Nanuchka class

Nanuchka I

Nanuchka II

Nanuchka III

Nanuchka IV

During the 1970s, the Soviet Union constructed a new corvette group of compact warship known as the Nanuchka-class (also Project 1234 “Ovod”). Total strength eventually numbered forty-seven vessels completed with a single example cancelled. Five were ultimately lost under various circumstances and twenty-seven were retired (as of 2017). About a dozen remain in service with the modern Russian Navy (2017) and Algeria currently operates three ships.

The class, categorized as “missile boats”, was constructed through three major batches and a one-off ship: Series I, Series II, Series III and Series IV. The Russian Navy took on seventeen of the Series I vessels and eighteen of the Series III. Series IV was a single boat named “Nakat” but this served primarily as a trials bed for the P-800 “Oniks” anti-ship cruise missile – it was retired in 2012. The Series II mark was the primary export model sold to various Soviet-allied countries in Africa and Asia.

The ships displaces 570 tons under standard load and are given an overall length of 195 feet with a beam measuring 41 feet and a draught down to 7.9 feet. Propulsion is from 3 x Marine diesels outputting 30,000 horsepower and driving 3 x shafts under stern. Range is out to 2,500 nautical miles and speeds could reach 32 knots in ideal conditions. Aboard are forty operating personnel.

The ship is outfitted with a surface search and fire control radar. Armament is centered on 6 x SS-N-9 medium-ranged anti-ship missiles though export models were given 4 x SS-N-2 missile systems instead. Beyond this is a single SA-N-4 surface-to-air missile (SAM) launcher with some twenty reloads provided. Conventional armament includes 1 x 57mm AK-257 twin-gunned turreted deck gun (Series I). This was replaced by a single-gunned 76mm fit in the Series III ships. Short-ranged threats are countered by the single Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) 30mm AK-630 installation (Series III).

The Nanuchka-class has been used by the navies of Russia/Soviet Union, Algeria, India (all decommissioned) and Libya (all lost).

The heavily armed Project 1234 ‘Nanuchka I’-class guided missile corvettes had a heavier armament than previous Soviet missile ships. Primary armament was six P-50/4K85 Malachit (SS-N-9 ‘Silen’) anti-ship missiles, which could deliver a 500kg (1,102lb) HE or a 200kt nuclear warhead at a range of 110km (68 miles). The remarkable amount of firepower and combat electronics mounted on such a small platform was apparently purchased at the price of poor seakeeping characteristics. Seventeen units were built from 1969, along with three ‘Nanuchka lIs’ for India. Nineteen ‘Nanuchka Ills’ were built between 1977 and 1986. All the ‘Nanuchka I’s are being scrapped, while the three Indian ‘Nanuchka lIs’ were decommissioned between 1999 and 2002.



Yury Dolgorukiy on its way to the Russian Northern Fleet, October 15, 2015.

Yury Dolgorukiy, the lead vessel of the Borei-class submarine

Yury Dolgorukiy during sea trials

Named after the founder of Moscow, Yuri Dolgorukiy, K-535 is the first of ten planned Borei-class ballistic missile submarines.

The vessel was first laid down in 1996 and built by Sevmash in Northwest Russia, and was planned to enter service in 2001.

Initially it was planned for the submarine to be armed with the R-39M missiles but after indifferent tests, the submarine was redesigned to take the Bulava missile instead. The Bulava missiles are 40ft long and have a range of up to 5,000 miles.

In 2007, the vessel was moved from the construction hall into a launch dock in Severodvinsk even though she was only about 80% complete.

It was thought that the submarine would be rushed through the rest of its production in order to be ready for the 2008 Russian presidential elections, even though most of the vessel’s equipment was yet to be installed which would normally take well over a year to complete.

Nevertheless, on 13 February 2008, Yuri Dolgoruky was launched, and its reactor was first activated on 21 November 2008. The following year, it started sea trials and by July 2010, the submarine had passed several trials including the buoyancy control and navigation systems. By the end of September 2010, all company tests were complete.

The first torpedo launch planned for the December was postponed due to icy conditions in the White Sea.

Commissioning, due in early 2011, was also put on hold due to technical defects. In June 2011, more sea trials took place and on 25 June, the first Bulava missile was successfully launched.

After successful state trials in early 2012, Yuri Dolgoruky was expected to be commissioned later in the summer, but more software problems again put the ceremony on hold. Until finally, on 10 January 2013, she joined the Russian Navy with the traditional raising of the St. Andrew’s ensign, which marked her introduction into the Russian Navy.

The submarine is now fully operational in the Northern Fleet – the fleet of the Russian Navy in the Arctic Ocean.

SPECIFICATION Length, 558ft, beam 44.2ft, draught 32.9ft, surface displacement 14,750 tons, submerged displacement 24,000 tons. Surface speed 25 knots, submerged 32 knots. Propulsion, 1x OK-650B nuclear reactor with 1x AEU steam turbine delivering power to 1x shaft. The vessel has an unlimited range and carries 130 crew.

ARMAMENT 16x Bulava Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). 6x SS-N-15 Cruise missiles. 6x 21in Torpedo tubes.

RSM-56 Bulava

January 2, 2013 — The first of a new fleet of eight Russian ballistic missile submarines is due to enter service in 2013. Each boat will carry up to 16 Bulava ICBMs — intercontinental ballistic missiles — each with multiple nuclear warheads. The new weapons system forms the cornerstone of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Graphic shows facts and figures abouth the nuclear-powered submarine Yuri Dolgoruky and the Bulava missile system.

