MOSCOW, (BM) – The Russian Navy is still preparing to implement a large-scale project, begun at one time by Anatoly Serdyukov and frustrated by France: the construction of modern universal landing ships. What will the Russian counterparts of the French Mistrals look like, what capabilities will they have – and what tasks will they solve?
Not so long ago, the updated characteristics of two universal landing ships (UDC) were announced, which are planned to be laid in May next year at the Zaliv shipyard in Kerch. As expected, their displacement will be significantly higher than previously announced – 25,000 against 15,000 tons. In addition, additional evidence has appeared that the ships will be laid down next year.
Thus, if everything goes according to plan, in six months the Russian Federation will begin to build the largest warships in its history.
The term “UDC” comes from the USSR. In Soviet military literature, ships of the Tarava type became so called, the first of which became part of the US Navy in 1976. In the original, they were called “landing helicopter assault landing forces” (landing helicopter assault, or LHA). Having played the words on the next series of “landing helicopter carrier-docks” (LHD) of the “Wasp” type, on “America” (2014) they returned to LHA. Oddly enough, but the Russian-language term more accurately reflects the essence of the matter.
The universal landing ship is a hybrid of a helicopter carrier and a dock ship. The history of the dead end branch of the airborne helicopter carriers (LPH) began with the escort aircraft carrier converted in 1956, and ended with the only LPH series of special construction written off by 2002.
Americans used dock landing ships (LSD) during the Second World War. True, at that time they took on board a limited amount of the Marine Corps (MP) and were rather the landing craft bases, which served primarily for the delivery of landing barges (dies) and boats to the landing area. Later, the size and amphibious capacity of LSD and its derivatives LPD increased significantly. Together with UDC, they make up the amphibious triad of the US Navy.
Having assumed the responsibilities of helicopter carriers and dock ships, the UDC acquired the ability to provide over-the-horizon landing with vertical coverage. According to the development concept of the US Marine Expeditionary Force of the 21st Century, in order to reduce threats to landing ships from the enemy’s side, an over-horizon landing assault level should be carried out at a distance of at least 65 nautical miles (120 km) from the coast. In this case, vertical coverage implies a parallel airborne operation in the rear or on the flanks of a military group defending the coast.
The displacement of universal landing ships makes it possible to accept and deploy a marine corps unit capable of fighting for the expansion of the bridgehead (of course, with the support of naval aviation) in conditions comfortable by military standards. In the United States, such a unit is an expeditionary battalion (detachment) of the Marine Corps (MEU) of up to 2,200 people (partially deployed on LSD and LPD). MP battalions of other countries are much smaller (450 people).
It should be noted that under certain circumstances, over-the-air landing may be difficult or simply impossible. Removal of 120 km is good in cases where the enemy has only coastal artillery. However, here too, the time required by the fastest landing craft (LCAC, 40 knots) to get from the UDC to the coast is more than an hour and a half. If on the coast there are Russian Bastion missile systems with a range of 300 km (in export version) and overseas Sunflower radar, the LCAC travel time from an even more remote carrier increases to unacceptable four hours.
The above, of course, does not mean that UDC is insolvent and useless. They are necessary for the Russian Navy to control remote areas of the oceans and can be successfully used in anti-terrorist operations like the Syrian, as well as in any other armed conflicts with the support of long-range and carrier aircraft.
A full-size UDC (40–45 thousand tons), like a nuclear aircraft carrier, is one of the most expensive types of military equipment and is currently available only to the richest and most industrially developed world power – the USA. Therefore, looking at the American giants, one after another they began to create their economy options.
Almost simultaneously, in 2003, in France and South Korea, the first three UDCs were laid down on a 1: 2 scale to those serving under a star-striped flag. In 2005, their ship was laid in Spain. Two French Mistrals (21,950 tons full) were commissioned in 2006, the South Korean Tokto (19,300 tons) a year later, and the Spanish Juan Carlos I (27,500 tons) in 2010 (feature the latter was the springboard, allowing you to use it as a light aircraft carrier).
The day after the launch of the “Spaniard” on the same slipway was laid the first of two of the same UDC for the Australian Navy (commissioned in 2014-2015). In 2013, France laid the foundation of two Mistrals for the Russian Navy, which were resold to Egypt three years later. In 2017, construction began on the first Chinese UDC (launched in September this year), in February 2018, the Turkish Anadolu (clone of Juan Carlos) and the Italian Trieste (own project).
As you can see, the concept of UDC moderate displacement has become very popular. Thanks to it, a number of maritime powers have the opportunity to replenish their Navy with prestigious aircraft carrier-type ships for an acceptable fee. Exaggerating a little, we can say that in our days UDC play the same role as battleships during the “dreadnought fever.”
