In previous articles, we examined the issue Why does Russia need an aircraft carrier, learned, which aircraft carriers are being built or are in service with the world's leading fleetsand also considered for what tasks and with what air group can the universal amphibious assault ships (UDC) of project 23900 be used? - and the ships of this project can be very effective.
Yes, the 23900 project is still at an early stage of construction, yes, there are risks that it will drag on, but this in turn makes it possible to consider the 23900 project as the basis for a light aircraft carrier. According to the author, for ships of this class - aircraft carriers, developed on the basis of the UDC, the Spanish designation of the UDC "Juan Carlos I" - "a ship of strategic projection of force", but "strategic" is very suitable, therefore it is more logical to use the designation "aircraft carrier force projection ship ”(AKPS).
So far, the ships of Project 23900 are "clean" UDCs, since horizontal takeoff and landing aircraft cannot land on them, at least due to the lack of a springboard and aerofinishers, and we do not have vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL). Nevertheless, in terms of their characteristics, the UDCs of project 23900 are comparable to foreign aircraft-carrying UDCs, adapted for the operation of the F-35B VTOL aircraft, therefore, potentially these ships may well solve the tasks of aircraft carriers.
First of all, it is necessary to decide which option is preferable - the adaptation of the UDC for horizontal take-off and landing aircraft or the use of vertical take-off and landing aircraft? Of course, we are not talking about any catapults - the maximum is a springboard. Moreover, the springboard is necessary both for horizontal take-off and landing aircraft, and is extremely useful for VTOL aircraft.
The length of the project 23900 UDC is 220 meters, the width is 38 meters. Suppose that the dimensions of the AKPS based on the project 23900 will remain unchanged.
For comparison, the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser (TAVKR) of project 1143.5 "Admiral Fleet Soviet Union Kuznetsov "the maximum length is 306 meters, the width is up to 72 meters, the Indian" Vikramaditya "(Russian production) has the maximum length is 274 meters, the width is up to 53 meters - these ships are capable of carrying horizontal takeoff and landing aircraft.
Heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser (TAVKR) of project 1143.5 "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov". Photo wikipedia.org
The Japanese Izumo-class destroyer-helicopter carrier has a maximum length of 248 meters and a width of 38 meters, while the Spanish Juan Carlos I UDC is 231 meters long and 32 meters wide, and ships of this type can only carry VTOL aircraft.
Nevertheless, the length of the take-off run of the MiG-29K carrier-based fighter when using a springboard is 110-195 meters, depending on the payload, the length of the run when using aerofinishers is up to 150 meters. In principle, the potential for basing the MiG-29K on the modernized UDC of the project 23900 is available.
Even better takeoff and landing characteristics should be possessed by the Su-57 and Su-75, if they are implemented in the ship-based version (and regarding the Su-75, if it appears in the series at all).
It should be borne in mind that the features of the layout of the UDC of project 23900 and a potential aircraft-carrying ship of the projection of force on its base will provide either the takeoff of one aircraft, or the landing of one aircraft. The size of the UDC hoists is also questionable - are they capable of accommodating / lifting an aircraft of the Su-57 type, even if it is equipped with folding wings?
As world experience shows, the most optimal option for light aircraft carriers based on UDC are vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The problem is that, as we said above, Russia does not have a VTOL aircraft, and this is despite the fact that at the end of the XNUMXth century we were leaders in this direction.
At the same time, our western "partners" are armed with the fifth-generation F-35B VTOL aircraft, which in terms of characteristics is practically not inferior to classic horizontal take-off and landing aircraft, including deck-based aircraft.
Can Russia create a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and is it needed? First of all, VTOL aircraft is a corresponding engine. An excellent groundwork for creating engines for VTOL aircraft went to Russia from the USSR. This backlog can be used both to adapt existing engines, for example, "Products 30", and to develop a fundamentally new engine, the possibility of creating which was discussed in the article Soviet legacy: fifth generation turbojet engine based on Product 79.