The Russian Navy is the only operator of the RSM-56 Bulava. As of 2017, 48 missiles are deployed on the Borei-class ballistic missile submarines:

    Yury Dolgorukiy

    Alexander Nevsky

    Vladimir Monomakh

Ju Lang-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles

The PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] has begun replacing its small and aging fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, i. e., five Han-class nuclear-powered attack boats (SSN) and one Xia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile-carrying submarine (SSBN). The first in a new class of SSNs, the Type- 093 Shang-class was launched in 2002 and commissioned in 2006; one additional Type-093 has since also entered service, and some sources estimate that up to eight boats in this class could be built, though other analysts expect that the PLAN will field more advanced Type-095s instead. The PLAN has also launched two new SSBNs of the Type-094 Jin-class, each intended to carry 12 JL- 2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with a range of 7,000 kilometers (three times greater than that of the JL-1 SLBM carried by the Xia) once the JL-2 enters operational readiness.

The Type 094 “Jin” class, is expected to be much more capable overall platform. Similar to other nuclear submarines of Chinese design, this class also experienced reactor problems at first. Four boats are reportedly operational, but are expected to remain without ballistic missiles until the ongoing trials of the intercontinental-range JL-2 ballistic missile system are completed. This missile is predicted to have a range of 7,000-8,000 km and could reach targets in Alaska or India from positions in the Yellow or South China Seas. However, due to the missile’s unknown operational status as of October 2014, it is not entirely clear whether China already has a fully functioning sea-based nuclear deterrent capability in place. Given the Cold War era SSBN requirements listed above, providing the necessary technologies is obviously only a minor part of the conditions that need to be fulfilled to reach this goal. Rigorous crew training, regular exercises, and extended global patrols would need to be continuously demonstrated in order for China to match the criteria set by the U. S. Navy.

Compared to other types of warships, reliable information about technical performance data on Chinese nuclear submarines is even harder to come by through open sources. In order to arrive at plausible estimations regarding the maximum level of quieting reached by a submarine design, photographic evidence can be used at least to some degree. Bell describes a method of `visual qualitative analysis comparison’ for making noise level estimations of the Type 094 class: The proper approach involves breaking down the images into separate hydrodynamic design categories. By looking at obvious design factors, including shape, skin friction (sail/surface), flood openings, and propellers a better assessment can be made. […] In addition, utilizing estimated speed to complement these factors would help narrow the sound estimate. Overall, many design features found on acquired technologies from advanced submarine builders, such as the French and Russians, should be considered in use on the Type 094. When discussing these features separately, Bell concludes that “[t]he additional height needed for the JL-2 missile certainly imposes noise penalties.” The shape of the submarine is not optimal as a result of a need to accommodate the missile. All in all, Bell expects the Type 094 class to be markedly more noisy than e. g. the U. S. Ohio class SSBN:

Overall, based on visual qualitative analysis comparison, the Type 094 is likely much louder than the super quiet Ohio. It has a large sail, deviates from the ideal shape, and includes vents. An advanced propeller will mitigate, but not eradicate these problems. However, this is not to say that the Type 094 is going to be a loud platform overall; it is likely a small step ahead of the Delta III SSBN. It is important to consider that the average speed of an SSBN on station is less than five knots; comparisons made in terms of attack boats, which travel in excess of 15 knots have limited applicability. According to reports, the Delta III registered between 125-130 dB at 4-8 knots, the likely speed of an SSBN on patrol. Considering modern propeller design, this correlates with certain Chinese reports, which argue that the Type 094’s acoustic signature was 120 dB (Bell 2009: 34-35).

Regarding a classification of noise levels, Bell notes: “According to E.V. Miasnikov, Senior Research Scientist [. . .] at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, a very quiet submarine registers about 100 dB, a quiet submarine about 120 dB, and a loud submarine about 140 dB. If the Type 094 puts out 120 dB at sea, it will be very difficult to track. When the limitations of using one platform (SSNs) to track the Type 094 are considered, the United States Navy will have to make adjustments”

Given the practical difficulties of tracking SSBNs en route, the Type 094 class is thus likely to be a relatively capable and quiet submarine that will effectively provide China with a survivable sea-based nuclear deterrent if adequate training and mission competency can be achieved. Moreover, according to Bell, the submarine was “released at the opportune moment in United States anti-submarine warfare (ASW) decline”. After the end of the Cold War, ASW skills in many countries including the U. S. gradually deteriorated due to decreasing emphasis and practice. Citing Christopher McConnaughy, Chief of Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Quality Assurance at the United States Strategic Command, Bell notes that nuclear attack submarines are the only platforms capable of continuously tracking SSBN at sea. He further adds:

Once at sea there are a limited number of platforms capable of finding and tracking an SSBN on patrol. There is no guarantee that these platforms will actually find the SSBN, only a probability. The more assets and efforts used, the higher the probability of detection and tracking.

Effective tracking, moreover, requires the integrated use of cues from very diverse sources of information such as “satellite imagery, antisubmarine aircraft, and fixed, passive underwater acoustic arrays”.