The laying in Kerch of two UDCs for the Russian Navy will launch the third attempt to create in our country full-fledged naval amphibious assault forces. The two previous cases that ended in failure are well known. It is worth recalling that the first time the project 11780 was not implemented due to disagreements between the High Command of the Navy and the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces (more precisely, between Admirals Gorshkov and Amelko), the second – the Mistrals ordered in France and almost ready were subject to anti-Russian sanctions , as a result of which they were part of the Egyptian Navy.
At the Zaliv shipyard, where UDC is supposed to be laid, warships of large displacement have never been built. The most notable positions in the portfolio of the enterprise’s military orders during the Soviet era were the watchmen of the project 1135/11351 (3200/3600 tons full). Now under construction are two patrol ships, pr. 22160 (about 2000 tons) and five missile regiments, pr. 22800 (800 tons).
Given that the Mistrals that we did not receive are essentially sea transport vessels designed according to the rules of civil shipbuilding, and that the technologies transferred by the French are likely to be used in the project of the Russian UDC, the experience of the Kerch shipbuilders can be very useful.
The Zaliv dry dock is the best suited for the construction of a UDC of 220 m in length and an estimated width of about 40 m, however, only one order from the two planned can be placed entirely in it. Most likely, non-standard technological schemes will be used to speed up the construction. It would be best to build a UDC in cooperation with the Baltic Plant (St. Petersburg), which in 2012–2014. for 9–10 months, the fodder parts of the Mistral were collected. Even taking into account the lengthy (two-month) towing for the final assembly (docking with the bow) in Kerch, this would significantly shorten the production cycle. Another possible scheme is to divide the dry dock into two chambers using the shutter provided for this, in order to simultaneously bookmark one order in full length and the bow of the other. After launching the first hull, the second can be quickly built up with pre-assembled blocks.
It is possible that in the event of the successful completion of the UDC series (of which there must be at least four), a decision will be made to begin construction of a new project at the Kerch shipyard.
The technical characteristics
The November 17th report provided only the most basic tactical and technical characteristics of promising UDCs without any justification and detail. Let us try to at least partially fill this gap.
Displacement of 25,000 tons is not specified. If given full, the standard should be about 20,000 tons, if normal – about 22,000 tons. With the conditional design norm of 1000 tons of standard displacement per aircraft (which is exactly confirmed by the technical characteristics of Mistral and Admiral Kuznetsov) in the first Russian UDC will be able to base 20-22 aircraft. Since the message includes “more than 20 heavy helicopters”, 25,000 tons is still a normal displacement (with a corresponding total displacement of approximately 28,000 tons).
The composition of the air group can be predicted based on what was planned on the “Russian Mistral”, which included one two-link squadron of attack and transport-combat helicopters (eight Ka-52Ks and eight Ka-29s). It seems reasonable to leave the strike (assault) squadron as it is with the addition of a transport unit and a pair of rescuers with a total result: eight Ka-52K, 12 Ka-29 and two Ka-27PS (Ka-29 and Ka-27PS in the future can be replaced by “Lamprey” “).
The new ship will undoubtedly be able to transport 900 declared marines, but only as a second-wave military transport and over short distances (according to habitability conditions). This is easy to understand if you divide 900 marines into squads (nine people each), each of which has an armored personnel carrier or infantry fighting vehicle in the state. Such an amount of armored vehicles (100 units) is far beyond the capabilities of the 25,000-ton UDC. Its real full-time airborne landing capacity is most likely to be as follows: one battalion of the Marine Corps (450 people, 30 of which are tankers), a tank company (10 main tanks), up to 50 armored personnel carriers / infantry fighting vehicles.
In addition to the obvious need to create an amphibious assault force of a completely new, global level, there is another important meaning in the laying and operational construction of the UDC. Ten years ago, when the Mistral negotiations began, Russia was still weak – both militarily and militarily (excluding the Strategic Missile Forces), and shipbuilding was the clearest manifestation of this weakness. The fact that the shipbuilding industry has come out of the crisis cannot be said even now, but there is no doubt that the most difficult times are behind.
There is no doubt that the planned UDC will receive the real names Vladivostok and Sevastopol – those that were wiped off orders M33 and N33 at the shipyard STX France four years ago. In addition, there is confidence that the Kerch first ranks will be better than the “Mistral” in all respects – military, economic, aesthetic. The rise on their flagpoles of the St. Andrew flag five years after the laying will be a signal that we have not forgotten how to quickly build large ships, fully restored our competencies and no longer need anyone else’s services.
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Author: Alexander Demyanchuk
Original title: Russia will build landing ships better “Mistral”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BGM`s editorial stance.