The Battle of Aircraft Carriers: American “Nimitz” Versus Russian “Shtorm”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


In the near future Russia will start to build a new aircraft carrier. This was declared on February 25th by the head of Institute of Shipbuilding and Armaments of the Navy’s Military-Educational Scientific Center Nikolay Maximov in an interview to the “Zvezda” TV channel.

“Construction of an aircraft-carrying complex that will actually include an aircraft carrier, an aviation wing, and a system of storage is provided,” said the representative of the military department.

As the head of the future planning department for the ships of the Navy’s military-educational scientific center Vladimir Pepelyaev specified, the new aircraft carrier will be equipped with a launch pad for take-off and an accelerating device that will allow to considerably increase the take-off weight of the aircraft on the ship. As for aircraft, the naval version of the fifth generation Su-57 fighter jet will be able to be based on an aircraft carrier.

As a reminder: the plans to add an aircraft carrier to the structure of the Navy became known in April, 2017. Back then, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Korolev stated that work on expanding Russia’s aircraft carrier fleet is being conducted, and “the task will be completed”.

“There are regions where we may have national interests. And, of course, an aircraft carrier is the support that shows that the State is ready to come to help, and is ready to assist in the fight against terrorists, as well as global challenges and threats,” said the commander-in-chief. He noted that the campaign of the aircraft-carrying cruiserAdmiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Sea confirmed the ability of the Navy to defend the interests of Russia at long ranges.

In June, 2017, the Deputy Minister of Defence Yury Borisov specified that it is planned to complete the development of the project and to sign the contract before 2025.

For clarification, this concerns the heavy aircraft carrier of the “Shtorm” project 23000E with a displacement of 100,000 tons, capable of carrying an aviation group of 80−90 aircraft. The ship’s length is 330m, width – 40m, draft – 11m, speed – up to 30 knots. According to the declared characteristics it is comparable with the American “Nimitz” aircraft carrier. As was reported in the Krylov State Research Center in 2015 during the presentation of the project, the ship will be able to carry out tasks in a distant ocean zone, striking blows to the enemy targets with the help of its own arms and aviation group aircraft, and also to provide anti-aircraft defense.

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Experts already noted that such a ship will cost hundreds of billions rubles, and that so far the army can’t afford it, because the main task is being solved now – that by 2020 70% of arms of Russia will be new.

Will there now be a new aircraft carrier as a part of the Navy, does Russia need such a thing?

“The construction of ‘Shtorm’ is possible only in the distant future,” believes the President of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, doctor of military sciences, and captain of the 1st rank Konstantin Sivkov. “The main problem is that the aircraft-carrying complex is really expensive — for its construction it is necessary to restore a number of industries that were ruined in the 1990’s [by the CIA puppet Yeltsin – ed].

So far Russia, in my opinion, doesn’t have the time for an aircraft carrier. An illustration of this is the decision to suspend work on the creation of the Barguzin new railroad combat complex – this was reported by the ‘Rossiyskaya Gazeta’ in December, 2017.

As a reminder, the Soviet railroad combat complex with the Molodets missile was removed from service in 2005 due to the provisions of the START-2 contract. However, START-3 doesn’t forbid the creation of new missile systems, and it was planned to develop ‘Barguzin’ until 2018. It was expected that new railroad combat complex will considerably surpass the Soviet predecessor in accuracy, flying range of its missiles, and other characteristics. Such a ‘nuclear train’, I will note, ensures the exceptional stability of strategic forces of the Russian Federation.

But, as we see, it didn’t work out. According to ‘RG’, the termination of the development of ‘Barguzin’ could be connected to financing problems. What can be said about an aircraft-carrying complex that is much more expensive?!”

“SP”: Why weren’t “classic” aircraft carriers, but only heavy aircraft-carrying cruisers constructed in the USSR, which had the necessary base?

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“In 1970’s the USSR was considering the question of building a series of aircraft carriers under Project 1160 — with a nuclear power unit and Su-27 catapult take-off jets onboard. It was believed that by 1986 the USSR could build three of such ships. Their task could be containing the deployment of the striking aircraft-carrying forces of the main enemy — the US.

But it wasn’t implemented — the idea was blocked by Dmitry Ustinov, the then Secretary of the Central Committee on Defense of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He simply considered that a hybrid of a cruiser and aircraft carrier looks more promising.

In my opinion, this happened because Ustinov wasn’t a professional military men, and he didn’t fully understood the topic of using of Armed Forces.”

“SP”: Let’s imagine that Russia will have an aircraft-carrying group. What will it change?

“To start with, there is already an aircraft carrying group in Russia, led by the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’. But it is necessary to understand: this ship is about 30 years old, and its last campaign to the coast of Syria was accompanied by a couple of accidents. At the place of deployment there were already two incidents with fighter jets. The first one was because of a certain technical malfunction while a MiG-29К was landing, which fell into the sea. Then, a Su-33 rolled off the deck because a cable snapped. In general, the cost of servicing the cruiser in the Syrian Arab Republic, according to the estimates of experts, amounted to about 10 billion rubles.

Currently ‘Kuznetsov’ is under repair. As the United Shipbuilding Corporation declared, this will last until 2020. The engine installation needs an overhaul, and the systems of arms, navigation equipment, and communication complexes need modernisation.

And if we had the ‘Shtorm’ aircraft carrier — there would be no problems in Syria, where the small 35-40 jet aviation group of the Air Force, working at a frantic pace, was obliged to solve problems of the whole division. We could be able to, in the presence of a modern aircraft carrier group, to defend Libya. Plus we could provide cover for Venezuela, and to receive in exchange economic preferences and the chance to place a naval base there.

I believe that Russia really needs aircraft carriers. But political will and a strong economy are needed for their construction. I don’t see such things yet.”

“I see no point in building a new aircraft carrier,” objects the Colonel Reserve officer and member of the Advisory Council of the Military-Industrial Commission of the Russian Federation Viktor Murakhovsky. “One single aircraft-carrier striking group, in my opinion, is capable of carrying out the task of bearing the flag in peace time and being a symbol of naval power — nothing more than that. If to speak about a standoff with the US at sea, then there is an immediate bunch of questions.

I don’t think that it makes sense at all for us to compete with the Americans in this domain. The US, I will remind, today already has 11 aircraft carrier-based groups. Symmetrical responses in such situations, as a rule, don’t bring results.”

“SP”: Will “Shtorm” be constructed?

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“I strongly doubt it. In the existing State arms program there are no funds for the construction of such a ship. Perhaps, work will be carried out in certain directions — the same electromagnetic catapults, naval aviation complexes. But, I will repeat, I don’t see any prospects for the construction of such a ship, and I don’t think that its construction in the shipyard will take place.

Frankly speaking, there are enough problems in our fleet without an aircraft carrier. There is, as is said, things to spend money on. And the main direction, I believe, should be the development of military shipbuilding in general, but not the implementation of certain prestigious projects.

It is clear why the Americans build aircraft carriers. The main task of the US is to support so-called ‘overseas operations’. In the preamble to the US’ military budget it is directly said that one of the key aims is the construction of the Naval Forces.

But if Russia isn’t going to perform large-scale overseas operations — then a question inevitably arises: why do we need an aircraft-carrier striking group? The answer to this, I believe, is obvious.”

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