MOSCOW – The Russian defense establishment is reviewing a proposal for a new, non-nuclear aircraft carrier.
At this year’s ARMY 2019 defense expo, Krylov State Scientific Center unveiled a new concept for an aircraft carrier.
“This year, we will demonstrate a full-fledged aircraft carrier from our viewpoint with a displacement of about 60,000 tonnes and with a very substantial and balanced pool of aircraft,” the center’s Scientific Head Valery Polovinkin told TASS news.
Mr. Polovinkin chose HMS Queen Elizabeth, the lead aircraft carrier of the Queen Elizabeth-class that was commissioned in late 2017, as a comparative point of departure:
“An aircraft carrier with a conventional propulsion unit is the distinctive feature of the version offered to the Navy. It features a gas turbine power unit. To a certain extent, it can be compared to the UK’s aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth. They are about equal by their displacement but the conceptual project of the Krylov Center has an advantage by the number of aircraft, sea endurance and, most importantly, by the number of take-off places.” The latter, Polovinkin explains, comes as a result of an innovative hull design that allows for parallel take-off positions.
“Now, why, in 2019, should the Kremlin invest in a gas turbine-powered carrier,” Mr. Polovinkin asked rhetorically. The US, Russia’s primary adversary, has used nuclear-powered carriers since the 1960’s Enterprise line. The Chinese navy is also planning on building four nuclear-powered carriers by 2035.
The conventional propulsion has a number of advantages, but for now, it boils down to cost-savings; specifically, the massive potential savings from the standardized range of gas turbines that have been created thanks to the successes of Saturn (a Russian defense company) and Russian gas turbine producers.
“Such an aircraft carrier,” Polovinkin notes, “will be four-six times cheaper than its nuclear-powered version.”
Krylov State Scientific Center is proposing this conventionally-powered carrier as an alternative to the Russian shipbuilding industry’s current plan of starting R&D work on a nuclear-powered carrier in 2023, to be delivered to the Russian navy by 2030. That carrier, dubbed project 23000E or “Shtorm,” bears an estimated cost of up to 5.6 billion dollars. Although 5.6 billion dollars seems like a large sum in the context of Russia’s reported 61.4 billion dollar defense budget (without taking PPP in account), it is, in fact, a fairly competitive pricetag by international standards. The aforementioned non-nuclear HMS Queen Elizabeth is only one billion dollars cheaper, while the US Navy’s nuclear-powered USS Gerald R. Ford carrier is a whopping 7.2 billion dollars more expensive, standing at the mind-boggling 12.8 billion.
For Krylov Research Center’s proposed carrier to be significantly cheaper than its already modestly-priced Shtorm counterpart, some corners will inevitably have to be cut; as Polovinkin put it, “This is a full-fledged aircraft carrier but with certain restrictions.” For one, Krylov is proposing a light carrier that will displace at 60,000 tons, as opposed to 100.000 tons of its project 23000E counterpart. While both carriers can house approximately the same number of aircraft, Shtorm is likely to feature a more robust weapons suite.