Under these circumstances, it is easy to see why the Chinese leadership decided to build a submarine base at Hainan island that provides nuclear submarines with direct access to deeper waters from underwater tunnels drilled into the rock. It is also apparent why China did not publicly announce the building of that base before it was discovered in satellite images published by Jane’s in 2008 (cf. `Secret Sanya’ 2008). The strategic advantages of such a base for China’s nuclear submarines are obvious: “[I]f China bases the Type 094 from this Island, in port satellite imagery becomes impossible”

According to latest source, 094 SSBN armed with JL-2 missiles began deterrent patrol in 2015. The United States Department of Defense believes the missile will give the PLA Navy “its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.”

As of 2017, 48 JL-2 launchers are deployed on submarines. As of 2018, China is developing the JL-3 as a future replacement.

China continues to produce the JIN-class SSBN, with four commissioned and at least one other under construction. China’s JIN SSBNs, which are equipped to carry up to 12 CSS-N-14 (JL-2) SLBMs, are the country’s first viable sea-based nuclear deterrent.

The problems resulting from China’s narrow and shallow territorial waters are most relevant for submarine operations but also affect naval surface vessels, at least to some degree. The defining characteristic of the submarine as a naval weapon system is, after all, its ability to hide from enemy view. This ability is compromised in shallow waters, at least for transiting submarines, because “[t]he deeper the submarine can go the bigger the volume of sea it can hide in”. Shallow waters are also difficult terrain to navigate safely, especially for larger submarines such as China’s giant new Jin class SSBN. At over 130 m in length, its hull diameter must be large enough to accommodate the JL-2 missile, which is about 13 m long. Shallow waters therefore not only make such vessels vulnerable to detection, but also to accidental grounding.

China’s next-generation Type 096 SSBN, reportedly to be armed with the follow-on JL-3 SLBM, will likely begin construction in the early-2020s. Based on the 40-plus-year service life of China’s first-generation SSNs, China will operate its JIN and Type 096 SSBN fleets concurrently.

Midway Fleet Carriers

Sailors form a message of farewell on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS MIDWAY (CV-41) as the ship heads out to sea after leaving U.S. Naval Station, Yokosuka, Japan, for the last time.

Early wartime combat experience had convinced the US navy that a new, larger fleet carrier reflecting the latest in ship design technology would be needed to supplement and eventually replace the Essex-class carriers, which reflected pre-war ship design technology. The next-generation fleet carrier would also need an armoured flight deck for added survivability.

The US navy’s desire for an armoured flight deck came about due to the reports before America’s official entry into the Second World War of the ability of Royal Navy carriers fitted with armoured flight decks to absorb a great deal of punishment in battle and continue to function. An added benefit in fitting the next generation of US navy fleet carriers with armoured flight decks would be their ability to bear the weight of the upcoming generations of larger and heavier carrier aircraft.

Congress authorized the building of six new fleet carriers in June 1942. They were to be designated the Midway class and assigned the letter suffix designation code `CVB’, with the letter `B’ standing for `battle’. However, only the first three were built, all being commissioned following the end of the Second World War. These were the USS Midway (CVB-41), USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) and USS Coral Sea (CVB-43).

The Midway-class carriers had an overall length of 968 feet and a full load displacement of 55,000 tons. The ship’s armoured flight deck was 3.5 inches thick and was considered part of the superstructure. Its hangar deck was considered the main deck, or strength deck, as it had been on the previous Essex-class carriers. The hangar deck on the Midway class was unarmoured to save weight.

The Midway-class carriers had been intended to carry as many as 144 aircraft that would be launched with the assistance of two hydraulically-operated flight deck catapults. As carrier aircraft became ever larger and heavier in the post-war years, the number of planes carried on board the ships dropped. At face value it might seem that the smaller number of aircraft would lessen the carrier’s effectiveness but the newer generation of aircraft was much more capable than their predecessors, offsetting the decline in numbers. Planes on the ships were moved between the flight and hangar decks by two centreline and one port-side deck-edge elevator.

The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt was the initial US navy carrier modified to handle nuclear weapons in 1950. The first US navy aircraft able to carry a nuclear weapon and be launched from a Midway-class carrier was a modified land-based, twin-engine patrol aircraft designated the P2V. Twelve were modified for the role and designated the P2V-3C. Due to the size of the P2V-3C they were not intended to be recovered by the Midway-class carriers. They were a stopgap solution until the specially designed AJ-1 Savage entered service, which occurred in late 1949. It was designed to be both launched and recovered from Midway-class carriers.

In 1952 the US navy redesignated the Midway-class carriers as CVAs rather than CVBs, the letter `A’ now standing for `attack’. In 1975 the US navy redesignated the Midway-class carriers once again and they now became just CVs.

As with many of the Essex-class carriers, the three Midway-class carriers also went through modernization programmes, beginning in 1953 with the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programmes were referred to as Project SCB-110 and Project SCB-110A and provided the ships with angled flight decks and other improvements such as an enclosed hurricane bow.

The first Midway-class carrier to return to service with the Project SCB-110 and Project SCB-110A upgrades was the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1956, followed by the USS Midway in 1957 and the USS Coral Sea in 1960.

As the march of technology continued in naval aviation the Midway-class carriers, like those that went before them, were unable to operate the latest generation of larger and heavier carrier aircraft. By the 1970s, they were also just old and worn out and a massive conversion was not cost-effective. It was therefore decided to retire the three Midway-class carriers. The first to go was the Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1977, the Coral Sea in 1990 and the Midway in 1992, the latter having a second career as a museum ship berthed in San Diego Harbor since 2004.


