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Why Russia has no aircraft carriers?

Source: en.rian.ru, author: Andrei Kislyakov, political observer of RIA Novosti
Translation: RusNavy.com

The answer to this question should be searched in the military doctrine of the USSR that had been stubbornly refused to consider the concept of aircraft carrying ships as absolute sea airfield with a wide variety of operational air force. As the result we entered the new millennium without clearly formed program for creation of true aircraft carriers.

But right on the 4th of July, US Independence Day, the former Russia Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Viktor Kravchenko called upon quickest creation of Russian aircraft carrying fleet. However such an appeal was a mere comment to the information on construction of two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. As usual our steps in the naval sphere are just delayed reaction to the successes of Western Navies.

But let us come back to the subject mentioned in the header. In the seventies USSR got a real opportunity to construct true aircraft carrier thereby lay the foundation of the stated above program. It should be mentioned that the new project marked as project 1160 suited perfectly to the current situation of military technical balance between USSR and US Navies with the latter to have decisive superiority in surface ships and many years experience in usage of aircraft carriers.

By 1986 the Soviet project provided for construction of three nuclear powered aircraft carriers armed with catapult takeoff aircrafts Su 27K. The main task of these ships was maximum possible deterrence of deployment of enemy Task Groups with close coordination with naval aviation and attack submarines.

But the process of Soviet aircraft carriers construction was interrupted by their eternal opponent namely heavy aircraft carrying cruiser (HACC). It should be mentioned that HACC program had a wide support in particular by Dmitriy Ustinov who in the early seventies was the curator of defense issues in the Central Committee of the Party. In the mean time the hybrid of aircraft carrier and cruiser nonviable on itself gave birth to a crippled aviation program provided for creation of planes with vertical (reduced) takeoff and landing.

Only British Aerospace company managed to create such successful aircraft namely Harrier.

In USSR the program of “vertical” planes faced complete fiasco. In autumn of 1991 during trials Yak 41M crashed and burned at the deck of aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral Gorshkov. Fortunately that Yak planes program was ceased in 1992.

In the seventies the project of true aircraft carrier of 1160 project was replaced in favor of already mentioned HACC thereby pushing back not only construction of aircraft carriers themselves but their aircrafts as well. But to convert an ordinary fighter into a deck-based one due to mere upgrade is not possible. The aircraft shall be designed anew as the frame of the deck-based plane is under twice or triple as much stress as oppose to their land-based analogues.

Nevertheless Ustinov terminated works on project 1160 and as the result already the fourth HACC Admiral Gorshkov was launched. The history of this ship that finally was to be made over as true aircraft carrier but for the Indian Navy is obvious and ignominious end of all HACC. No one in the world not for love or money would need such ships.

It is fair to say that Russia has one true aircraft carrier indeed namely Rigalaid down in 1982 at Ukrainian yards in Nikolaev. Before autumn of 1990 when she became Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov she was also known as Leonid Brezhnev and Tbilisi.

But can this ship be considered as true modern aircraft carrier? It is very unlikely. To begin with she is equipped with boiler-and-turbine power plant that oppose to nuclear one highly decreases the scale of ship's usage. Then instead of steam catapult usually used for take-off of deck-based fighters fore ski-ramp is used. According to numerous trials only catapult can guarantee safe take-off of the planes at any weather and decreases the dependence on aircraft take-off weight. Besides the amount of suitable planes for the Russian aircraft carrier is next to nothing and the number of trained pilots is hardly making a score.

This year USA will commission for the Navy the tenth nuclear powered aircraft carrier of Nimitz class and by 2013 they plan to launch CVN-78 aircraft carrier of the next generation equipped with electro-magnetic catapults and capable to accommodate up to a hundred of planes including air drones.

The Russian government program till 2016 does not provide for aircraft carriers and allocates no funds for their construction”, said Kravchenko. We can only hope that during approval in 2009 of Navy policy till 2050 the program of Russian aircraft carriers construction will find its place there.