MAJOR: Russia’s New Frigates Will Have Far Greater Firepower Than America’s Cruisers and Heavy Destroyers

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MOSCOW – Russia’s expanding shipyards have laid down a number of new frigates under the ambitious Admiral Gorshkov-class warship program. Fifteen of the 5,400-ton ships are planned of which three have been completed and four more are under construction.

Supplementing the original Project 22350 Gorshkov-class ships, the Russian Navy is planning to commission a heavy class of frigate which borders the weight range of destroyers, the 7,000 ton 22350m, which is also designated the Gorshkov-class.

While the initial Gorshkov Class deployed 72 vertical launch cells for both surface-to-air and cruise missiles, the new heavy frigate being built under the 22350m program can reportedly deploy 120 vertical launch cells – giving it more firepower than the American Arleigh Burke Class ships which deploy 90 or 96 depending on the variant.

U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class Heavy Cruiser

Russia’s new frigates will be the most heavily armed surface warships in the world other than heavy cruisers such as the Ticonderoga-class, which has a marginal advantage with 122 launch cells, or the Kirov-class. This means that the Ticonderoga-class, the heaviest Western surface combat ships displacing almost 10,000 tons, would only have 1.7% more launch cells than the Russian frigate (120).

The new Russian warship’s hangar deck will be able to accommodate two Ka-27 helicopters and will integrate a heavier and more capable sensor suite to the original 22350 Gorshkov-class ships. While the frigate’s firepower is comparable to American cruisers, its endurance is considerably lower meaning it cannot deploy for extended periods and is not well suited to long-range power projection operations. 

Russian Kalibr Anti Ship Cruise Missile

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Any discrepancy in firepower favoring the Russian ships is likely to be far greater than a count of the vertical launch cells would indicate – should the capabilities of its anti-ship cruise missiles be assessed. American cruisers and destroyers are set to field advanced variants of the Harpoon missiles, which travels at low subsonic speeds below Mach 0.8 and is restricted to a range of little over 350km.

The previous generation of Russian anti-ship missiles, as well as the newer the P-800 and Kalibr, carry warheads approximately twice as heavy as the Harpoon, giving the warships around double the anti-ship firepower of the Ticonderoga-class, an advantage furthered by their vast advantages over the Harpoon in speed, range and maneuverability.

The advantage Russian surface ships have enjoyed has become overwhelming since Russia began to field the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile from December 2019. The missile is capable of striking targets at ranges of over 1000km, is extremely maneuverable and has a speed of around Mach 9 making it effectively impossible to intercept. Their payload is estimated at 37%-81% heavier than that on the Harpoon.

Russian Zircon Hypersonic Cruise Missile

These missiles will be key to Russian frigates’ ability to project power at sea against and challenge far heavier warships and fleets several times its size while retaining over three times the anti-ship engagement range of their Western counterparts and over ten times the impact speed when using the new missiles.

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