Soviet Naval Infantry and Air Cushion vehicles

Soviet Naval Infantrymen in 1985.

Cold War

Following the Russian revolution in 1917 and during the ensuing Civil War of 1917 to 1922 the first Soviet naval infantry units were formed. This Force was disbanded at the conclusion of the Civil War and not re-established until 1939. The peak force level reached was around 500,000 during World War ll; afterwards the force was reduced in size and numbers until it was disbanded sometime in the mid-1950s. No indication of its third re-establishment was noticed until after 1964. By 1977 the new Naval infantry had expanded to its present strength of 12,000 men; these are organized into five regiments, which are operationally subordinated to the Soviet Navy fleet commanders. One regiment is attached to each of the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, whilst the remaining two form a divisional grouping in the Pacific Fleet The 2,000-man strong regiments follow the triangular organization of the Soviet army motorized rifle regiment, with the exception that its tank battalion has a company of medium tanks in addition to three companies of PT-76 light amphibious tanks. ln 1982 the regiments underwent a reorganization programme to increase their organic firepower. Additional medium tanks, BM-21 multiple rocket, launchers, and anti-tank guided missiles were added, together with the first tube artillery in the form of the M1974 122-mm self-propelled gun. Before this artillery support was limited to that provided by naval gunfire, plus BM-21 and amphibious ship rocket fire.

Battalion Assault Force

As with all Soviet forces, the Naval infantry can be quickly expanded in wartime by the mobilization of trained reserve personnel and stockpiled reserve equipment. The basis of the regiment is the battalion, made up of three infantry companies, a mortar platoon. and supporting supply and maintenance, medical and communications units. When reinforced the battalion constitutes the main amphibious assault unit, the Battalion Assault Force (BAF) The company is divided into a small headquarters unit and three platoons, each of which has three squads carried in BTR-60 APCs. The medium tanks are usually assigned on the basis of one platoon of three tanks to support a naval infantry company. The medium tanks usually disembark in shallow water behind the PT-76 and BTR-60 first or second assault waves. One platoon of medium tanks is believed to be equipped with the flamethrower version of the T-54/55 MBT for reduction of strongpoints.

The primary mission of the Naval infantry is the amphibious assault. This is divided into several categories depending upon the scale and mission of the landings. The categories are, firstly, strategic landings which are conducted in support of theatre forces lo open up a new front of operations (though the Soviets are believed not to have developed this capability as yet and probably will not for the foreseeable future). Secondly, there are operational landings to assist ground or naval forces in coastal areas to surround and destroy enemy ground or naval units, or to capture major objectives within the area (usually a regimental-sized operation). Thirdly, there are tactical landings to strike at the rear or flank of enemy units along a coastline or to capture specific objectives (a battalion- or regimental-sized operation). Fourthly, there are reconnaissance and sabotage landings to reconnoiter areas. to inflict significant material and installation losses, and to create diversions (a battalion-, company- or platoon-sized operation).

The secondary role assigned to the Naval infantry is to participate in coastal defence-operations. However, in practice this is rarely likely to occur as it is a waste of a valuable combat resource.

One unique feature of the operations is the extensive use of amphibious assault air-cushion vehicles. There were four types available. The smallest of these is the ‘Gus’ class, of which there are some 33 in service with the Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific Fleets. The ‘Lebed’ class is in service with the Baltic and Pacific Fleets for initial assault and logistic support duties; around 12 are in service with more being built. Both the ‘Gus’ and the ‘Lebed’ (in a preloaded state) can be used from the ‘lvan Rogov’ class LPD. The largest ACV in use is the ‘Aist’ class, of which some 13 are in service with the Baltic-and Black Sea Fleets. Additional units are under construction, together with the new ‘Tsaplya’ class which is the follow-on to the ‘Gus’ class. Some four ‘Tsaplya’ are currently in service.

In 1961, the Naval Infantry was re-formed and became a combat arm of the Soviet Naval Forces. Each Fleet was assigned a Naval Infantry unit of regiment (and later brigade) size. The Naval Infantry received amphibious versions of standard armoured fighting vehicles, including tanks used by the Soviet Army.

By 1989, the Naval Infantry numbered 18,000 troops, organised into the 55th Naval Infantry Division (ru) at Vladivostok and at least four independent brigades: the 61st Kirkenneskaya Brigade at Pechenga (Northern Fleet), 175th at Tumannyy in the North, 336th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade at Baltiysk (Baltic Fleet), and 810th at Sevastopol (Black Sea Fleet).

By the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy had over eighty landing ships, as well as two Ivan Rogov-class landing ships. The latter could transport one infantry battalion with 40 armoured vehicles and their landing craft. (One of the Rogov ships has since been retired.)

At 75 units, the Soviet Union had the world’s largest inventory of combat air-cushion assault craft. In addition, many of the 2,500 vessels of the Soviet merchant fleet (Morflot) could off-load weapons and supplies during amphibious landings.

On November 18, 1990, on the eve of the Paris Summit where the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and the Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) were signed, Soviet data were presented under the so-called initial data exchange. This showed a rather sudden emergence of three so-called coastal defence divisions (including the 3rd at Klaipėda in the Baltic Military District, the 126th in the Odessa Military District and seemingly the 77th Guards Motor Rifle Division with the Northern Fleet), along with three artillery brigades/regiments, subordinate to the Soviet Navy, which had previously been unknown as such to NATO. Much of the equipment, which was commonly understood to be treaty limited (TLE) was declared to be part of the naval infantry. The Soviet argument was that the CFE excluded all naval forces, including its permanently land-based components. The Soviet Government eventually became convinced that its position could not be maintained.

