For the Russian Navy, the 1990s looked pretty good. Second in size and strength only to the United States, the Soviets had a blue water navy that deployed to all parts of the globe. It was a visible and ready extension of the country’s political will.
Then, of course, the Berlin Wall came down, the Communist experiment collapsed under its own dogmatic weight and Russia turned its back on power projection and nation building. For a while, anyway. Vladimir Putin, attempting to regain that super power status that he craves, has turned Russian military might outwards. Towards Crimea, the Ukraine and Syria. Sharing a border with Crimea and the Ukraine made power projection relatively simple, but Syria showed a definite gap in Russia’s ability to fight away from its own borders.
After announcing the deployment of the carrier Kuznetsov to the Med later this summer, the Russian military has decided to recommission the Admiral Nakhimov. For those who haven’t kept up with Russian ship naming conventions, the Admiral Nakhimov is the third of the four ship Kirov-class battlecruiser design. It was originally named Kalinin, but the name was changed in 1992.
Admiral Nakhimov has a long history of setting at pier side. Over the last 16 years, the ship has been the announced recipient of long-overdue overhauls and upgrades that never pan out. Lack of money is blamed as the primary reason the ship has spent a decade and a half rusting away.
The Admiral Nakhimov, if she completes her overhaul before the money runs out again, will return to the fleet in 2019. Just in time to replace the Pyotr Velikiy, the fourth ship of the Kirov-class, originally named the Yuri Andropov. The Velikiy will be starting a three-year dry dock and refitting period at that time.
A major concern with the Kirov-class ships is their nuclear power plants. Far from being the dependable power sources used on US Navy carriers and submarines, the power plants designed by the Soviets and used by the Russians are prone to failure and suffer from poor design.
The Kirov-class ships were, and are, beautiful ships. A graceful design hid a very powerful armament. Part of the overhaul of Nakhimov and Velikiy is an upgrade of the weapon and sensor systems. If the Russians can afford to complete the work, and that is a big question, having active Kirov-class cruisers that deploy could change the balance of power and force the United States Navy to review its own dismantlement.
When the Kirov’s were first deployed, the US Navy had no ships that could match their surface warfare potential. The Reagan Administration recommissioned the four Iowa-class battleships and upgraded the weaponry and sensors on them as a stopgap measure against the Kirov’s. Unfortunately, the situation is repeating itself and there are no current ships at sea or on the drawing board that can match the Kirov’s for sheer power, with the exception of aircraft carriers, and the cost of recommissioning any of the Iowa-class battleships would be exponentially greater than it was in the 1980s.
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