Russian Navy plans new supercarrier, but will it ever float?

The new Russian aircraft carrier would be larger than even the US's Nimitz class. But experts are skeptical that it will ever be realized.

Courtesy of US Navy/Reuters/File
The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov sails in the Mediterranean Sea in January 1996.

Moscow is planning to build at least one giant aircraft carrier, even larger than the US Nimitz class of supercarriers, to give Russia's navy the ability to project power around the globe, according to naval chief Viktor Chirkov.

The new carrier is still in the early planning stages, and many experts doubt Russia has the ability to construct such a vessel. But Admiral Chirkov's announcement does come amid a massive naval buildup that will see the Russian navy receive 50 new warships this year alone.

"No doubt Russia needs this aircraft carrier, and not just one of them," says Viktor Litovkin, military editor of the official TASS news agency. "It might take 3 or 4 years to solve the basic technical problems, and find a drydock where it can be constructed. But Russia needs to go out into the ocean. Whether some people like it or not, we are a global power."

Few details have emerged about the planned carrier. But a scale model, built by the Krylov State Research Center in St. Petersburg where the ship is being designed, suggests it will be a seagoing behemoth capable of carrying about 100 fixed-wing aircraft (compared to 90 for a Nimitz carrier). Other innovations would include a US-style catapult take-off system, although the model shows the ship also having a ski-jump snout, the system used by Soviet-era carriers.

Russia's sole operating carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was launched in 1985, is half the size of a Nimitz class ship, and carries up to 50 aircraft.

Analysts say that Russia faces overwhelming obstacles if it goes ahead with the plan. Soviet aircraft carriers were built in Mikolaiv, Ukraine, and no comparable shipyards yet exist in Russia. Writing for Reuters, US military blogger David Axe summarizes all the reasons why the massive machine announced by Chirkov will probably never be built.

Some Russian security experts agree.

Alexander Golts, an analyst with the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, says the Russian Navy has been lagging behind other military services in the struggle for resources, amid the huge rearmament program ordered by President Vladimir Putin. The Navy probably have invented the carrier project to attract the attention of politicians.

"There is a scramble for available funds; every service is trying to get more. So, the admirals decided to go public with this announcement," he says. "But it's mostly wishful thinking."

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