A proclamation of the Soviet government on July 14, 1991, which was later adopted by its successor states, provided that all “treaty-limited equipment” (tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles) assigned to naval infantry or coastal defence forces, would count against the total treaty entitlement.


The Russian Naval Infantry have been gradually phasing out PT-76 amphibious tanks, and started to receive a number of T-80s. A full-strength Naval Infantry Brigade may have up to 70-80 Tanks. The APCs used by the Naval Infantry are either wheeled BTR-80s (in Assault Landing Battalions) or tracked MT-LBs (in Marine Battalions). While Naval Infantry units were supposed to receive BMP-3 IFVs, BMMP (bojevaya mashina morskoj pekhoti) fitted with the turret of the BMP-2, few have been delivered, and it is far from certain such re-arming will take place. BMP-3s may equip one company per Marine battalion.

According to Defense Ministry statement published by RIA Novosti (November 27, 2009), “All units of Russia’s naval infantry will be fully equipped with advanced weaponry by 2015.” Included in this upgrade would be T-90 tanks, BMP-3 IFVs, 2S31 120mm mortar/artillery tracks, wheeled BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers, air defense equipment and small arms. All Naval Infantry units were equipped with Ratnik infantry combat gear and all Northern Fleet naval infantry units were equipped with BTR-82A APCs as of November 2016. Naval Infantry and Navy units also receive new-technology binoculars. The Naval Infantry have started to receive a modernized version of Strelets reconnaissance, control and communications system and completed receiving D-10 parachutes. All Pacific Fleet and Caspian Flotilla naval infantry units were equipped with BTR-82A APCs as of May 2018.

In late February 2014, at least one Black Sea Fleet assigned unit (at company level) was apparently using Tigr armoured cars near Sevastopol during the 2014 Crimean crisis. During the crisis in March 2014 imagery emerged of some Naval Infantry personnel carrying what appeared to be the OTs-14-1A-04 7.62×39mm assault rifle with an under-barrel GP-30 40mm grenade launcher; a bullpup design normally associated with the Russian Airborne Troops, as well as Combat Engineering and Spetsnaz units.

The Soviet Union was the world’s largest developer of military hovercraft. Their designs range from the small Czilim class ACV, comparable to the SR.N6, to the monstrous Zubr class LCAC, the world’s largest hovercraft. The Soviet Union was also one of the first nations to use a hovercraft, the Bora, as a guided missile corvette, though this craft possessed rigid, non-inflatable sides. With the fall of the Soviet Union most Soviet military hovercraft fell into disuse and disrepair. Only recently has the modern Russian Navy begun building new classes of military hovercraft.

The Gus class was a military version of the Soviet Skate class 50 passenger hovercraft, and was designed to transport infantry and light equipment. Between 1969 and 1974 32 Gus class assault hovercraft were constructed. They were deployed to all Soviet naval fleets except the northern fleet, and were used extensively along the Amur River border with China. Three Gus class LCAC could be carried by the Ivan Rogov class assault transport. They were replaced by the larger Tsaplya class LCAC and more recently the smaller Czilim class ACV. All Guss class hovercraft were believed scrapped in the early 1990’s.

The Aist class was built to roughly the same size as the British SR.N4 commercial channel ferry. The Russian name for this class is “maly desantny korabl na vozdushnoy podushke” meaning “small air cushion vehicle”. The Aist class prototype was built in 1970 and the type entered production in Leningrad in 1975. It was produced there at a rate of about six every four years. By the early 1990s twenty to twenty four had been produced. They began to be withdrawn following the fall of the Soviet Union, and by 2004 only six remained, in two levels of configuration. A modified main engine intake was installed on all Russian Navy Aists in service with the Baltic Sea fleet. These intakes are believed to include special filters to reduce the ingestion of salt water, sand and dust particles into Aist’s engines and machinery, limiting the effects of salt water corrosion. The Aist have suffered from high cushion pressure, and produce exceptionally heavy cushion spray, especially at low speeds.

The Lebed class is the Russian Navy equivalent to the U.S. Navy LCAC, thought the U.S. version entered service seven years later. The Lebed class entered service in 1975, and by the early 1990’s twenty had been produced. The ship has a bow ramp with a gun on the starboard side and the bridge to port. The Lebed class can be carried by the “Ivan Rogov” class assault transport ships. The type began to be withdrawn following the fall of the Soviet Union, and by 2004 only three remained. 533 is in the Northern Fleet, while 639 and 640 took part in the Caspian Sea exercises of 2002.

The Zubr class (Project 1232.2, NATO reporting name “Pomornik”) is a class of air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC). This class of military hovercraft is, as of 2012, the world’s largest, with a standard full load displacement of 555 tons. The hovercraft is designed to sealift amphibious assault units (such as marines and tanks) from equipped/non-equipped vessels to non-equipped shores, as well as transport and plant naval mines.

There are ten Zubr-class hovercraft in service. There are two vessels in the Russian Navy and four with the Hellenic Navy. In 2009, China placed an order for four vessels from Ukraine [order transferred to Russia now] as part of a deal worth 315 million USD. Two updated versions of the vessels were built by Crimea’s Feodosia Shipbuilding Company, followed by two advanced models of the surface warship.

