144 nuclear-powered cruisers. Notably, the Admiral Nakhimov heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser will reenter service in 2012, after lengthy repairs (that will have lasted over a decade in total) are completed.

The Russian Defense Ministry plans to overhaul its four Project 1144 nuclear-powered cruisers. Notably, the Admiral Nakhimov heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser will reenter service in 2012, after lengthy repairs (that will have lasted over a decade in total) are completed.

The possibility of the cruisers' return has been one of the most hotly discussed topics among analysts and enthusiasts alike. Everyone is keen to discover to what extent these warships meet current naval requirements.

Admiral Gorshkov's favorite project

Vladimir Chelomei, chief designer of the P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship missile, the new cruisers' main weapon, joked that only Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, Soviet Naval Commander, could afford such an expensive toy. The joke nearly soured his relations with Admiral Gorshkov, but Chelomei was right to assume that the warships, both massive and massively expensive, were something of an anachronism in the dawning age of multi-purpose ships that can accomplish a multitude of combat missions thanks in part to their versatile missile launchers.

The Project 1144 nuclear-powered missile cruisers were developed for attacking capital enemy warships. They were equipped with powerful air-defense systems and had substantial anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. In addition to these auxiliary weapons, they had missile systems designed for highly specialized objectives.

These battle-worthy cruisers could only be used to shadow U.S. Navy carrier task forces.

This narrow specialization predetermined their future. A cash-strapped Russia was unable to complete all four cruisers, only commissioning the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) warship ahead of the Russian Navy's 300th anniversary in 1996. The other three warships remained moored alongside shipyard piers.

White elephants have a role to play

The Royal Navy uses the common idiom "white elephant" of unconventional warships whose designation and possible use are unclear even to specialists. These Project 1144 cruisers became exactly that for the post-Soviet Russian Navy which was no longer expected to track down U.S. aircraft carriers. Battle-cruisers not supported by other naval forces would have become sitting ducks in any hypothetical Russian-U.S. conflict. Key elements of Russia's military organization continued to degrade and were therefore unable to provide such support.

Moscow resumed the discussion of plans for rebuilding the cruisers once the Russian Armed Forces began to receive additional funding in the late 2000s. Their purpose was also reassessed.

Virtually all analysts agreed that the Project 1144 cruisers had to be totally overhauled and turned into multi-purpose warships.

Russia's defense industry was able to accomplish this objective by the late 2000s. Versatile artillery-and-missile systems were developed, making it possible to equip warships with numerous types of weapon designed specifically for particular objectives. New-generation combat-control systems facilitated naval task forces' collective defense, making it possible to exchange online data in real time and control several warships' firepower from a single command center.

These innovations being introduced to new-generation warships under orders from the Navy, also represent a new lease of life for the older cruisers. Moreover, the modernization of the Project 1144 warships will see them kitted out with a variety of up-to-date weapons systems and radio-electronic equipment, turning them into multirole platforms complete with powerful and diverse offensive weapons, air-defense and ASW systems.

The cruisers will be able to accomplish a host of different objectives, from providing coastal support for military operations onshore or deep within enemy territory to attacking enemy warships, submarines and aircraft. It will also become possible to upgrade their weapons with each specific combat mission in mind.

New task forces for new cruisers

Russia's warship fleet is gradually being transformed into a more sophisticated formation. Corvettes and frigates, now under construction, are to be supplemented with destroyers and amphibious assault ships in the upcoming decade. Weapons and equipment will be standardized across these ships. Interchangeable components allow greater flexibility in servicing and repairing ships of different classes. This will make it possible to establish inexpensive but hard-hitting task forces.

Multipurpose task forces like this, capable of accomplishing a variety of missions during peace-time and during active combat alike, can be expanded with upgraded guided-missile cruisers and new-generation aircraft carriers. These latter will be built, provided Moscow makes the relevant political decision.

Moreover, combat-ready small ships are an essential pre-requisite for the deployment of capital warships because the Russian Navy is now unable to operate amphibious assault ships, guided-missile cruisers and aircraft carriers. Its unprotected capital ships have to remain in port. In some cases, they put to sea with a random selection of other warships or conduct solo missions, calling at foreign ports.

This is how both the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and the only operational Peter Veliky heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser are used today. Hopefully, in wanting to rebuild the other three cruisers, the Defense Ministry has more ambitious objectives in mind.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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