There is no doubt that Russia’s Kirov class super-sized nuclear cruisers are charismatic fighting machines. Bristling with sensors and weaponry, and seemingly alien in design when compared to anything in the west, they are intimidating. But the truth is that they are also very dated and only one has remained in service for decades. That’s all about to change.
Make sure to read all about Russia’s “Carrier Killer” Kirov class here for full context.
Only one of the four Kirov class ships ever built has remained in active duty since its commissioning in the mid-1990s, that ship being the Pyotr Veliky, the flagship of the Northern Fleet.
As part of the increasingly belligerent recent Kremlin plan to revitalize the rusting Russian Navy, ship builders have been hard at work bringing a second Kirov class battlecruiser, the Admiral Nakhimov, back to life after it had been rusting away in storage for a decade and a half. She’s getting overhauled and is set to be returned to the fleet in 2019.
At that time, the Admiral Nakhimov will take the place of the Pyotr Veliky, which is slated to enter dry dock for three years where it too will get a deep overhaul and refitting just like its sister ship.
These refitted Kirov class battlecruisers will supposedly feature a whole new set of sensors and subsystems, and most ominously, weapons. Russia’s TASS news agency reports that the ships will receive totally updated multipurpose vertical launch systems, making these ships capable of carrying a much wider variety of anti-ship missiles and many more of them.
Navyrecognition.com sums up this upgrade well, and their analysis is consistent with other sources on the matter:
The Sevmash Shipyard and the Special Machinebuilding Design Bureau (KBSM, a subsidiary of Almaz-Antei) made a deal for 10 3S-14-11442M vertical launch systems (VLS) to equip the Project 11442M Admiral Nakhimov missile cruiser being upgraded now. The contract is valued at 2.559 billion rubles ($33.5 million).
Thus, the ship’s 20 inclined below-deck launchers of P-700 Granit antiship missiles (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) will be replaced with 10 VLS modules of the UKSK versatile ship-based launch system. The VLS modules will total 80. The same solution is expected to be applied to the Pyotr Veliky cruiser.
The 3S-14 VLS can launch the missiles of the Kalibr family (SS-N-27 Sizzler). In addition, the equipment for testing the VLS using mockups of the 3M-54, 3M55 and 3M22 antiship missiles is to be ready be December 2016.”
The ship’s anti-air arsenal is said to also be receiving a major upgrade, with a navalized version of the feared S-400 “Triumf” air defense system being installed in place of the existing S-300F/FM “Fort” system. Yet maybe the most intriguing new component of the refitted Kirov class’s potential new arsenal is the shadowy and hypersonic Zircon anti-ship missile that is supposedly in testing.
Russia is already the purveyor of extremely high-speed anti-ship missiles, but high mach numbers can’t compare to the speed of the Zircon, which is said to range between mach five and mach seven. Defending against such a high-speed weapon, especially when launched in groups at a single target, would be very challenging. Add in a multiple vector attack with other missiles of various capabilities sprinkled in and things get even more dire.
Like everything else Russian-weapons related, we will have to see if the Zircon’s rumors and claims can live up to reality. Seeing as Russia will likely be cutting defense spending and seeing that they are already having trouble affording other high-end weapons in development, everything has to be put in question. Yet the anti-ship missile export business has always been good for Russia, so investing in the Zircon may make Rubles and sense.
TASS reports that the upgraded Kirovs will house a mix of hypersonic Zircon, supersonic Onix and long-range subsonic Kalibr cruise missiles, and that with an arsenal of 80 anti-ship missiles stuffed in their vertical launch tubes, these ships will have have “enough to engage any existing naval force globally.”
When these nuclear battlecruisers hit the seas they will be some of the most powerful warships ever built, with an estimated to 174 main vertical launch cells at their disposal for medium and long-range surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship and anti-surface missiles.
They will also bristling with updated close-in defensive weapon systems, including hundreds of point defense missiles, dozens of cannons and a formidable supply of anti-submarine rockets.
Regardless of these ships’ actual strategic relevance, which is debatable, they sure will be amazing to look at as they will be the closest thing to a battleship sailing the high seas in the 21st century.
In other news, this is supposedly the ship’s cat aboard the Pyotr Veliky:
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
Tops shot via AP. photo of Dmitry Medevedev aboard the Pyotr Veliky via Russian Ministry of Defense/Wikicommons, bottom shot via Grigory Sysoev/RIA Novosti/Wikicommons