The purchase of HS Cephalonia (L 180) for the Hellenic Navy marked the first time a Soviet-designed naval craft had been built for a NATO member.

In June 2017, Russia announced it was restarting production of the Zubr-class craft. Representatives from the Russian shipbuilding industry soon after responded by stating production could not possibly resume in 2018 and would only be possible by 2019–2021, refuting the government position. Representatives cited the lack of availability of and inability to mass-produce components, notably gas turbine engines and reduction gears as the main obstacles.

NPO Saturn (ODK GT) and Turboros developed marine gas turbine M70FRU (D090), FR RU, M70FRU2 (DP/DM71) along M90FR, M75RU, E70RD8 and Elektrosila, AO Zvezda, Metallist, Samara and others developed reductors and gears. Fan and Turboprop provided by NK Kuznetsov, Aerosila, among others (perhaps some like Aviadvigatel, Salut, AMNTK, UMPO, KMPO, having high and long experience and production).

The Zubr-class landing craft has a cargo area of 400 square metres (4,300 sq ft) and a fuel capacity of 56 tons. It can carry three main battle tanks (up to 150 tonnes), or ten armoured vehicles with 140 troops (up to 131 tonnes), or 8 armoured personnel carriers of total mass up to 115 tonnes, or 8 amphibious tanks or up to 500 troops (with 360 troops in the cargo compartment).

At full displacement the ship is capable of negotiating up to 5-degree gradients on non-equipped shores and 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in)-high vertical walls. The Zubr class remains seaworthy in conditions up to Sea State 4. The vessel has a cruising speed of 30–40 knots (56–74 km/h; 35–46 mph).

Current Strength: 15 LCAC (incl 4 Pomornik, 3 Aist, 3 Tsaplya, 1 Lebed, 1 Utenok, 2 Orlan WIG and 1 Utka)

Virginia-class cruisers

The need for more nuclear-powered surface warships to provide antiaircraft and ASW defense was clear, as only two of the frigates (DLGN), now known as cruiser (CGN), possessed this propulsion system. In order to take full advantage of the high endurance offered by the nuclear Enterprise, the United States embarked on the construction of new frigates with the same capability. The first of these was the two-ship California-class.

Completed in 1974 and 1975 and redesignated as cruisers, their hulls measured 596 feet by 61 feet and displaced 10,150 tons. Their turbine engines were powered by two nuclear reactors of the D2G type, which were originally designed for destroyers and manufactured by the General Electric Corporation. Each reactor compartment was cylindrical, measured 37 feet high and 31 feet wide, and weighed 1,400 tons. The top speed produced by this propulsion system was 30 knots. These ships represented a step forward in missile technology. In place of the older SAM batteries, these vessels mounted two twin-armed Standard SAM launchers with magazines that could each hold 40 missiles. One each was located fore and aft.

The Standard missile represented a great improvement over those of the “3Ts” and is still in use in the United States Navy. Research and development for this weapon began in 1963 with the object of replacing Terrier and Tartar. First entering service in 1967 and designated RIM-66, this missile measures 15 feet, 6 inches, weighs 1,370 pounds, and possesses a maximum range of 104 miles thanks to its jet engine that can produce a Mach 3.5 velocity. The guidance system is greatly enhanced and allows for better accuracy through faster course corrections in flight. As a result, it can be used against aircraft and helicopters and for defense versus cruise missiles. This latter capability was important at the time given the inability of the “3T” missile systems to effectively combat Soviet antiship missiles. Finally, the Standard missile can also be used against surface targets, which represented the first move toward addressing the paucity of offensive power against enemy vessels that plagued the first U. S. missile cruisers.

In addition to this system and its enhanced fire control and radar array, the California-class also shipped an ASROC launcher and four Mark 32 torpedo launchers for ASW along with sonar. These vessels were also armed with two 5-inch guns in single mounts for the purpose of close-range defense. Unlike guns of the past, these were fully automated, computer-controlled weapons. Each gun possessed a magazine that held 475-500 rounds and could fire 16-20 per minute to a maximum range of almost 15 miles. This gun remains in use in the United States Navy. Four similar frigates of the Virginia-class were completed between 1976 and 1980, redesignated as cruisers at the same time as the California-class. The hull of Virginia measured 585 feet by 63 feet and displaced 11,000 tons. Its propulsion system and armament were identical to the previous vessels. The chief difference was the absence of an ASROC launcher in favor of a Standard missile system that could fire SAMs and ASROC missiles.

Harpoon missile: The naval version of this missile was first deployed in the early 1980s and resembles the French Exocet antiship missile. It is still a primary weapon of the United States Navy and was first deployed on the Virginia-class cruisers when they were retrofitted. A Harpoon weighs 1,385 pounds and is 15 feet long. It carries a 488-pound warhead at a speed approaching Mach 1 and has a maximum range of almost 70 miles. Like Exocet, its guidance system allows it to home in on a target while skimming the ocean surface before striking the hull of an enemy vessel and exploding within.

