Russia Is Planning Massive New 'Assault Ships' That Could Carry Fighter Jets

35,000-ton ships capable of supporting helicopters and VTOL aircraft alike

New details have emerged regarding the new carrier warships planned for the Russian Navy, with the Nevskoe Design Bureau having released models and some specifications for the vessels. Russian Navy Deputy Commander in Chief Viktor Bursuk had previously stated that construction of the first warships was scheduled to begin in 2020, with two variants were planned. He referred to these as a “universal amphibious assault ship” and “large amphibious assault ship.” 

While it has long been speculated that the ‘large amphibious assault ship’ could approach 40,000 tons in size, comparable to the highly successful U.S. Wasp Class and Chinese Type 075 Class carrier designs, recent statements have confirmed that the Russian Navy is actively considering induction of such large ships. The second ‘universal amphibious assault ship’ was expected to be comparable to the French Mistral Class, previously on order before the contract’s unilateral termination by Paris in 2014, or the South Korean Dokdo Class, and this too has been largely confirmed by new reports.

In a statement in July 2018 the Nevskoe Design Bureau elaborated on plans for the new carrier warships, noting that the smaller vessels would have a displacement of approximately 15,000 tons while the larger ships could displace approximately 35,000 tons. Assuming that the Bureau quoted the displacements for unloaded warships, this would give the Russian Navy not only two helicopter carries comparable to the Mistral and Dokdo, but also two very large vessels of a similar displacement to the American assault ships and the French carrier Charles De Gaulle.

Russia knows how to build VTOL aircraft and operated them until 1991

A number of reports have also indicated that Russia is considering developing a specialised fighter jet to operate from the hull of its carriers, either the larger warships alone or both types of vessel, which could be heavily based on the Yak-141 vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. These fighters could potentially field cutting edge Russian fifth generation technologies including Phazotron Zhuk AE active electronically scanned array radars and K-77 air to air missiles - allowing them to effectively fulfil a fleet defence role and complement the integrated air defence networks of Russia’s carrier strike groups.

With Russia’s sole serving aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov currently undergoing a lengthy refitting, and the future of the troubled warship in doubt, developing large assault ships deploying specialised fighter jets could well be an effective means for the country to maintain its naval aviation after the Kuznetsov is eventually retired. The assault ships could well serve in the interim until new conventional carriers can be developed in future, possibly under the SHTORM design concept, after which they are likely to continue to serve in a supporting role.

With the Russian military placing a renewed emphasis on the capabilities of its naval infantry, an analogue to the U.S. marines, as a tool for power projection, assault ships capable of ferrying these units into battle with their armoured vehicles and deploying air support are an increasingly valuable asset. Russia’s greater focus on the ever more important Pacific theatre, where such aircraft carrying assault ships are a highly valued asset, also makes them a very worthy investment - one which the Russian Navy is likely to take great efforts to optimise for power projection operations. 

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