Friday, 20 February 2009

Carriers; Fully Loaded - Admiral Kuznetsov

I am building up to a full report on all aircraft carriers, comparing them with the aim of finding a forumla for future carrier design/operations.

here is the first entry;

Admiral Kuznetsov

Figure 1 RFS Admiral Kuznetsov at sea
The Soviets never built just aircraft carriers; they built Heavy Aircraft Carrying Cruisers. This was questioned at every turn by western navies, but it does make sense, perhaps even more so in the modern world, for it provides the ship with its own defences, in the age of shrinking fleets the capability for self defence is far greater on the Admiral Kuznetsov, and its ascendants the Kiev and Modified Kiev (to be examined next) classes, than any other carrier. Their powerful arsenal means that with or without their air group they are potent vessels, most importantly it means that the aircraft of its air group, and to an extent the carriers escorts, are not so tied to its mother ship allowing a freedom of movement no other navy can achieve without deploying a significant number of escorts to defend the carriers.
2.1.2 Outline of Design
Figure 2 RFS Admiral Kuznetsov (artistic drawing)
Unlike many of its American counterparts the Kuznetsov is conventionally (oil) powered with eight boilers and four steam turbines driving four shafts with fixed-pitch propellers; whilst the maximum speed is 29kt, the range at this speed is 3,850 miles. However, at 18kt, Kuznetsov has a more useful range of 8,500 miles. It is also far smaller than its counterparts it terms of size and weight, being only 58,500 tons (full load – according the Jane’s 2006), with a length of 304.5m and breath of 70m.

Figure 3 RFS Admiral Kuznetsov Flight Deck Operations Plan
It was also the first carrier built by Soviets/Russians which had a conventional deck arrangement (Figure 3); achieved by mounting the weapon systems flush to the deck, rather than as they had on the Kiev’s where a large amount of the deck was taken space was taken up by weapons. This also has the addition of allowing far more flexibility for helicopter operations at the same time as fixed wing operations as compared to the Kiev class – something that operations with the previous mentioned class had shown was requirement for its operations in fleet protection/projection roles.
2.1.3 Weapon Systems/Sensors

