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A Shtorm Coming? Russiαn Defence Ministry Begins Drafting Statement of Objectives for Nuclear Supercarrier

The Russiαn Defense Ministry has begun the drafting of the statement of objectives (SOO) for a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for its Navy – according to reports from state media outlet TASS. Rumours of a new heavy carrier have circulated since the mid 2010s, with the Krylov State Research Centre for the Russiαn Navy proposing in 2015 the Project 23000E Shtorm supercarrier in 2015 which would deploy navalised variants of the Su-57 fifth generation air superiority fighter and MiG-35 multirole fighter. Some reports further indicated that the warships could deploy specialised variants of the Su-34 strike fighter – though this remains unconfirmed and is considered unlikely given the fast growing strike capabilities of the Su-57 as more advanced standoff munitions and bombs are integrated which are likely to surpass those of the Su-34 by the time the carrier is laid down.

Russiα’s United Aircraft Corporation for its part may have been aware of the Russiαn Defense Ministry’s plans to begin development of a supercarrier, stating its readiness to develop a carrier based Su-57 in March 2018. Trials for an electromagnetic catapult launch system have also reportedly been underway for some time, with reports of technology sharing with neighbouring China which has also invested heavily in developing such a system.

China for its part plans to field its first supercarrier, the Type 002, in the early 2020s – with the 85,000 ton conventionally powered warship currently in the advanced stages of construction. Development has taken place in parallel with manufacture of the KJ-600 carrier based AWACS support platform, the J-15D carrier based electronic attack jet, and a heavily enhanced new variant of the J-15 Flying Shark fighter to strengthen its air wing. A nuclear powered supercarrier class displacing over 100,000, the Type 003 Class, is reportedly also under set to be completed before 2025.

Krylov State Research Centre 23000E Shtorm Supercarrier Deisgn

A nuclear powered supercarrier would be one of several ambitious Russiα naval programs, including the Shkval class heavy destroyers – meant to carry the largest missile of any destroyer in the world, and four new light aircraft carriers – which are being developed domestically to replace the French Mistral Class ships. Russiα’s new light carriers will reportedly be heavier than the Mistral Class, with two classes planned developed the heavier of which will displace 35,000-40,000 tons. While the United States is currently the only state to have developed supercarriers, with ten Nimitz Class ships and a single Gerald Ford Class ship currently in service, the Soviet Union had laid down its first supercarrier and was set to lay down its second within months under the Ulyanovsk Class carrier program. This program was initiated in parallel to the lighter Kuznetsov Class, of which one is currently in service in the Russiαn fleet and the second was sold to China and completed there as the carrier Liaoning. The Ulyanovsk was the only nuclear supercarrier class laid down outside the United States, and would have integrated steam catapults and carried heavily armed Su-33 air superiority fighters to engage the American F-14 Tomcats. Considerable Soviet investments in research and development for the new carrier class is speculated to have considerably benefitted both China and Russiα today in their pursuit of a supercarrier.

Russiαn Air Force Su-57 and MiG-35 Next Generation Fighter Jets

Development and building of a supercarrier based on the Shtorm project or a similar design is estimated to cost $5.5 billion, although the costs of the fighters and support aircraft for its deck will amount to hundreds of millions more. Operational costs of such large carriers are also extremely high, and the warships will require sizeable escorts groups including heavy destroyers to operate effectively. The warship is estimated to displace over 100,000 tons, with one source quoting a figure of 120,000, though the final size remains unconfirmed and will likely depend heavily on the Russiαn economy and its ability to sustain high defence spending. Larger carriers cost far more to operate and maintain. The American Nimitz Class supercarriers displacing 100,000 tons were acquired for $6.5 billion each, although the lack costly systems such as electromagnetic catapults which the new Russiαn platform is expected to integrate. The first of the U.S. Navy’s next generation supercarriers, USS Gerald Ford, cost the service $13 billion – although costs are still mounting as issues with critical systems continue to emerge and functioning to a level anywhere near combat readiness has yet to be reached.


Russiαn Next Generation Supercarrier – concept design

According to the source cited by TASS regarding the new carrier: “The SOO on the new aircraft carrier is now being created and has not yet been sent to the United Shipbuilding Corporation… The Defense Ministry and the Russiαn Navy Main Staff share the opinion that the new aircraft carrier should be nuclear-powered.” President of the United Shipbuilding Corporation Alexei Rakhmanov told reporters on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that his company was “more than ready” to build such a vessel, predicting that the project would be seen to completion within 15 years. Russiα reduced its defence expenditure by approximately 20% in 2018 after the success of a ten year military modernisation program, and the success of many of its ambitious weαpσns programs particularly in the Navy rest heavily on the country’s ability to reach planned levels of economic growth and thereby increase revenues available for defence in a more sustainable way.