40 years ago, 27 December 1977 of the year, at the Baltic plant in Leningrad, the first domestic surface warship with a nuclear power plant (NPI) was launched - the heavy nuclear missile cruiser "Kirov" of the 1144 "Orlan" project. In operation, he entered exactly three years and three days.
The concept of "nuclear fleet" in the mass is usually associated with submarines. This is understandable - after all, the marine nuclear power industry is most widely used on submarines. But the creators of surface combat ships did not ignore her. The naval arms race between the United States and the USSR led, albeit with a large time gap, to the emergence of large surface combat ships with nuclear power units in the fleets.
First in stories became the American Long Beach missile cruiser with two nuclear reactors C2W, which provided this hulk with the mechanical power of 80 thousand horsepower. It entered service in the 1961 year, and almost simultaneously, the US Navy was replenished with the world's first nuclear aircraft carrier, Enterprise, in the world. With a displacement of about 90 thousand tons, it had eight A2W type reactors with a total capacity of 280 turbines of thousands of horsepower.
The following year, the Pentagon received another nuclear-powered icebreaker. The Bainbridge missile frigate had a displacement of almost half the size of Long Beach, but still it was a large combat unit equipped with two D2G type reactors with 60 turbo-gear units of thousands of horses. So the command of the US Navy has formed the first fully atomic carrier-based strike connection in the "Enterprise" with an escort of a cruiser and frigate.
Subsequently, the United States built ten more heavy Nimitz-type nuclear aircraft carriers, the last of which, George W. Bush, was accepted fleet in 2008 (“Battle of aircraft carriers”). On these ships, at the “enterprise” power of the mechanisms, the number of reactors due to the higher thermal power was reduced to two - type A4W. And the old Enterprise demonstrated amazing (in comparison, alas, with large Russian warships) longevity. He was officially expelled from the fleet only in 2017.
The program for the construction of the US aircraft carrier fleet continues. This year, the Navy received the aircraft carrier Gerald Ford. Next in turn are three more such giants, one of which, John F. Kennedy, is already under construction.
In 1967 – 1980, the United States acquired seven nuclear frigates of the type “Trakstan”, “California” and “Virginia”, continuing the Bainbridge pedigree. Subsequently, they were reclassified into missile cruisers, equaling the rank of "Long Beach". Thus, the entire United States had nine nuclear-powered cruisers armed in different configurations with anti-aircraft guns (TALOS, Terrier, Tartar, Standard), anti-submarine (ASROC) and attack (Garpun, Tomahawk) missiles, Some of their missiles, including some missiles, had nuclear equipment.
However, the duration of their service was not so long as that of nuclear aircraft carriers, for the protection of which these cruisers, in fact, were built. All of them were withdrawn from service in the mid-90's Navy. In principle, for ships of the ocean escort group of such size and displacement (most of the order of 10 thousand tons) NPIs gave only one advantage - no need for frequent refueling. But as for the speed, due to the high specific gravity of such installations (largely due to the presence of biological protection), it was even lower than that of ships of the same class with gas turbine power engineering. And now the Americans are escorting their aircraft carriers with gas turbine cruisers and destroyers, including squadron tanker tankers in such formations.
However, in relation to the heavy operational-strategic (I allow myself, given the diverse spectrum of combat missions they solve such a definition) aircraft carriers, given their enormous size, the Americans do not see an alternative to nuclear power plants. Here, the “cost / effectiveness” parameter acts unambiguously in favor of aircraft carriers, proving from the point of view of the US Navy the validity of the thesis that an atom in a surface fleet is beneficial for giant ships, and not for average peasants. And in the foreseeable future, aircraft carriers such as Nimitz and Ford will remain the basis of the surface combat power of the US Navy, an instrument for quickly projecting force into any area of the globe that is within the range of the deck aviation.
As is known, its atomic aircraft carrier with a displacement of 40 thousand tons with a tail, called "Charles de Gaulle" (https://vpk-news.ru/articles/33938), was also built by the French in 2001 year, but it is far from American monsters. The British did not dare to apply nuclear power plants on their newest Queen Elizabeth (“Who is against the“ queen ”) due to budget constraints.
Save our carcasses
In the United States, construction of nuclear-powered surface ships proceeded with might and main, and the Soviet Union had already given its answer to this, passing the Lenin linear icebreaker (“Polar explorer’s dream”) to the civilian fleet in December. The publicity during its construction was unprecedented for our country - after launching to look at the nuclear-powered icebreaker, Leningrad schoolchildren were taken to the Admiralty Plant. No wonder - after all, it became the same recognizable domestic shipbuilding brand in the world as the cruiser Aurora. Actually, “Lenin” was chronologically the first in the history of technology of a surface vessel with nuclear power plants. But peaceful. With one, however, non-advertised "but" - in case of war, it was possible to arm Lenin in a mobilization variant, in particular the 1959-mm quadruple anti-aircraft automatic anti-aircraft installations SM-45.