Virginia ships were refitted to carry two quadruple-mount Mark 143 Tomahawk missile launchers in the stern The Tomahawk launchers carry eight Tomahawk (BGM-109) antiship and/or land-attack missiles More capable than the Harpoon missile, which has a range of 80 nautical miles (92 miles) and carries a warhead containing 510 pounds of high explosive, Tomahawks have a range of more than 250 nautical miles (287.5 miles) and carry 1.000 pounds of high explosive. One SWG-2 Tomahawk fire control system is being installed along with the missiles, which are occupying space that was previously a hangar for the Kaman SH-2F Seasprite Light Airborne Multipurpose System I (LAMPS 1) helicopter. Problems with the hangar elevator mechanism and trouble with maintaining a watertight seal on the elevator doors led to the decision to remove the hangar and replace it with the Tomahawk launchers

Units: Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas

Type and Significance: Together with the California-class, these vessels formed the bulk of the U. S. cruiser force until the early 1980s. They were also the last nuclear-powered missile cruisers built by the United States.

Dates of Construction: All units were laid down between 1972 and 1977, with construction ending on the class in late 1980.

Hull Dimensions: 585′ x 63′ x 21′

Displacement: 11,000 tons

Armor:   1 in (25 mm) Kevlar plastic armor installed around combat information center, magazines, and machinery spaces


2 × Mk 26 missile launchers for 68 missiles

RIM-66 Standard Missiles (MR) / RUR-5 ASROC

8 × Tomahawk missile (from 2 armored-box launchers after a refitting)

8 × RGM-84 Harpoon (from two Mk-141 quad launchers)

4 × Mk 46 torpedoes (from fixed single tubes)

2 × Mk-45 5-inch/54 caliber rapid-fire gun

2 × 20 mm Phalanx CIWS (post-refit)

2 × 25 mm Mk 38 chain guns

6 × .50 cal (12.7 mm) M2 machine guns

Machinery: Turbines powered by two D2G nuclear reactors that delivered 60,000 horsepower.

Speed: 30 knots

Complement: 519

Summary: Like the California-class cruisers, these ships were first designated as frigates until 1975, when they were reclassed as cruisers. All four units were decommissioned between 1992 and 1997 and have been scrapped.

CGN-38 Virginia Class

WWII Carrier Armored Flight Decks

HMS Illustrious was therefore allocated to the fleet and, after a short work-up in the Bermuda area, she was passed into the Eastern Basin of the Mediterranean as part of an intricate reinforcement and replacement operation. Illustrious was the first of the new class of armoured fleet carriers. With up to four inches of flight-deck armour and an armoured hangar deck and walls she was proof against any but the heaviest bombs, while her vertical armour was of heavy-cruiser standard. Fitted from the outset with RDF (radar) she was armed with the fifteen Fulmars of 806 Sqn, a unit which had seen extensive service over the Channel while equipped with Skuas, and which was now taking the Fulmar to sea for the first time. Her TSR squadrons, 815 and 819, were veterans of the anti-invasion strikes against German forces in the Dutch ports, and many of the aircrew had served previously in Glorious’s Swordfish squadrons in the Mediterranean. Among the stores which Illustrious brought to the Mediterranean Fleet were long-range overload fuel tanks for the Swordfish, enabling strikes to be mounted at ranges of up to 200 miles from the carriers.

On 10 January 1941, while Illustrious was covering a convoy entering Valletta’s Grand Harbour, the Sicilian-based Fliegerkorps X carried out a devastating attack, coordinated with an ineffectual Italian torpedo strike. The latter did, however, have the effect of drawing the patrolling Fulmars down to low level as the Ju 87s came to their ‘pushover’ point 11,000ft above, and there was thus little that the fighters could do to prevent the first wave of dive-bombers from bombing the carrier, defended only by the fleet’s AA fire. In this first attack she was hit by six 250 and 500kg bombs, three of which inflicted only superficial damage. The others all hit the flight deck aft, but only one actually penetrated the armour. The other two, and a seventh hit in an attack four hours later, hit on or about the after lift. The after hangar was set on fire and four Fulmars contributed to the blaze, which spread to compartments around the after lift well. Near misses caused a complete steering failure, and Illustrious was out of control for nearly three hours. However, her machinery was intact and her watertight integrity was unaffected, and she was able to keep moving at up to 18kts throughout, as well as being able to maintain power for fire-fighting pumps and communications. Once under control again Illustrious headed for Malta, protected by Valiant, Warspite and those Fulmars which had been able to refuel and rearm at Malta, 60 miles to the east of the scene of the attack. Grand Harbour was reached at dusk and the ship entered with her fires still out of control. They were not finally extinguished until the following morning. There is no doubt that the armoured deck saved her from destruction; no other carrier took anything like this level of punishment and survived.

Illustrious was bombed again while emergency repairs were carried out at Malta, receiving two more direct hits on 16 January and suffering serious damage to the bottom plating from the mining effect of near-misses on the 19 th. The Fulmars joined the few RAF Hurricanes on the island in the defence of their ship, and she eventually broke out on the evening of 23 January, bound for the Suez Canal and virtual rebuilding above the main deck in Norfolk Navy Yard in the USA. She did not return to the UK until the end of 1941.

