Soviet Union carriers

Naval discussions covering the latter half of the 20th Century.
User avatar
Posts: 115
Joined: Sun May 11, 2014 11:56 pm

Re: Soviet Union carriers

Post by tameraire01 » Sun Jul 20, 2014 9:53 pm

They did have plans Project 1153 OREl (eagle). Which would be a 75-80 000 tonne aircraft carrier also armed with 24 anti ship missiles as well as steam catapults.
Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas. Joseph Stalin

Junior Member
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2018 4:26 pm

Re: Soviet Union carriers

Post by November_SSN » Fri Oct 26, 2018 6:07 pm

I'm necroposting this, but that's because I've researched the topic quite a lot recently. Blame the Wargame trilogy and Team Yankee for this.

The Soviet Navy had little use for carriers both before and after WW2 for several reasons.
Before WW2, the USSR was still suffering from the aftermath of the Revolution and Civil War, and most of the Soviet navy was made of pre-WW1 ships, such as their entire array of battleships. Moreover, the most important threats they could possibly face were land-based, and would attack Russia on the ground : as such, the Red Army (and at a lesser extent, the Soviet Air Force) received the huge majority of the country's defence budget. The navy's task was to defend the coastline, shoot at ground targets close to the shores, and lay mines in the Baltic and Black seas. Because of that, the (quite develop) Naval Air Force of the USSR was... ground based, and was made of fighters that were tasked to intercept enemy naval bombers, and, of course, of naval bombers.
This navy gave the USSR entire satisfaction during WW2 (Germany's naval efforts were aimed at Britain, so the USSR was facing the rear echelons of the Kriegsmarine and some awesome naval superpowers such as Romania) and thus made the Soviet admirals think it was entirely justified. Plus, in August 1945, the Soviet Pacific Fleet successfully shelled Japanese positions in Port Arthur and Korea, so everything was great for the Red Navy.

There were actually plans to develop a powerful oceanic fleet with heavy aircraft carriers and the Sovietsky Soyuz class of battleships from 1942 onwards as to threaten the Royal Navy, but this did not happen because in 1942, said Royal Navy was bringing tanks, canned food and planes to the USSR while the industrial production was geared towards the production of tanks, artillery and small arms for the largest land war in history. Fun fact : there were even plans to install a whole Soviet combat fleet in Brest in France, and Paris wasn't against it ; quite interestingly, France and the USSR collaborated quite a lot in terms of military development in the 30s. For example, the first French airborne troops were trained in 1935 in the USSR, and jumped from planes with Soviet parachutes according to Soviet military doctrine.

After WW2, the main enemy was NATO. Up to the 60s, it was clear that the USSR wouldn't stand a chance against the US Navy, and the main goals of the Soviet Navy remained the same : protect the coastline, lay mines. However, later on, the development of anti-ship missiles, ballistic missile nuclear submarines and other staples of modern navies changed the situation : the Soviets did have a chance to threaten US military domination in the high seas!
However, this would have come to a very high cost, and like in the 20s and 30s, the USSR chose to prioritise land and air forces ; that's why the T-64 and T-72 tanks joined the Soviet army (and were the most powerful tanks in the world until NATO introduced the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 in 1979, and even then, they were on equal terms with the Soviet T-64B and T-80 series), and why the USSR's Air force received the MiG-23 and 25 fighters. Meanwhile, their Navy only received one new weapon : the SSBN, since nuclear warfare was the latest trend.

In the 70s, several Soviet admirals demanded the development of aircraft carriers to fight the US Navy. However, due to their high costs, the role of fighting NATO's battle fleets was given to the anti-ship missile, which was to be launched from either strategic bombers (the Tu-16 Badger, 22 Blinder, 22M Backfire, 95 Bear and 160 Blackjack), from cruisers (Slava, Kirov classes) or from attack submarines, along with good ol' torpedoes.

