The USA dominates the seas when it comes to its massive nuclear powered aircraft carriers and lumbering amphibious assault ships, but Russia takes the prize for the largest and most heavily armed surface combatant, the mighty Kirov Class Battlecruiser.
Developed in the late 1970s, Russia’s Kirov-class battle cruisers are the largest and heaviest surface-combat ships in the world. Russian media says that another aging Kirov-class hull, the Admiral Nakhimov, is being fitted with Russia’s newest antiship, antiair, and surface-to-surface missiles.
In 2011, as Russia launched a massive 20 trillion ruble ($300 billion at today’s exchange rate) military modernization effort under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, the Russian navy set off to modernize its Kirov-class ships after years of post-Soviet decay, hoping to ensure their role in the Russian navy for several decades.
Russia currently has just one out of the four of these 827 foot long monsters that were built in active duty service Peter the Great, Pyotr Veliky . The third ship in the Kirov Class line, the Admiral Nakhimov, is being modernized and will be online by the end of the decade, and the second in the class, Admiral Lazarev, will be refitted and redeployed by the early 2020s.
Admiral Ushakov (formally the Kirov) may also be modernized and put back on patrol although no hard timeline for doing so has been put forth and the cost in doing so may be prohibitive.
Russia intends to return the Admiral Nakhimov to its fleet in 2019, at which time the Pyotr Veliky will be docked to undergo the same upgrades.
Upgrade include missiles of the Kalibr variety that recently hit targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea, Zircon hypersonic missiles, which are slated to be ready by 2020, and a “navalized” version of Russia’s S-400 missile-defense system.
Over 700 sailors operate these massive vessels, which is about double that of America’s Ticonderoga Class. This large complement makes good sense when you examine just how much firepower the Kirovs can project.
Russia is currently pursuing a three-step naval rearmament program, focusing on building new nuclear submarines in the first phase, and new corvettes and frigates in the second phase. The third phase, generally slated to take place in the late 2020s, focuses on larger destroyers and cruisers.
The Kirovs rely on pair of nuclear reactors and a pair of oil fired steam turbines that put out a combined 140,000 shp. This combo allows these ships to sprint at over 30kts for about 1,100 miles straight. When running on nuclear power alone, without the turbine boost, she can sustain around 20kts continuously.
The massive Kirov class, once thought destined to become another technological victim of the end of the Cold War, is now making a comeback as Russia slowly revitalizes its naval forces.
Though it’s not clear that the revival of the Kirov-class will again prompt a revival of the battleships battle, the question is being raised by defense industry observers, especially as China eyes building its own class of battle cruisers.