Then there was a series of six more advanced atomic-type icebreakers of the “Arctic” type built at the Baltiysky plant (the 1052 project, the main one was commissioned in the 1975 year). NATO intelligence intercepted these icebreakers during sea trials, as they say, fully armed. For example, the icebreaker "Russia" was walking, bristling with universal artillery (76-mm AU AK-176) and anti-aircraft guns (30-mm AK-630). After the tests, the means of defense, of course, were removed, but there is no doubt that the domestic atomic icebreaking fleet (the development of which continues) is ready to raise the naval flag, supported by the appropriate arguments, if necessary.
It is curious that at the turn of the 50 – 60-x in the USSR, the question of equipping the whaling bases with nuclear power plants was considered, which would ensure their unprecedented autonomy. But here, Soviet scientists, despite the interest of the sailors, were perplexed by the fact that radioactive isotopes that were in the atmosphere because of nuclear tests weapons, could get on the whale carcasses, butchered on the whale decks. Detractors of the Soviet Union, including whaling competitors, would not fail to blame the nuclear power industry for such a vessel. This was fraught with serious political and economic costs. From the idea of atomic whalers abandoned.
"Land mine" in Mordasov
In the Soviet shipbuilding KB worked on projects not only civil nuclear ships. Proposals for the construction of aircraft carriers did not find understanding with Khrushchev, and over nuclear-powered cruisers and missile-carriers they were already working seriously.
In 1956, the Soviet leadership adopted a new military shipbuilding program, which included, among other things, the creation of the KRL-R nuclear missile cruiser for the 63 project. The ship, surpassing the American "Long Beach" in terms of displacement and combat power, was to be launched simultaneously with it - in 1961. It was planned to build seven such cruisers by the middle of the 60-x. But at the project approval stage, doubts arose regarding the sustainability of the KRL-R against the massive strikes of enemy aircraft in remote areas of the ocean, with the result that the project was closed in 1959. Indeed, if the American Long Beach, guarding an aircraft carrier, was itself covered by its fighters from the strikes of Soviet long-range coastal-launched missile-carrier bombers Tu-16K and Tu-95К, then the KRL-R did not have such protection (which, however, did not prevent to build four steam turbine rocket cruisers of the 58 project of the “Grozny” type).
However, the idea did not die, and after the removal of Khrushchev from the political scene, who had a negative attitude towards large surface ships, in the USSR they again began to work out projects based on nuclear power plants. Began, however, with the patrol ship, then transformed into a large anti-submarine. Gradually, building up the “project muscles”, it was reclassified into a heavy nuclear missile cruiser. The project was called "land mines". Later he received the name "Orlan" and the number 1144. According to him, five ships were laid at the Baltic Shipyard in Leningrad - Kirov, Frunze, Kalinin, Yuri Andropov and Dzerzhinsky. The fifth building, however, decided not to finish building and dismantled, and "Yuri Andropov" entered service after the collapse of the USSR, in 1996, under the now well-known name "Peter the Great". On each such cruiser, two 300-megawatt KH-3 reactors are installed.
The first three cruisers, which entered service in 1980 – 1988, were later renamed Admiral Ushakov, Admiral Lazarev and Admiral Nakhimov in the process of desovetisation parallel with the decline of the Navy of the former USSR. Nowadays only Peter the Great is really in the battle formation.
The appearance in the Navy of the USSR of heavy nuclear-powered rocket cruisers of the Orlan type has caused understandable concern in the West. Two dozen long-range KRG "Granit", including nuclear warheads, the most powerful anti-aircraft missile and anti-submarine weapons (also in nuclear equipment), three helicopters on board and the high survivability of these floating fortresses produced on the naval headquarters of NATO indelible so far impression. Given the high impact and defensive potential of the new Russian ships, their size (length - a quarter of a kilometer) and displacement (28 thousand tons), the enemy classified them as battle cruisers, considering the Orlan project to be a qualitatively new reincarnation of WWII battleships. Long Beach and its classmates looked pale in comparison to Orlans.
However, the largest nuclear-powered warships in the Russian fleet were our short-term cruisers. At the end of 1988, the large atomic reconnaissance ship CER-33 "Ural" of the 1941 "Titan" project, unprecedented in any of the other fleets of the world, was completed. The displacement of the “Ural”, designed for multifunctional reconnaissance and tracking of space objects autonomously for almost a year, reached 35 thousand tons. Actually, the ship was ordered not by the fleet, which was pretty cool to titanium, but by the General Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces. The naval command, according to some historians, has just ensured that the second such ship (as allegedly insisted by the GRU) was not mortgaged, because it would prevent the completion of a series of 1144 heavy nuclear missile cruisers and nuclear-powered icebreakers.
The fate of Ural itself in connection with the collapse of the USSR was unenviable - it didn’t really serve the Fatherland, he was soon immobilized on arrival in the Pacific Fleet and died quietly, being written off in 2002 year.
The hull of another Soviet nuclear-powered battleboat - the heavy aircraft carrier Ulyanovsk of the 11437 project, built in Nikolaev, was cut into scrap metal by the government’s decision in 1992. Had it been built, the Soviet Union (if it had not been destroyed by the efforts of the higher party nomenclature) would have become the owner of a heavy atomic carrier (and a second such ship was planned), which is very close in its tactical and technical elements to US aircraft carrier aircraft. It even provided for analogues of the American Aircraft Depot E-2 “Hokai” - the Yak-44. But not destiny.