Of course, the second option is much more interesting. Firstly, it is vitally important for our country to preserve several design schools and provide "redundancy" in case of design errors and the choice of the wrong direction of development. Secondly, a promising turbojet engine based on "Product-79" according to the developers, should provide the ability to create a cold jet stream due to the large maximum degree of bypass and, accordingly, large transmitted air volumes. In this case, the speed of the "cold" jet stream will be commensurate with the speed of the "hot" jet.
This means that a VTOL aircraft based on such an engine will minimize damage to the runway (runway), it is possible that when using VTOL aircraft with a "cold" turbojet engine, it will not even be necessary to equip the UDC deck with a heat-resistant coating.
Nevertheless, as for horizontal take-off and landing aircraft, it is advisable to equip the UDC with a springboard - this will increase the range and payload of the VTOL aircraft.
The springboard is a simple yet effective means of increasing the payload of the deck aviation... Photo wikipedia.org
There is an opinion that VTOL aircraft are radically inferior to the "classic" horizontal take-off and landing aircraft. Earlier, at the time of the Yak-38 and Harrier VTOL aircraft, this was the case, but already the Yak-141 in its tactical and technical characteristics (TTX) was close to the "classic" aircraft of a similar weight category. After the appearance of the F-35B VTOL aircraft, this difference became even smaller. Comparison of the capabilities of "classic" horizontal takeoff and landing aircraft with VTOL aircraft was discussed in the article Vertical take-off: a dead-end direction or the future of combat aviation.
By the way, the possibility of acquiring the F-35B is being considered by the Israeli Air Force, which wants to use the possibility of basing the F-35B in limited areas to protect against the sudden destruction of existing airfields and aircraft on them with high-precision weapons long range. At the same time, Israel has no aircraft carriers and is not expected, that is, this is a VTOL aircraft for the "ground" air force. According to the author, Israel is quite reasonable in its approach to manning its armed forces - life compels, therefore the very fact of such consideration speaks volumes.
A significant advantage of VTOL aircraft based on light aircraft carriers, and even on full-size ones, is the ability to provide takeoff and landing of a significant number of combat vehicles in the shortest possible time. This does not require the use of bulky and difficult to use catapults, and aerofinishers.
What company and on the basis of what aircraft can a Russian VTOL aircraft be created? Of course, first of all, this is the Russian light aircraft Su-2021 "Checkmate" announced in 75. Whatever it was, but so far this is the only light Russian aircraft that has even been officially announced.
From time to time there is information from the MiG company about the development of light fighter projects, including vertical takeoff, but the degree of development of such projects is questionable. It would seem that it would be logical to entrust the creation of VTOL aircraft to the Yakovlev Design Bureau, but did it retain the competence to create VTOL aircraft and create modern combat aircraft?
Another option is the creation of a heavy VTOL aircraft based on the Su-57 using a lifting fan and promising turbojet engines "Izdeliye-30" or turbojet engines P579-300, but here the question arises whether such a project is feasible in principle.
There have been no precedents for the creation of heavy VTOL aircraft yet, but it is quite possible that this direction will turn out to be promising. Photo wikipedia.org
Another type of aircraft that can potentially be used on a modernized aircraft carrier UDC can be horizontal take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) (helicopter-type UAVs can also be used from a non-modernized UDC), information about this has already been announced in the Russian media.
Reconnaissance and strike UAVs can bring new capabilities to light aircraft carriers. Photo kronshtadt.ru
The requirements are the same - a springboard and a landing hold-down system. Moreover, it can differ significantly from traditional aerofinishers, for example, it will be some kind of mesh capable of gently stopping a UAV of a relatively small mass.
Horizontal takeoff or VTOL aircraft?
In fact, the answer to this question is quite simple. If Russia is able to create a VTOL aircraft that is not inferior or even superior in its characteristics to the F-35B VTOL aircraft, then the choice will definitely be in favor of VTOL aircraft - they have the advantage of rapid deployment, easier landing, and the possibility of using jump airfields. If not, then the simplest option would be to use the existing MiG29K, and then the "chilled" MiG-35 or the promising Su-75 Checkmate.
