Experts assess Crimean prospects for landing ship construction – take 2

TASS Russian News Agency | Sep 18, 2019 at 11:02 AM

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS-DEFENSE/. The Russian Navy has long been trying to get new-generation landing ships. TASS reported in early September quoting industry sources that two universal landing ships with a displacement of 15000 tons are to be built in Kerch in Crimea. President of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) Alexey Rakhmanov later denied the report saying no decision had been made and no construction site had been chosen. However, Defense Ministry sources told the Izvestia daily the plans to build new-generation landing ships at Zaliv Shipyard, which was one of the biggest in the Soviet Union, can be implemented.

The Soviet collapse stopped fleet development and renewal of the landing forces, but did not stop the studies of foreign experience to engage the forces. Various conflicts ranging from the 1991 Gulf war to Iraq intervention in 2003 were thoroughly studied also from the point of view of seaborne assault.

Own experience of expeditionary/amphibious operations was limited by fleet and marines engagement in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict when the Black Sea fleet evacuated civilians, delivered humanitarian aid and guarded commercial navigation, as well evacuated the logistical base from Nokra Island on Dahlak Archipelago in the Red Sea in the winter of 1991.

Russia had again to pay attention to expeditionary forces in the second half of the 2000s due to a long anti-piracy operation of the Navy in the Horn of Africa. In the absence of naval bases in proximity, the fleet engaged big antisubmarine ships which are not very fit for the operation. The Pacific, Northern and Baltic fleets accomplished most sorties to the Horn of Africa. The participation of the Black Sea fleet was limited by a shortage of modern warships.

The absence of naval bases forced Russia to negotiate with France the deployment of Il-38 aircraft in its base in Djibouti, but the talks failed. An aircraft or helicopter carrier can replace a naval base, and the Russian leadership initiated the Mistral project.

Zaliv Shipyard in Kerch was one of the modern Soviet enterprises. It has a dry dock for 300-meter long and 50-meter wide ships which exceeded the capabilities of any shipyard in Russia before Zvezda was built in the Far East near Vladivostok, as well as shipyards for floating LNG plants in Belokamenka in Kola Bay.

The enterprise built several major ships, such as the Krym super tanker with a deadweight of 150 thousand tons, the Sevmorput nuclear LASH-ship, and others. Soviet-era military shipbuilding at the shipyard was a second-rank guideline. No major warships were built in Kerch, only project 1135 ships.

In 2009-2010, when the Mistral deal was considered, the shipyard was in the Ukrainian territory and could not be used to renew the Russian Navy. After Crimean reunification with Russia and the construction of the Crimean bridge the engagement of the enterprise for navy purposes acquired a new meaning.

The shipyard in Kerch is located in a favorable climate and has the biggest dock which can build even aircraft carriers. At present the shipyard has been engaged in the construction of small ships for the Navy to acquire experience. A major order is thus an issue of time.

Military sources said at least two universal helicopter-carrying landing ships can be built in Kerch. They are simple and cheap against universal landing ships of the aircraft-carrying architecture. Such a modern ship does not pose a problem for the Russian industry. The problem is the readiness of new-generation Minoga shipborne helicopters which have to replace the outdated Ka-27 rotorcraft. There is another Ka-52K helicopter which can fight coastal and sea targets. If the contract for new helicopter-carrying docks is signed in the coming months, the warship is likely to be laid in the second half of 2020. If financing is sustainable and the Navy leadership does not adjust the project during construction, the lead warship may be ready in 2024-2025.

Unfortunately, the construction of surface warships in post-Soviet period triggered pessimistic forecasts among observers. It is interesting which project will break the trend, the Izvestia said.