And that's where the very, very interesting Soviet aircraft carriers enter the game. In the 60s, the Soviet Navy had already received two Moskva-class ASW helicopter carriers, which were tasked to defend the Black Sea.
The USSR used this experience to create something bigger and more powerful : the Kiev class heavy aviation cruiser. The Kievs were supposed to be both a combat and an escort ship for the Soviet navy.
Their escort role was clear : use their carrier-borne planes to fight enemy air attacks, and the ASW helicopters to thwart attempts to sink the Soviet ships with submarines. The latter had much more chances to be successful than the former, which relied on the Yak-38 Forger, a beautiful but terrible VTOL fighter that had no supersonic ability and an extremely short operational range, especially when taking off vertically. They were later on supposed to assist amphibious landings by acting as CAS planes, something that they could do without problem.
Their combat role, however, was different : the Kiev class ships were not aircraft carriers, but heavy aircraft cruisers. Their ship-sinking weapons were not their air wing, but their missiles, that were mounted on the bow of the ship.

In the same time, the Soviet admirals thought about developing a standard, nuclear, CATOBAR carrier, and had laid the plans for decent ships, but these were killed in the egg because of the lack of funding. So, instead, in the 80s, the Soviet navy had designed bigger, heavier aviation cruisers, the Kuznetsov class carriers. The first ship of the class is, as of today, the Russian Navy's only aircraft carrier. These were designed to play the role of both the Kiev class ship and of another regular cruiser : more planes, more helos, more missiles. Plus, the planes were no longer the Yak-38 (at first, the Kuznetsov was supposed to use a naval version of the MiG-23, but by the end of the Soviet times, it had at its disposition naval versions of the Su-27 Flanker and MiG-29 Fulcrum. That's what the Kuznetsov uses today, along with Ka-27 ASW helos (and derivatives) and a couple naval trainer planes derived from the Su-25 Frogfoot.

In the late 80s, the USSR was building a contender to the Nimitz class heavy aircraft carrier, the nuclear powered Ulyanovsk. Its steam catapults, nuke reactor were ready by 1991, but the majority of the ship was not. As such, it was broken up when the USSR collapsed. This one was supposed to play the same role and carry an air wing as big as the Nimitz class, just with a couple more anti ship missiles, because that's the Soviet navy we're talking about.
Another project that was killed in the egg was an amphibious assault ship class, nicknamed "Ivan Tarawa" by the CIA because of its similarities with the US Tarawa class. This one was supposed to be, well, an amphibious assault ship, carrying ground troops for naval assault, but was supposed to carry a couple VTOL fighters (Yak-38 Forger and Yak-41 Freestyle) and helicopters (both combat and assault/transport ones, since every Soviet naval infantry brigade had an air assault battalion), which would make it an aircraft carrying ship like the others.

Of course, the collapse of the USSR happened, and so collapsed the Soviet aircraft carrier program. The Ivan Tarawa was never laid down, the Ulyanovsk was broken up before reaching 30% of its completion, the four Kiev class ships were sold (three were broken up, one was transformed to use regular planes and now serves the Indian navy), and the second Kuznetsov class carrier was sold to China, where it is now called the Liaoning after being completed recently.

tl;dr the USSR never really envisaged the carrier as a central element like NATO navies, and these were escort/support ships instead, using missiles instead of planes for attack.

Senior Member
Posts: 686
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: Soviet Union carriers

Post by paul.mercer » Sat Oct 27, 2018 9:46 am

A most interesting thread,I often wonder what use carriers would be in an all out war (WW3 without nukes). Yes, carriers are very useful for threatening smaller nations like North Korea and for protecting battle landing groups, but in this world of long range missiles and nuclear subs, I wonder how long they would last even with all their anti missile weapons and close protection vessels?
Re the Russian carriers, a few months ago one emitting clouds of smoke was being 'escorted' up the English channel by the RN, if that is the best they have then rumours of the Russian naval fleet being very run down are probably true!

Post Reply