The debate about whether to build aircraft carriers to Russia does not stop throughout the entire period of the existence of this class of ships. An impartial analysis shows that in the future the Navy will not be able to effectively accomplish important tasks assigned to it in the far sea and ocean zones, if there are not at least one aircraft carrier in its groupings, possibly with a nuclear power plant, with 70 – 90 aircraft on board . The optimal number is at least two for each of the ocean fleets.
In almost all countries of the world, the answer to this question was unequivocal: some that focused on land wars abandoned such ships, others, seeking to expand their sphere of dominance in the world, built up as part of their fleet the number of aircraft carriers as the main military tool for pursuing their foreign policy.
And there were no aircraft carriers
As part of the Imperial Russian fleet aircraft carriers appeared almost simultaneously with other countries of the world - during the First World War. In the Black and Baltic Seas, two merchant ships were converted into hydro-vehicles. After the October Revolution, the concept of a small war was adopted in the Soviet fleet, in which aircraft carriers found no place. However, by the end of the 30-s, there was an understanding of the need to have aircraft carriers in the composition of the USSR Navy.
In accordance with the shipbuilding program, by the end of the 40s, aircraft carriers were to be part of the ocean fleets. Moreover, at the end of 30, the Soviet government made attempts to buy in Germany an unfinished aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin. However, Berlin refused the deal. Nevertheless, this particular ship became the first Soviet aircraft carrier. In accordance with the agreement on the division of the fleet of Germany "Grap Zeppelin", who was in 92-percent readiness for commissioning, was transferred to the USSR and officially enlisted in the fleet. Its use would allow the formation of your own aircraft carrier school. This ship was also of great interest from an engineering point of view, since German shipbuilding at that time was one of the most advanced in the world. Under the influence of various undercover currents, contrary to the opinion of the leadership of the Navy, a political decision was made to destroy this ship. From then until the middle of the 60-s, the attitude towards aircraft carriers in the USSR was negative. Officially, they were considered weapons aggression.
With the release of the Soviet Navy into the ocean, it became clear that without aircraft carriers it is very difficult to ensure the implementation of an active foreign policy in the far regions of the world. Yes, and fleet groups at large distances from their bases to withstand massive aviation strikes without fighter cover will be very problematic. The design of full-fledged aircraft carriers began. However, incompetent, but very influential people intervened again, who achieved the construction of some hybrids - aircraft-carrying cruisers, combining the qualities of missile cruisers and carriers of vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
These were the ships of the project 1143, which built four units. And the latter was significantly different from the first three weapons, especially radio-electronic. The composition of the air group was the same - 36 aircraft. Including one squadron of vertical take-off and landing Yak-38 or Yak-38М, squadron of anti-submarine helicopters Ka-27PL and several search and rescue helicopters. The experience of their operation has shown the inefficiency of such aircraft in the modern war at sea.
Therefore, it was planned to build a series of aircraft carrying ships with “normal” take-off aircraft. In total, judging by the materials of the open press, they were supposed to be built at least four. Of these, two with a conventional power plant. These are the “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov” and “Varyag”. And the other two - with atomic, the first of which was founded under the name "Ulyanovsk". "Kuznetsov" in 1990 year adopted by the Navy of the USSR and sent to the Northern Fleet. And the rest were not completed due to the collapse of the country.
Since the restructuring against the development of aircraft carriers in our country has been launched a campaign in the press. A number of low-competence people in naval problems imposed on the population and politicians the position that our country does not need aircraft carriers. One of the first to destroy the aircraft carrier cruisers inherited by Russia from the USSR. By 1993, only two of five ships of this class remained in our fleet. After India sold the aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Gorshkov to the Russian Navy, there is only one such ship, the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.
Today, judging by the materials of the open press and the statements of prominent military and political leaders, there is still no unequivocal opinion on whether aircraft carriers are needed in the Russian fleet. Only for the period from 2007 to 2012 year, the views were reversed twice.
Without going into details, all the tasks of the Russian Navy can be reduced to the main ones — defense of state interests by military means in peacetime, including support for Russian diplomacy and one’s own citizens, and repelling aggression from sea directions — in wartime.