Remarkably, there was a great debate among naval theorists concerning the need for armor decking, yet their thinking was not completely irrational. The carriers that were built with armored decks fall into two distinct types – those with armor at the flight deck level protecting the below deck hangars, and those that only had armor between the hangar deck and the lower levels of the ship. Armor at the flight deck level would protect the hangar deck and the aircraft stored there from most bombs, but it severely limited the aircraft capacity of the vessel. Armor was also often thinner than was really necessary for protection. This was done especially with aircraft carriers to make them significantly faster in steaming through the seas so that their speed made them much more capable of launching and recovering warplanes. This was always done by steaming the carrier rapidly into any wind that was present to help provide aerodynamic lift. The deck armor also tended to reduce the length of the flight deck. Metal deck armor, exposed to wide changes in temperature, needed complicated expansion joints to be functional. US and most Japanese carriers had their armor placed at the hangar deck level, essentially treating the hangar spaces and flight deck as mere superstructure. These areas proved very vulnerable to the blast from penetrating general purpose bombs and other explosions, which in turn caused massive casualties in comparison to British armored carrier designs.

The British had begun the practice of armoring their flight decks prior to WWII, and in this they were consistent with their belief in the efficacy of level-bombing. The Royal Navy was faced with the particular problem of designing a carrier that could survive under the heavy bombloads of nearby land-based planes to be expected in the confines of the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and the Channel. These demands resulted in the development of aircraft carriers whose flight decks were armored against 500 lb Armor Piercing bombs and 1000 lb General Purpose bombs.

Sunk February 22, 1942, it seems almost fitting that the first US Navy carrier built was also the first to be sunk in World War II. The unarmored USS Langley, a conversion, was just one of the many victims of the Battle of the Java Sea. Three waves of Japanese aircraft attacked making 5 bomb hits. Langley took a 10 degree list, was abandoned, and sunk by US destroyers with guns and torpedoes.

HMS Hermes, destroyed in the Indian Ocean by IJN dive-bombers and torpedo aircraft two months later, was the world’s first ship to be designed and built specifically as an aircraft carrier. In service since 1924, Hermes spent most of the war patrolling the Indian Ocean with a tiny compliment of bi-wing planes. She refitted in South Africa in February 1942 and then joined the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon. The ship was woefully short of AA batteries. The ship’s waterline belt armor was 3 inches (76 mm) thick, but her flight deck, which was also the ship’s strength deck, was just 1 inch (25 mm) thick—armor similar to that afforded a light cruiser. By way of comparison, HMS Ark Royal deployed in 1938 had 4.5 in (11.4 cm) of belt armor and 3.5 in (8.9 cm) of deck armor over its boiler rooms and magazines. Ark Royal was lost to U-boat torpedo attack in 1941.

The Eastern Fleet had recently been devastated by the IJN whose overwhelming airpower sank the battle cruiser HMS Repulse and battleship HMS Prince of Wales. Together with their escort destroyers, HMS Electra, Express, Tenedos, and HMAS Vampire, these two had formed the so-called Force Z Naval fleet sent out too late to rescue the British base at Singapore. It was hoped that Hermes and other ships assigned to join the fleet (the carriers HMS Indomitable and Formidable) would bolster the airpower necessary to prevent a repeat of such a disaster. The carrier, without aircraft embarked, and its escorting destroyer were quickly sunk by the Japanese bombers and torpedo planes in April 1942. Most of the survivors were rescued by a nearby hospital ship although 307 men from Hermes were lost in the sinking. Allied uncertainty concerning the best configuration for an aircraft carrier had increased to the point, thereafter, that the British Admiralty forbade builders from working above the hangar deck without express permission. The design flaws were rectified in the Illustrious and Implacable class carriers, under construction at the time.

The IJN carrier force during World War II had unarmored flight decks just like the Yorktown and Essex classes of the US Navy. Only at the very end of the war did the IJN attempt to armor its carrier decks. It was thought that the substance of the flight deck was sufficient to ward off penetration by lesser dive-bomber loads. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that dive-bombing was more precise and more effective with the same weight of bombs than any level-flight method employed for this purpose during the war.

The only Allied carrier (built after 1942) lost to deck hits by bombs was the American light carrier, USS Princeton (CVL-23). A IJN dive-bomber dropped a single bomb, which struck the carrier at a weak point between the elevators, crashing through the flight deck and hangar before exploding. Although 1,361 crewmen were rescued, 108 men from the Princeton were lost in the attack. The interior of the ship was said to have been an inferno. Many light and escort carriers were unarmored, with no protection on the hangar or flight deck, and thus they fared poorly against deck hits. The USS Franklin was struck by two 250 kg (550 lbs) bombs, one semi-armor piercing (SAP) and one general purpose (GP) bomb, both of which penetrated into its hangar deck and set off ammunition there, killing 724 and wounding 265 of the crew. The ship survived and was decommissioned in 1947.

The unarmored American carriers of the Essex class suffered very high casualties from serious kamikaze hits for which no one had provided. The kamikaze threat was serious (173 recorded strikes on US vessels alone), but allied AA defences neutralized it somewhat. US carriers and their fighters shot down more than 1,900 potential suicide aircraft. Many kamikaze strikes missed the deck armor entirely, or bounced off the decks of both British or American carriers. After a successful kamikaze hit, however, the British were generally able to clear the flight deck and resume flight operations in just hours, while the Americans in some cases took a few days or even months to affect repairs. The USS Bunker Hill was severely damaged by a pair of kamikaze hits that killed 346 men. In total, four US carriers suffered significant damage from suicide planes.

The Royal Navy and IJN limited their carriers’ aircraft capacity to the capacity of their under-deck hangars, and struck down all aircraft between operations. The US typically used a permanent deck park to augment the capacity of their aircraft carrier’s hangars giving them a much larger aircraft capacity than contemporary Royal Navy armored flight deck carriers.

Trial by Fire