Only the U.S. Navy has so-called super-carriers, the extra-large nuclear-powered aircraft carriers which displace 100,000 tons. However, the Russian Navy may now be considering building one.
Russia’s only existing carrier is the 60,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov. That’s large, but because of its significantly smaller displacement, it carries fewer jets than the American ships. Two competing designs, the ‘Shtorm’ and the ‘Lamantin,’ are in the frame to replace it. Both proposals have nuclear propulsion.
Aircraft carriers are a cornerstone of modern power projection. Admiral Kuznetsov has been deployed off Syria where her jets conducted airstrikes. But with only one carrier on the books it’s an intermittent capability for the Russian Navy. Currently, she has been in overhaul for several years. She is supposed to reemerge this year but has been plagued by industrial accidents while undergoing work.
In October 2018 the large floating dock she was in, PD-50, sunk around her. She was able to remain floating but a large crane fell on her deck in the process, causing damage. And more recently in December last year there was a serious fire aboard. But as Russia’s only aircraft carrier she looks set to soldier on.
The timing of the next aircraft carrier is unclear — as yet nothing has been laid down. However, President Putin inspected a model of the Lamantin design when he visited Sevastopol in January.
The Project 23000E Shtorm is around 50% larger than Admiral Kuznetsov at 90,000 tons. It is 1,128 feet long, which is almost the same as the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz Class. On the other hand it has a distinctive twin-island layout similar to the British Queen Elizabeth Class. The Project 11430E Lamantin is also 90,000 tons but is actually a larger ship at 1,150 feet long. it is more conventional.
Meanwhile Admiral Kuznetsov is showing her age. The smoke pouring out of the massive stack is a familiar sight. It is not a smoke screen, but rather a side effect of the ship’s dated steam turbine propulsion. Both the prospective replacements are nuclear powered.
The Russian Navy already has has nuclear powered ships. The most famous of these are the Kirov Class battle cruisers. One of these Cold War giants is still in active service, and another, Admiral Nakhimov, is being modernized.
Even if Russia does build a new carrier it will take many years to enter service, so the Admiral Kuznetsov will have to keep going.