The geography of Russia's interests, primarily economic, is very extensive and extends over most of the World Ocean. These are the development of economic relations within the framework of the BRICS, the extraction of seafood, including areas remote from our shores, the mining of minerals and energy resources on the sea and ocean floor, the transportation of cargo and much more.
Among the main tasks requiring the involvement of aircraft carriers for their effective solution should be noted participation in peacekeeping operations, protection of Russian citizens in zones of military conflicts and their evacuation from them, as well as from areas of man-made and natural disasters. Allocated to solve these problems, especially in zones of military conflicts, fleet groupings should be able to repel the limited surprise attacks of small groups and individual boats or small warships and submarines, as well as combat aircraft and missiles. This may be required in the interests of the defense of the naval units, the protection of civil aircraft of Russian or foreign origin and various ground targets, to ensure the safety of Russian citizens from attacks by hostile military formations (mostly irregular) in the evacuation process.
The latter can be carried out either directly by boarding ships and ships in the port or from an unequipped coast, or by air - by helicopters and transport aircraft. Their security will also need to be ensured both from the threats of ground-based air defense systems and from possible attacks by fighters. Without the participation of military aviation, these tasks cannot be solved in principle, especially those related to the resistance of aviation and ground forces in the depth of a foreign territory over several kilometers.
To cover the evacuation of Russian citizens, the defense of ship formations, the protection of civil aircraft of Russian or foreign origin and various ground targets from the sudden attacks of individual combat aircraft and missiles or small groups, patrolling by pairs and fighter jets of the defended area together with one or two DRLO and U aircraft will be required Depending on the distance of the patrol area from the aircraft carrier, round-the-clock fighter aircraft and from four to eight are needed from 12 – 15 to 24 – 30 AWACS planes, and W.
Under unfavorable conditions, the possibility of large groups of aviation attacking, especially against connections of surface ships, especially important objects or a large mass of people, cannot be ruled out. The number of such groups can reach 30 units. To reflect them, it will be necessary to allocate an appropriate number of fighter aircraft — 12 – 18 machines and, possibly, an additional DRLO and U aircraft.
To control the underwater environment in the area where the ship group is located, in the interests of the timely detection of submarines before they are launched into an attack by short-range missiles or torpedoes, at least two to four helicopters will be needed in threatened areas. To do this, it will be necessary to have at least 12 helicopters in the aircraft carrier's air group.
To counteract the groups of ground forces and irregular formations also need naval aviation. The actions of small groups of irregular formations that inflict sudden blows are fended off only by the timely guidance of aviation groups on them from the position of their duty in the air. The sudden attacks of small groups of boats, especially missile ones, are similarly reflected. Therefore, at least one strike group of naval aviation of two to four aircraft must patrol airspace. Force outfit is also from 12 – 15 to 24 – 30 aircraft.
Emergency evacuation of citizens from the danger zone in the depth of the territory may require the involvement of a dozen or more transport helicopters. Under adverse conditions, they are provided with fighter and strike aviation groups of four to eight vehicles. In addition, support planes are needed - one or two - EW and at least one - DRLO and W. In the absence of such a cover, the solution of these tasks may require great diplomatic efforts, be accompanied by considerable material and political losses, and perhaps even great casualties impracticable.
Thus, for the safe implementation of Russia's foreign policy in peacetime, a sufficiently powerful aircraft carrier is required as part of our fleet.
During the war
One of the most important tasks of the Russian Navy will be to defeat the enemy carrier strike and missile groups. The main combat areas of the latter are sections of the distant sea and ocean zones remote from our coast on 400 – 600 kilometers. From here they will strike at objects in the territory of our country and ships at sea and at bases.
It is well known that the superiority of the sea is impossible without achieving air superiority. The modern confrontation of ship groups is carried out almost exclusively in the air. The strikes of anti-ship missiles and strike aircraft are reflected by fighters and anti-aircraft fire weapons of ships. Small groups and single surface ships are attacked by two to four cruise missiles or airplanes. In strikes against large connections of surface ships, 30 – 40 and more anti-ship missiles from rocket ships and submarines or to 40 – 50 of deck or tactical aircraft can be used.