Figure 4. Ganit VLS
When starting on this class, the operational flexibility provided by its weapon outfit, something which is very similar to the Kirov class cruisers; especially in the case of the weapon system which provides the potency whether the air group is present or not is the P-700 Ganit or as NATO calls it SS-N-19 Shipwreck SSM 12 of which are carried (Figure 4) flush to the deck right in the middle of aircraft run ups. The missiles have a speed of Mach 4.5, a range of 625km, and capable of pulling manoeuvres of 16g; it is possibly the most dangerous anti-ship missile in the world; it packs the standard issue 750kg high explosive warhead, this is not a weakness as it is a very good warhead, and certainly can do what its intended for. Of course the real threat of this weapon is that like almost all soviet weapons it can have a nuclear warhead fitted, providing the vessel with its own strategic action capability. However, it is not this system which provides its air group with the flexibility; it is its air defence system.
Figure 5. Kinzal VLS
The Kinzal (based on the SA-N-9 Gauntlet) system is mounted, unlike the Granit; of to the side of the air deck (pictured right) each of the launchers contains 8 9M330 missiles. There are 4 clusters of launchers comprising of six modules, totalling 192 missiles. Fire control is handled by the 3R95 multi-channel FC system (Cross Swords). This system is comprised of two complimenting radar sets a G-band target acquisition radar and a K-band target engagement radar. This gives the system a good degree of flexibility because the G-band is constantly scanning the area even when the K-band is focused on a target. To maintain its 360 degree view it the G-band part of the system is actually two mechanically scanned (so quite a slow system when compared to Aegis) parabolic mounted radars. However, the K-band is electronically scanned phased array reflection type antenna, which is closer to the Aegis, the best thing about this technology though is that it can track and guide eight missiles to four targets simultaneously. These missiles have a maximum range of 12km, but a speed of 850m/s – 950m/s (depending on source), not as fast as some but with its accuracy and the capability of taking up to 30g it is not a system a pilot or an officer planning a missile strike can treat with disdain.
Kashtan Close-In-Weapons-System a combined gun, missile - 9M311K (Figure 6), and semi independent fire control system; all put in one module. Whilst there is some disagreement over how many of these modules, Jane’s states 8, so does the Russian navy website and Wikipedia, however claims 4; personally I would be more likely to believe the 8. Principally because of the size of the Kuznetsov, after all if 6 are necessary for the Kirov class cruisers it would seem common sense that for a larger vessel, with the added complication of air operations limiting fields of fire, more systems would be needed. Therefore 8 is by any measure the more probable figure. Anyway, on to the facts of the system; the 9M311K missile has a currently a range of 8km, although the newer version would seem to have had this increased to 10km. Its speed of 900m/s means that the missile will reach maximum range in a little less than 8.9s. In its land form the missile is actually radio controlled, but the operator has their own radar display combined with a display from a wide angle zoom camera (which is focused by the radar data). However, the naval version is even more automated, perhaps reflecting both the longer time of service in the navy and also the greater space for computers, power, and sensors. Most importantly for dealing with saturation attacks, is that whilst the launcher includes just 4 missiles, it can automatically reload from the rotating magazine which stores 24 reloads. The gun used is the GSh-30k (AO-18K) six-barrelled 30 mm gatling guns which are fed by a link-less feeding mechanism allowing for a very high rate of fire. This combination makes the Kashtan CIWS far better than any other; as all others are either missile or gun, thus have the limitations of one or the other (missiles have a minimum range, guns are not that accurate past a certain distance); whereas the Kashtan has no minimum engagement range, from 8km out it will engage ceaselessly until the target or targets (each command module can deal with up to 6 at a time). Added to this already large weight of fire are another 8 AK-630 AA guns, which although not being part of the Kashtan system, certainly do add to the ability of the Kuznetsov to project a ‘wall of steel’ in front of oncoming aerial attacks.
A continuation of this theme of layered protection and firepower prevalent throughout the Kuznetsov’s design is the addition of a RBU-12000 UDAV-1 ASW rocket launcher this fires up to 60 rockets in a salvo at either submarines or torpedoes. It would seem absurd for most navies for the vessel which is the most important and presumably going to be at the centre of any battle group it is a component of, to carry an anti-submarine armament of any level. However, it does make sense if you are banking on fighting outnumbered wherever your fleet goes, if you are sure that ships you send out to the furthest range are going be beyond easy resupply and repair, then it makes perfect sense for everyone of them to pack as biggest punch as possible, and most importantly to be able to deal with as wide a range of possible foes as it can.
2.1.4 Aircraft Carried
Figure 7. 2 Su-33 preparing to take of from the Admiral Kuznetsov