A combined option can also be considered. A springboard is required for both VTOL aircraft and horizontal takeoff and landing aircraft. Installing a heat-resistant coating for a VTOL aircraft is not too difficult a task, especially since if a VTOL aircraft with a "cold" jet stream is implemented, then it will not be particularly required.
What remains is the system for ensuring the landing of horizontal take-off and landing aircraft - that is, aerofinishers (and some other additional equipment). And here it all depends on how difficult and expensive it is to integrate aerofinishers with the necessary additional equipment into the UDC design. If this is feasible, taking into account minor adjustments to the UDC project, then, by incorporating aerofinishers into the design, we will get the most versatile light aircraft carrier / UDC or an aircraft-carrying force projection ship capable of providing the basing and operation of classic horizontal takeoff and landing aircraft, VTOL aircraft, UAVs and helicopters for various purposes. , as well as the landing of troops, including ground combat vehicles.
The placement of air detectors and other systems that ensure the landing of "classic" carrier-based aircraft will make the force projection aircraft carriers as versatile as possible. Photo wikipedia.org
Cost / efficiency
If the creation of a super-aircraft carrier is an almost impossible task for our country at the current level of development of the Russian shipbuilding industry, then we are quite capable of creating a light aircraft carrier. As world experience shows, light aircraft carriers with VTOL aircraft, often based on UDC, are the choice of many countries, including those that are highly developed in technical and military terms, with a strong economy.
Once again, let's compare different types of aircraft carriers and UDC:
- supercarrier Gerald R. Ford - about $ 10-14 billion;
- UDC of America type - about $ 2,5 billion;
- French nuclear aircraft carrier "Charles de Gaulle" - about $ 3,3 billion;
- British aircraft carrier of the Queen Elizabeth type - about $ 4,3 billion;
- Italian landing helicopter carrier "Trieste" - about 1,1 billion euros;
- Spanish aircraft carrier / UDC "Juan Carlos I" - about 360 million euros;
- Japanese "destroyer" - helicopter carrier "Izumo" - about 1,5 billion US dollars.
The estimated cost of Project 23900 UDC may be about USD 500 million.
There is no doubt that an attempt to build a Russian super-aircraft carrier will suck all the juice from the military budget of the Russian Federation in general, and the Navy in particular.
Even if we, having undermined the economy, build 2-4 supercarriers, the United States will easily increase its number of its own by the same 2-4 units. No, confrontation with the US Navy is possible only in asymmetric ways.
On the other hand, light aircraft carriers are quite capable of covering the deployment of strategic missile submarine cruisers, solving expeditionary missions and fighting against the countries of the "second echelon", the same Turkey or Japan (of course, not alone). At the same time, force projection aircraft carriers will be a much more versatile tool, having the ability not only to deliver airstrikes and ensure air supremacy, but also to land quite serious ground forces.
And no Montreux conventions - the UDC in the format of an aircraft-carrying ship, the projection of force can freely walk through the straits.
It can be assumed that force projection aircraft carriers will be especially effective as a mobile staging area for the deployment and support of special operations forces.
The value of special operations forces in combat operations of the present and future will continue to grow, but they need effective support, supplies and evacuation capabilities. Photo wikipedia.org
Separately, it is necessary to mention the export potential of light aircraft carriers. If Russia can create a high-quality light aircraft carrier / UDC, then many countries will want to purchase it, for example, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, Vietnam, Brazil - what a slap in the face for the United States, which considers Latin America its "backyard".