Only ship-based air defense systems, no matter how powerful they are, are almost impossible to repel such strikes. Especially if the means of air attack are suitable almost simultaneously, they hide behind EW airplanes and the strike of anti-ship missiles is preceded by the actions of fire attack aircraft.
Fighter aircraft not only destroys part of the enemy’s attacking aircraft, but also disarms their attack. As a result, the latter is stretched out in time - the means of air attack are suitable for relatively small groups, which the ship's air defense successfully destroys. The target distribution in the strike group of the enemy is violated, his attempts to cover up their means of air attack with electronic interferences and to suppress shipboard air defense with anti-radar missiles are thwarted.
It is the disorganization of groups of attacking aircraft that is the main contribution of fighter aircraft to the air defense of ship formations in repelling the attacks of the enemy’s tactical and deck aircraft.
They can make a notable contribution to the air defense of ship-borne formations by fighters even when repelling cruise missiles, destroying the most dangerous targets beyond the reach of the ship’s air defense weapons.
To reflect large groups of tactical aviation or carrier-based aviation, you will need to allocate fighter aircraft from 24 to 32, most of which will operate from the watch position at the aerodrome (on deck) while they are controlled from DRLO and U aircraft. Outside 100 – 150 miles from coast is only possible with the aircraft carrier.
In addition to the largest ship groups, there are small groups and single ships solving various supporting tasks in the battle formation of the strike formation. For their cover, fighter aircraft are also needed, which will be able to cover them from sudden attacks by small groups of air attack weapons, mainly from the airborne alert position.
It has a number of advantages compared with cruise missiles and the use of naval aviation for strikes against large enemy surface ships. Surpassing cruise missiles in range (800 and more kilometers against 450 – 500 for long-range missiles), the naval aviation group, having in addition to EW strike, reconnaissance, DRLO and U aircraft, as well as fighters, are capable of providing higher reliability identifying designated targets and hitting them. The success of a breakthrough to the target of attack aircraft and their missiles is achieved by suppressing the enemy’s air defense system and repelling the attacks of its fighters.
Ship fighters are also extremely important for covering up the actions of strike groups of long-range (sea-based missile-carrying) aviation against aircraft carrier and other large enemy ship formations in the far sea and ocean zones. Accompanying them with ship fighters will, if not eliminate the threat from enemy deck and coastal fighters, then at least minimize losses from their actions to an acceptable level. At the same time, the effectiveness of our aviation will significantly increase.
The Russian Navy groupings will have to solve tasks both in peacetime and in wartime, far beyond the reach of coast-based fighter and bomber aircraft. Is it possible to solve these tasks without the support of coast-based aviation, primarily fighter and assault? With aircraft carriers - yes. They are not a whim of sailors, but an urgent need.
The analysis shows that the air group of the Russian aircraft carriers should be quite numerous. To complete the entire range of tasks in its composition, it will be necessary to have at least 40 – 60 aircraft capable of fighting surface and ground targets, as well as an air enemy, including cruise missiles. In addition to them, the air group must have four to eight DRLO and U aircraft, two to four EW aircraft and two to four reconnaissance aircraft, as well as at least 12 anti-submarine and two search and rescue helicopters. Total 70 to 90 aircraft. That is, it is a large class aircraft carrier with a full displacement of 75 – 85 thousand tons, possibly with a nuclear power plant. Its air defense system should include self-defense means capable of reflecting small groups of air defense systems (up to four units) in interference conditions. To do this, the air defense system on each side should have at least eight target channels of a short-range air defense system and two to four channels of small-caliber artillery.
In addition, in the complex of ship self-defense means it is necessary to provide means of anti-torpedo protection and EW that can suppress the GOS of anti-ship missiles.
The CICS and other radio-electronic equipment as the most important requirement should provide the ability to solve the tasks of managing operational connections, shipboard and associated aviation to the full depth of its use in the interests of the shipboard connection.
Such ships must have at least two on each of the oceanic fleets of Russia. This will make it possible, in view of carrying out planned repairs and other measures to maintain these ships in a combat-ready state, to have at least one combat-capable aircraft carrier in each of the ocean theaters.