Due to its size, it was never going to carry as many aircraft as its far larger American counterparts, but it comes with a perfectly respectable fixed wing compliment of 12-15 × Sukhoi Su-33 fighters (18 according to Jane’s), and up to 5 × Sukhoi Su-25UTG/UBP aircraft (4 according to Jane’s). Its Rotary wing compliment is either 4 × Kamov Ka-27LD32 helicopters (SAR/ASW), 18 × Kamov Ka-27PLO (ASW) helicopters, and 2 × Kamov Ka-27S (SAR) helicopters or 15 Ka-27PL (ASW) helicopters and 2-3 Ka-31 (AEW) helicopters. It is therefore obvious to discern the anti-submarine focus of the Kuznetsov.
Sukhoi Su-33
The Sukhoi Su-33 fighters are a navalised version of the Su-27 – the soviet answer to the F-15. However the Su-33 is carrier fighters, and compared to American carrier-borne fighters, of similar age, like the F-14 Tomcat, the Su-33 uses a ski-jump instead of catapult for carrier takeoff. This method thought does have the advantage of avoiding the massive stresses produced by the catapult method, and provides the aircraft with a positive pitch and climb angle upon launch. Unfortunately though, when using a ski-jump, the Su-33 cannot launch at maximum takeoff weight – so it cannot carry the same weight of munitions as the Su-27.
It does differ though in ways from the Su-27 which give it advantages over its sibling, for example the Su-33 sports canards that shorten the take-off distance and improve manoeuvrability. The wing area was also increased, though the span remained unchanged. The wings were fitted with power-assisted folding, and the vertical tails were shortened to allow the fighter to fit in the typically crowded hangars of an aircraft carrier. The rear radome was shortened and reshaped to allow for the tail hook, as well as to save space inside the hangars. The IRST was moved to provide better downward visibility and an L-shaped retractable refuelling probe was fitted to increase range; all things the Su-27 didn’t have.
The Su-33 carries guided missiles such as the Kh-25MP, Kh-31, Kh-41, and the R-27EM which provides it with the capability to intercept anti-ship missiles.. The plane can be used in both night and day operations at sea. It can operate under assistance of the command centre on the Kuznetsov, or in conjunction with a Kamov Ka-31 (a variant of the Ka-27) early-warning helicopter.
Figure 10. Su-33 about to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov
Sukhoi Su-25UTG
The Su-25UTG is a variant of the Su-25UB which is modified for the training pilots in takeoff and landing on a land-based simulated carrier deck. It first flew in September 1988, however only 10 were produced, these had to be added to as such a small number of aircraft were insufficient to serve the training needs of event Kuznetsov’s limited carrier air group; so a number of Su-25UBs were converted into Su-25UTGs, these aircraft being distinguished by the alternative designation Su-25UBP. They are quite serviceable and there appears to be no apparent rush to replace them in their training role, whilst the current carrier is in service.
Figure 11. Ka-27 Helix in flight
Kamov Ka-27LD32 / Kamov Ka-27PLO / Kamov Ka-27S
The Helix helicopter was developed as naval helicopter from the outset; due to this it’s designers focused on its capabilities as a ferry and anti-submarine warfare. Design work began in 1970 and the first prototype flew in 1973. It was intended to replace the decade-old Kamov Ka-25 Hormone; in fact the Helix bears more than a passing resemblance to it, primarily I am sure due to the primary requirement of fitting in the same hangar space. The largest similarity though is that like all the other Kamov military helicopters it has a co-axial rotor, removing the need for a tail rotor. The most common variant currently in service is Ka-27PL or "Helix-A", the Anti-submarine warfare version, the current generation of the PL is the Ka-27PLO; which carries a truly wide array of weaponry, the studying of which would take up a whole new chapter. The Ka-27S variant is the Search and Rescue helicopter; this is equipped with very powerful searchlights as well other aids in order to assist with the extraction of downed pilots, and seaman from burning ships. The Ka-27LD32, is actually the experimental replacement of the PLO and could be in full production soon; however at the moment its membership of the air group is a constant but in small numbers.
Figure 12. Kamov Ka-31 Helix (AEW)
Kamov Ka-31
Like all Kamov helicopters, except for the Ka-60/-62 Kasatka (Orca) family, the Ka-31 has co-axially mounted contra-rotating main rotors; thus like the rest of the Helix family has no need for a tail rotor. Visually the only distinctive feature of the Ka-31, compared to Ka-27, is the large antenna of the early warning radar(taken from the cancelled An-71); this whilst it is working rotates(Figure 12, note the landing gear has to retract to allow this to happen); however when not working it folds up under the fuselage for stowage. It is thanks to this radar that the bulky and rather unwieldy electro-optical sensory suite beneath the cockpit which allows it to be wider and more spacious.