The multipurpose aircraft carrier Atlantico is a former British amphibious assault carrier and the current flagship of the Brazilian Navy. Photo wikipedia.org
Few people can afford to build a supercarrier now, perhaps only the United States and China are now capable of this, and China with reservations. The rest - only with substantial assistance from the same USA. The same is with the acquisition - you can't just take, ditch the US $ 10 billion (and it will probably be more expensive to sell) and proudly dissect seas and oceans in a brand new Ford. It is also necessary to equip it with an air group, train the crew, build a service infrastructure - few people can afford such time and resource costs. Yes, and the leadership of the "partners" Navy understands that one or two supercarriers will not give them anything. Nobody in France, Britain or other European countries seriously believes in the Russian threat. To attack Russia ourselves - they will sink, if without the United States - that's for sure, and maybe even with the United States. And to carry out expeditionary operations and "bend fingers", and there are enough light aircraft carriers in abundance.
At the same time, many countries are happy to acquire light aircraft carriers, including those with a relatively modest military budget. It's good for those to whom the United States will sell the F-35B VTOL aircraft, but what about the rest? So they can become clients of the Russian military-industrial complex (MIC), which will allow the country to earn billions of dollars, create thousands of jobs, and, taking into account cooperation, provide hundreds of thousands of people with jobs. The sale of a light aircraft carrier / UDC entails the supply of an air group for it, landing craft, military equipment, weapons for all this, service contracts and training contracts.
The key element of the possibility of exporting aircraft-carrying projection ships is the creation of a VTOL aircraft, since it is a modern highly automated vertical take-off and landing aircraft that makes significantly less requirements for the pilot's qualifications (landing can be almost completely automated). This reduces the risk of accidents, especially such ridiculous ones as the aircraft falling overboard. In addition, VTOL aircraft can provide a high intensity of work of the air group, even from light aircraft carriers / UDC.
What tasks can a force projection aircraft carrier be able to solve? For the most part, the same as the "clean" UDC - to ensure the deployment of SSBNs and expeditionary operations, to provide air cover for the fleet in conventional conflicts, but the aircraft-carrying ships of the projection force will do this with much greater efficiency than the "pure" UDC. Try to predict what tasks such a ship, moving to a certain area, will solve - whether it will look for enemy submarines, or provide support for regime change in a neighboring country, or it simply works as a "transport", transporting military equipment to a Russian military base in the region.
Supporters of supercarriers, of course, will object - a light aircraft carrier cannot carry airborne early warning aircraft (AWACS), it will have a lower intensity of aircraft sorties. But it is VTOL aircraft that can make the intensity of flights of carrier-based aircraft from a light aircraft carrier comparable to that provided by supercarriers, or even surpass it. As for AWACS aircraft, at the first stage they can be partially replaced by AWACS helicopters, in addition, there are ways to completely solve this problem, which we will talk about later.
Returning to economic issues - instead of building one supercarrier, you can build four aircraft-carrying force projection ships.
This relationship can be traced very clearly, both on the example of the United States and ships of this class, created by other countries. It is enough to exclude from the tasks of the aircraft carrier only one - the direct confrontation of the US Navy (and as we said earlier, a direct confrontation between the US Navy and the Russian Navy without the use of asymmetric solutions is impossible in principle), and then it will become clear that for solving any other problems the capabilities of an aircraft carrier ship force projection enough in abundance. Especially when it comes to four AKPS instead of one supercarrier - one ship cannot be present in four places at the same time.
1. The capabilities of light aircraft carriers based on UDC - aircraft-carrying ships of projection force will cover almost all the needs of the Russian Navy for aircraft-carrying ships.
2. The force projection aircraft carrier can potentially be implemented in a variant capable of providing the operation of both "classic" deck-based aircraft for horizontal take-off and landing, as well as for vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
3. The cost of building force projection aircraft carriers will be 4-6 times less than the cost of building supercarriers, they are quite "affordable" for the Russian Navy not in single quantities, but in a series of four to eight ships.
4. The export potential of force projection aircraft carriers will create thousands and support hundreds of thousands of jobs.
5. The most important and one of the most difficult tasks in the context of the creation of aircraft-carrying force projection ships is the development of a modern vertical take-off and landing aircraft, comparable or superior in performance characteristics to the American VTOL F-35B.