Staunton, June 26 – Russia needs aircraft carriers, but in order to build them quickly and inexpensively, they must be non-nuclear ships of a unique design rather than simply modifications of a new generation of naval vessels, according to Valentin Belanenko, former planning director at the Krylov State Scientific Center.
Because Russia now has only one aircraft carrier and it is in drydock and may never sail again. Russian military planners have come up with a variety of plans for a new generation of aircraft carriers; but they have been stymied by problems with Russian yards, high costs, and questions about the utility of such ships (jamestown.org/program/moscows-plans-for-new-kind-of-aircraft-carrier-unlikely-to-be-realized/ and jamestown.org/program/russia-will-not-have-a-new-aircraft-carrier-for-at-least-15-years-and-maybe-never/).
Moscow appears to have given up on building any fleet of nuclear-powered carriers given the costs involved, and criticism is mounting of the fallback position of extending the size of a new generation of ships so that some modification of them can serve as an aircraft carrier at least for certain purposes.
Now, Belanenko has urged that Moscow give up that project as well and instead build stripped down “floating platforms” not driven by nuclear power. These ships will be monsters – at least 500 meters long – but they will be relatively cheap. As a result, Moscow can afford two or three of them now (topwar.ru/184453-razrabotchik-korablej-predlozhil-stroit-plavuchie-prichaly-vmesto-atomnyh-avianoscev.html).
Not being nuclear, such ships will have to be resupplied with fuel far more often and thus limit their ability to challenge the US carrier fleet. But for limited periods, they will be able to handle as many planes and thus give Russia the ability to project power in regions far from its borders.
Russian media have already picked up on what may prove to be the salvation of the carrier for Russia; but it is as yet unknown how the Kremlin will respond to an idea that will give it far less than the enormous power that nuclear-powered carriers provide. Moscow, however, appears confronted by a choice between nothing and having something good enough.