Some of the less obvious changes engineering changes from Ka-27/29 are; the upgrading of the engines/power plant (additional Auixlary Power Units APU were added) in order to power both the secondary Hydraulic system and the radar which it is turning. Operational variants of Ka-31 include a command and control variant; sometimes confusingly termed a Ka-29RLD, but often now just termed a Ka-31 as all of these have been upgrade to make them ever more capable AWACs rather than the AEW they were first delivered as. Later batches of these aircraft have featured major navigational equipment improvements, for example digital terrain maps, ground-proximity warning, obstacle approach warning, auto-navigation of pre-programmed routes, flight stabilization and auto homing onto and landing at the parent the Kuznetsov and information concerning the helicopter's tactical situation. All these upgrades have been designed with the intention of making the Ka-31, a very important piece of kit, more survivable in combat situations; as well as a more operationally flexible aircraft.
2.1.5 History of Service
It was as “Tbilisi” that the carrier that is now known as Admiral Kuznetsov (it was renames in the 1990s) was launched in 1985. It was initially outfitted with a wide variety of aircraft, in order to test the new carrier’s deck capability (although this did cause some damage in testing). This aircraft included specially configured Su-25UT Frogfoot B, Su-27 Flanker, and MiG-29 Fulcrum conventional jets landed on the deck of the Kuznetsov in November 1989, aided by the strongest arresting gear the Soviet/Russian navy have ever put to sea. However, even though the Mig-29K passed its test flights from the deck of the Kuznetsov it was not ultimately not selected for use on Russia’s own carrier. After all the testing was complete, and it was finally ready for service, political turmoil prevented the ships official commissioning until 1991, and it further delayed it becoming fully operational until 1995.
The Kuznetsov made a very short Mediterranean training cruise early in 1996. However, by the end of 1997 the carrier remained immobilized in a Northern Fleet shipyard; awaiting for funding for the very necessary and extensive repairs; that had been stalled when only 20% complete. It was In July 1998 that the Kuznetsov emerged from this ‘two-year overhaul’ and after another period of testing it was once more declared active in the Northern Fleet on 03 November 1998. It was in autumn of 2000 that the Kuznetsov took part in covering the rescue operations off the Kola Peninsula after the loss of the submarine Kursk; this use had the knock on effect of delaying a planned return of the Russian Navy to the Mediterranean; something which was eventually cancelled for the then immediate future.
In early 2001 there were reports that the dozen Su-33 Flanker fighters assigned to the Kuznetsov were slated to be supplemented by another dozen modified to the attack role, capable of carrying air-to-ground ordnance. In 2003 150 million roubles were allocated from the budget to repair the aircraft carrier. The floating dock PD-50 was used in 2003 for repairs on the Kuznetsov; however, the aircraft carrier did not finish the repair program – primarily because of the floating docks rather limited facilities. It was therefore rather unsurprising that the Murmansk Shipyard received a military order from the Russian Navy on 26 April 2004 to repair eight gas pipes on the Kuznetsov.
On 24 July 2004 RIA Novosti reported that the Admiral Kuznetsov would begin performing missions after it emerged from the preventative maintenance, and the headquarters of the Northern Fleet stated that the ship would be released from repair on 06 August 2004. By coincidence the emergence from scheduled repair coincided with the 100th anniversary of Admiral Kuznetsov’s birth. Its equipment and armaments were reportedly in a good state (Jane’s, Russian Navy site, Telegraph), and after some careful preparations the Admiral Kuznetsov started to perform operational missions again. The ship's carrier-based aircraft began their training shortly thereafter, and have since been seen to maintain a high level of capability.
Following repairs, the ship participated in exercises in the Atlantic Ocean together with its deck based aviation and other ships. This was only the vessel’s second major operational mission in a decade. In October 2004 the Admiral Kuznetsov participated in one of the most ambitious naval exercise performed by the Russian Navy to date. It sailed with the Northern Fleets flagship, the nuclear-powered heavy cruiser, the Pyotr Veliky, the cruiser Marshal Ustinov, the destroyer Admiral Ushakov, a tanker and two support ships. This group set out for and arrived at an area approximately 20 nautical miles off Iceland on 05 October 2004 and returned home on 01 November. This may seem rather small, but what it demonstrated was the ability of the fleet units to work together, especially the big units around which any future naval power projection will be based.
On 23 February 2005 Rear Admiral Vladimir Dobroskochenko, the Deputy Commander of the Northern Fleet, announced that the Admiral Kuznetsov would embark on a voyage around the oceans that summer. That was, however, just the first benefit of a growing significant increase in funds allotted to the Russian Navy within the defence and military budgets which also provided the benefit of allowing both further repairs and upgrades to be initiated in 2007. At that time the ship's naval aviation component was comprised of elements of the 279th Ship borne Fighter Air Regiment. The carrier was equipped with more than 20 Su-33 fighters and 16-18 Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopters. Upgrades in the aircraft’s detection and weapons systems that are (this would seem to be obvious but is not always the case) generally considered to have enhanced the ship's overall attack capabilities.

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