MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)
Russia's state-controlled United Ship-Building Corporation (USBC) has disclosed some specifications of a new-generation aircraft carrier currently being developed for the country's Navy.
Unlike Soviet-era aircraft cruisers of the Kiev class, the nuclear-powered ship with a displacement of 60,000 metric tons will not carry any cruise missiles.
Analysts have speculated that the new aircraft carrier's design would be based on that of the Admiral Kuznetsov and Ulyanovsk, the last Soviet-era carrier, or even a new 40,000-ton aircraft carrier ordered by the Indian Navy and being co-designed by Russian specialists. The latter's keel was laid on February 28, 2009.
It appears that the new warship will closely resemble advanced NATO carriers also displacing 60,000 metric tons. This revelation has been indirectly confirmed by media reports about the interest of Russia's top naval brass in the projects of France's Thales, a leading developer of advanced CVF carriers for the British Royal Navy and PA-2 carriers for the French Navy.
Her dimensions will match those of the PA-2 with a standard displacement of 59,000 metric tons, while her full displacement will total 75,000 metric tons. Unlike the French carrier, which will have a gas-turbine propulsion unit, the Russian ship will be powered by a nuclear reactor and will have a different air wing.
The carrier's air wing has received most of the attention. At present, Russia has two types of carrier-borne fighters, namely, the Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K Fulcrum-D.
Su-33 planes based on the Admiral Kuznetsov are gradually becoming obsolete. Consequently, it would be inappropriate to resume production of these aircraft for the advanced carrier.
Russia has now begun manufacturing MiG-29K fighters for India's Vikramaditya carrier, a revamped version of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft cruiser. This warplane is more advanced than its predecessor, the basic MiG-29 version which entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1983.
Although batch production of MiG-29K fighters can begin in the next 12 to 24 months, they cannot be called ideal carrier-borne fighters that must be big and heavy enough for full-fledged strike missions.
Consequently, a carrier-borne version of the fifth-generation fighter, namely, the Prospective (Promising) Aircraft System of the Frontline Aviation (PAK FA) now being developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau, remains the best possible option so far.
The heavy-duty PAK FA fighter will probably have a standard take-off weight of about 30 metric tons and will be fitted with 117-S power-plants developing a thrust of 14.5 metric tons and even more powerful turbines in the future.
The new plane can be used as a multi-role fighter and will also be able to fly strike and air-defense missions. The sufficiently large new-generation carrier will accommodate an air wing comprising 30 to 36 heavy-duty fighters, not to mention aircraft of other types.
A mixed air wing comprising 24 heavy-duty and 24 light-weight planes, including MiG-29Ks or advanced light-weight fighters, can also be deployed onboard the carrier whose deck and hangars will also accommodate unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), helicopters and auxiliary multi-role planes.
Still it is unclear whether the new carrier will be equipped with catapults or a ramp, like the one in the bow section of her predecessor, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Analysts are hotly debating the advantages and drawbacks of each take-off method.
Little is known about the development of advanced auxiliary carrier-borne aircraft, namely, AWACS-type long-range early-warning planes, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters, etc.
The construction site has yet to be selected. Technically speaking, St Petersburg's Baltiisky Zavod (Baltic Shipyard), which has already built large-tonnage civil vessels and Project 1144 Orlan nuclear-powered cruisers of the Kirov class, can complete the carrier.
The Severodvinsk-based Sevmash shipyard in northern Russia, currently upgrading the air-capable cruiser Admiral Gorshkov for the Indian Navy and building a dry dock for ships with a displacement of up to 100,000 metric tons, is another option.
As there are plans to commission between three and six new carriers, the parties involved must settle various production, deployment, escort, crew-training and accommodation issues, as well as numerous other one.
All these issues must be solved using a nonrecurring procedure, thereby increasing the carrier program's chances of success.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.