Fedoroff said the pronouncements about six carriers
“represented a reasonable proposal and not an actual
The ONI analyst agreed Russia would have to build
a larger shipyard and said there has been no decision
on where to do that.
“Therefore, while we are confident there will be a
future new Russian aircraft carrier,” Fedoroff said he
did not expect the first ship to be operational “until the
end of this decade at the earliest.” And it “would take
decades and huge resources to build two or three car-
riers, much less possibly six.”
Most of the Soviet “carriers” actually were large
cruisers with a modest-sized flight deck and ski-jump
bow that could handle only short takeoff and landing
jets, similar to the AV- 8 Harriers used by the U.S.
An attempt to build American-sized carriers in the
The carriers were proposed as 90,000-ton, nuclear-powered ships with steam catapults similar to the U.S.
Nimitz class. But due to the cost and complexity, the
design was reduced to 65,000-ton, oil-burning ships
that used the bow ramp to launch conventional Su- 33
multipurpose jets. Officially called a “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,” the first ship of the class, the 1,000-
foot-long Kuznetsov, also carried a large number of
anti-submarine and rescue helicopters.
Launched in 1989, Kuznetsov has been plagued by
mechanical and structural failures, including nearly
sinking during sea trials in 2003.
The second ship in the class, Varyag, was only 70
percent completed after nearly a decade of construction. It was seized by Ukraine when the Soviet Union
disintegrated. China bought it in 1998 to use as a
model for its own carriers.
Russia has been able to continue building submarines, for its own use and foreign sale, Gorenburg
said. The diesel-electric Kilo-class attack boats are in
service in several nations, and Russia now is selling or
leasing some of its nuclear-powered subs.
Noting that Russia is conducting sea trials on the first
of the new Petersburg class of conventional subs, with
additional units under construction, Fedoroff said, “If this
design lives up to its advertisement, it should be the qui-
etest and most capable diesel-electric submarine ever.”
Fedoroff also expected the imminent launch of the
first of the new Severodvinsk class of guided-missile
submarines (SSGNs), which he said combine the mis-
sions and capabilities of the Akula attack boats and
Oscar guided-missile subs “in being able to fulfill anti-
submarine, anti-surface ship and land-attack missions.”
Russia plans to build seven or eight of these sub-
marines, he said.
The guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto, foreground,
and the Russian Navy destroyer Admiral Chabanenko
steam side by side during maritime security operations in
the Mediterranean Sea Jan. 18, 2008.
Despite the problems with the Bulava missile,
Fedoroff said, “the maintenance of the nuclear strategic
deterrent force, including the SSBNs [ballistic-missile
subs] as the sea-based leg of the triad is Russia’s highest
But, he added, Russia needs to successfully develop
the Borei SSBN and the Bulava “in order to have a long-
term sea-based strategic deterrent force.”
Russian leaders have vowed to continue tests until
the missile succeeds, Fedoroff said, noting, “We have
no reason to doubt their resolve.”
But Russian submarines have had a checkered histo-
ry, including a number of fatal accidents and losses at
sea with all hands, most notably the August 2000 sink-
ing of the Oscar-II class submarine Kursk that killed all
118 crew members.
In one recent event, the fire suppression system on
the Akula II-class nuclear-powered attack submarine
Nerpa accidentally released deadly fire suppression gas
into the sleeping quarters during sea trials on Nov. 8,
2008. Three crew members and 17 shipyard workers
After repairs and additional tests, Nerpa was leased to
the Indian Navy last year for $650 million for 10 years.
In his blog late last year, Gorenburg wrote that because all of the shipbuilding projects have been delayed repeatedly, “there are few replacements in the
works” for the existing ships reaching the end of their
expected service life.
Unless something changes, “in another 10 years, its
major ocean-going ships will be gone, with nothing
but a few corvettes and a couple of French LSTs to
replace them,” he wrote.