Russia’s Kirov-Class Battlecruiser Nightmare Has Just Begun

Summary and Key Points: The Russian Navy may decommission its sole nuclear-powered guided-missile battlecruiser, the Pyotr Velikiy, due to high maintenance costs and poor condition. The Kirov-class ships, designated as Project 1144 Orlan, are among the largest surface combatants.

-Built during the Cold War to counter U.S. submarine capabilities, these ships feature powerful armaments like the P-700 Granit anti-ship missiles and advanced air-defense systems.

-Despite their formidable capabilities, the high cost of repairs and modernization makes their future uncertain.

-The Pyotr Velikiy, armed with an array of missiles and defense systems, represents a significant yet aging asset in Russia’s naval fleet.

Aging Giant: Russia’s Last Kirov-Class Battlecruiser Nears Decommissioning

The Russian Navy might decommission its sole nuclear-powered guided-missile battlecruiser, the Pyotr Velikiy. According to Tass, this Kirov-class ship costs too much to maintain. The vessel’s poor condition, coupled with the repairs and modernization needed to keep it relevant, mean its demise may be approaching. 

The Kirov class was designated by the Soviets as Project 1144 Orlan (Sea Eagle). It includes the largest and heaviest surface combatant warships to sail the seas. Second in size only to larger aircraft carriers, these ships have remained an important component of Russia’s naval fleet.

Kirov ships were conceptualized during the Cold War to counter the capabilities of the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet. Specifically, the USSR desired a battleship class capable of carrying a large payload of SS-N-14 anti-submarine missiles and later P-700 Granit anti-ship missiles. The Granit long-range anti-ship missile system (designated by NATO as SS-N-19 Shipwreck) was the primary armament of the Kirov class. 

With their multi-variant target engagement program, Granit missiles could share information while in flight. However, these weapons could not be controlled after being launched. The lead missile would always assume a high-level flight trajectory, followed by subsequent missiles at a lower level.

Kirov-Class Battlecruisers Packed a Punch

The Shipwreck missile was designed in the 1970s to replace the Soviets’ shorter-range P-70 Ametist and P-120 Malakhit missiles. Soviet officials strongly desired the missile, seeing it as a better counter to the U.S. Navy’s rapidly advancing carrier battle groups. The Shipwreck was constructed by Chelomei/NPO Mashinostroyenia. By the early 1980s, the weapon was deployed aboard the Kirov cruiser. Granit launchers were also incorporated onto the Soviet’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, giving it added primary attack capability.

The -300F air-defense missile complex is also equipped on Russia’s lone remaining Kirov-class ship. As detailed by Naval Technology, “The Osa-MA air defense missile system is supplied by the Znamya Truda Plant based at Saratov. The ship has two double launchers and 40 missiles. The system can operate autonomously or it can be integrated into the ship’s combat systems and download target data from the ship’s sensors. Osa-MA has a range of 1.2 to 10km at an altitude between 25m and 5,000m.”

The addition of the Kashtan air-defense missile/gun system gives the Kirov-class ship an added edge, defending against an array of precision weapons including aircraft, anti-radar missiles and air bombs, and even small naval ships. This system is able to engage up to six targets at the same time, with a gun range of 1.5 km for altitudes up to 4,000 meters. 

Russia’s Ametist Design Bureau, Izumrud JSC, and Tula Engineering Plant supply the Kirov ships’ 130mm AK-130 multipurpose twin-barrel gun. Notably, the gun can be operated remotely under autonomous control, or manually. 

Sputnik provides more detail surrounding the S-300 on the Kirov-class ship, claiming its radar can track multiple aerial targets at altitudes of 30km and ranges out to 300 km. 

“Pyotr Veliky is armed with 48 S-300F Fort and 46 S-300FM Fort-M (SA-N-20 Gargoyle) medium-range surface-to-air missiles (with effective range of up to 200 kilometers), 128 3K95 Kinzhal (SA-N-9 Gauntlet) short-range SAMs, and six CADS-N-1 Kashtan gun/missile systems,” Sputnik reports.

Initially, the Kirov was also equipped with the RPK-3 Metel (designated by NATO as SSN-N-14 Silex) and the RPK-2 Vyuga (designated by NATO as SSN-N-15 Starfish). 

The majority of these weapons systems are positioned forward, while the ship’s stern is designed to house a below-deck helicopter hangar and other machinery.

About the Author: Maya Carlin

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

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Maya Carlin