Russia cuts nuclear class ships, scrapped cruiser Pyotr Velikiy

The Russian Navy has dropped its plans to refurbish the massive Kirov Class nuclear-powered battlecruiser, Pyotr Veliky. Instead, the ship is slated for decommissioning, according to an insider source. 

Russia cuts nuclear class ships, scrapped cruiser Pyotr Velikiy
Photo by Lev Fedoseyev

Boasting a colossal size comparable to Japan’s Izumo Class aircraft carriers, the Kirov Class ships are the largest surface combatants in service globally. Their impressive 28,000-ton weight is over triple that of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, which form the backbone of the U.S. fleet. 

The Soviet Union built four Kirov Class ships, with Pyotr Veliky being the most recent, launched in 1989. After the Soviet Union’s dissolution, the first two ships were decommissioned and left to deteriorate, making their revival financially unfeasible. The remaining ships, Pyotr Veliky and Admiral Nakhimov were anticipated to undergo modernization with cutting-edge sensors, electronics, and weaponry. 

Pyotr Velikiy’s fate changed

While Admiral Nakhimov’s refurbishment is projected to be completed in 2024-2025, Pyotr Veliky’s fate has changed. An anonymous Navy source, widely cited in Russian state media, revealed that Pyotr Veliky would be decommissioned upon Admiral Nakhimov’s reentrance into service, leaving only one Kirov Class ship in the fleet. 

This move is the latest in a series of reductions to Russia’s ocean-going surface fleet. Since the Soviet era, Russia has refrained from adding any new destroyer or cruiser-sized ships to its Navy, opting for smaller frigates and corvettes. 

Advancements in missile capabilities, notably the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile and the Kalibr missile’s surface-to-surface variants, enable Russian ships to engage targets at great distances without straying far from their coasts. This was first demonstrated in 2015 when Black Sea-based frigates and corvettes used Kalibr missiles to strike insurgents in Syria. 

The sole remaining battle-cruiser

The sole remaining Kirov Class battle-cruiser is likely to serve under the Northern Fleet, reflecting the Russian Navy’s Arctic region prioritization due to its emerging importance as a key trade route and geopolitical battleground. The Northern Fleet’s positioning also allows the warship to contribute significantly to Russia’s strategic missile defenses. 

Russia cuts nuclear class ships, scrapped cruiser Pyotr Velikiy
Photo credit: Reddit

As the only nuclear-powered surface combatants, Kirov Class ships offer superior endurance, capable of remaining at sea for months if resupplied by air. They can maintain full speed for much longer than other cruiser or destroyer classes. 

Andrei Dyachkov, CEO of the Severnoye Design Bureau, praised the modernized Kirov Class battlecruisers in April 2021. He stated that the advanced weaponry integrated into Admiral Nakhimov makes it the “world’s strongest surface combat ship.” The retirement of Pyotr Veliky, its newer sister ship, was therefore unexpected, given these advanced capabilities. 

S-400, S-350, Kalibr etc.

Admiral Nakhimov will feature new sensors, electronics, and a naval version of the S-400 air defense system, with a 400km range and 96 cells dedicated to its surface-to-air missiles. This firepower is equivalent to three full battalions of land-based S-400 systems. 

Additionally, it will carry a naval version of the S-350 medium-range air defense system. The ship’s 20 launch cells for P-700 Granit cruise missiles will be replaced with 80 launch cells for P-800, Kalibr, and Zicron cruise missiles, totaling 176 launch cells for large missiles. 

This firepower makes the cruiser class the most powerful surface combatant in the world, though its firepower-to-size ratio is less than some newer ships like the Chinese Type 055 Class. 

Several factors may have influenced the decision to cut the Kirov Class cruisers’ fleet. These include the cost of modernizing Admiral Nakhimov, the nuclear-powered ships’ high operational costs, and a shift in budget focus due to Russia’s evolving geopolitical landscape since 2022. The exact cause, however, remains unclear.


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