Russian shipbuilders, designers and military are already agreeing on the details of the project and the tasks of the future Russian universal landing ship (ULS).
The plan is for the Russian Navy to receive its first ULS in the mid-2020s, after the fiasco that was the purchase of the Mistral-class landing ships from France.
After 6 years of waiting, negotiations and even training of sailors, in mid-2015, the deal completely fell-through as the French side said the ships wouldn’t be delivered due to the Crimean referendum, and the situation in Eastern Ukraine. Russia, too, said it no longer wanted the Mistral-class ships, and ultimately received its front payment back, with the funds spend on training 400 sailors and stripping off equipment and shipping it back to Russia.
The ULS will essentially be helicopter carriers, since the Mistral-class warships had special Russian KA-52K helicopters developed to be used on it.
The laying of two ULS is planned for 2020, their transfer to the Russian Navy is scheduled for 2025 and 2026. In the future, the class may enter serial production.
Under what project the ships will be built is yet unclear. In 2015, the Nevsky Design Bureau introduced the concept of ULS Surf.
This ship with a displacement of 14 thousand tons is capable of autonomous navigation for up to two months, and a range of up to 11,000 km. The Surf is designed to accommodate eight Ka-27 helicopters and six landing boats. In addition, the ship can carry up to 500 paratroopers and 60 armored vehicles.
Krylov State Scientific Center proposed its own version of a helicopter carrier. It is larger, half-trimaran with a displacement of 24 thousand tons. 16 Ka-52 attack helicopters, Ka-29 transport and combat and Ka-27 multipurpose helicopters could be position on deck and in its holds.
It could carry up to 500 paratroopers and 50 armored vehicles. Marines are supposed to land on the shore with the help of several landing boats “Serna” or “Raptor”. The ULS’ speed is more than 20 knots, the cruising range is about the same as that of Surf, but autonomy is lower — only about 30 days.
For self-defense, the ship has a 76-mm AK-176M artillery mount, in addition to several 30-mm AK-630 Duet artillery mounts, a pair of Pantsir-ME anti-aircraft systems and Package-NK anti-submarine systems.
The Soviet Union did have ULS in the past, but they are quite dissimilar to the typical “foreign” ULS, which are used to specifically get to the shore, open up and let marines and troops out.
In the past, the Black Sea Fleet was equipped with two such cruisers of Project 1123 Condor.
The ships were named “Moscow” and “Leningrad”. Their design could be considered unusual. If the front part looked quite familiar – in the form of a Latin V – then closer to the midsection, the body expanded significantly. From above, the ship looked like a pear. This decision allowed to increase the area of the flight deck.
The hangars housed up to 14 anti-submarine helicopters, which took turns in combat patrols, dropped sonar buoys into the sea and conducted reconnaissance. The Condors had powerful radar equipment and weapons on board. The cruisers were equipped with an anti-submarine missile launcher, capable of firing even missiles with a nuclear warhead, torpedo tubes, jet bombs, anti-aircraft missile systems and artillery mounts.
However, there were significant disadvantages. For example, because of the irregular shape in the storm, cruisers buried themselves in the wave. Water overflowing from the deck could easily disable parts of the equipment. In addition, a lot of hands were required to control the ship and maintain its systems – the numbers of the crew could reach up to 800 sailors and officers.
Nevertheless, the helicopter carriers successfully completed tasks in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. And they were engaged not only in the direct task – the fight against submarines – but also participated in rescue and search operations. In particular, in 1974, Leningrad was involved in the mine clearance mission of the Suez Canal.
The ULS Leningrad was sold for scrap in 1991, while the ULS Moscow was decommissioned in 1993.
Western countries have much richer experience in building helicopter carriers. The Americans were especially successful in this matter.
The US has had huge expeditionary ships capable of delivering up to two thousand marines, dozens of armored vehicles and helicopters to the landing operation site since the 1970s.
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