By Marina Dierks -- Warrior Maven Guest Contributor and expert Russian Linguist and Russia Analyst.
As Russia continues its focus on dominating the waters Putin has been placing new task forces in crucial maritime transport venues while keeping the main defense investments in ocean capability fleet. The war in Ukraine has dramatically increased Russia’s stakes. Facing more than 85% of global trade and commodities in maritime Russia has been looking into the Northern Sea Route, and holding exercises in every general area of a myriad of submarine communication cables (SCC). As Russia has been spreading itself thin and playing a long game as the war in Ukraine has become an energy battlefield, Putin strongly believes in increasing the combat potential of the Navy.
On 20 July 2020 Russia has announced a new amphibious assault ship, ‘Mitrofan Moskalenko’. Later it was reported that the shipbuilders had begun to build its hull and that construction was going on schedule. The newest project 23900 amphibious assault ship 'Mitrofan Moskalenko' will become the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet after completion of construction at the Kerch shipyard 'Zaliv' and will replace the sunk in the Black Sea flagship Moskva.
According to Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia Alexei Krivoruchko, the displacement of the new amphibious assault ship will reach about 44,000 tons. It will be able to carry up to four Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B drones to perform strike missions and target designation for the hypersonic Zircon missiles launched from other ships. Also a helicopter carrier, 'Mitrofan Moskalenko' is allegedly capable of carrying 16 heavy helicopters for various purposes and transporting more than 1 thousand marines. The assault ship is equipped with a dock for boats that provide landings and transport armored vehicles. Russian helicopter carriers are being built according to project 23900, and are developed by the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau. Allegedly this carrier will be over 220 meters long. Such dimensions should allow the ship to take on board up to 20 helicopters and two reinforced battalions of marines. It is not yet known whether the declared size is standard or refers to a ship equipped with weapons. Russian helicopter carriers are aiming to become the world's largest landing ships, therefore the Russian project 23900 could potentially become the largest assault aircraft carrier in the world. Its size will also allow it to block any waterway, strait or bay area. Perhaps, like the US Navy, Russia also plans to equip Project 23900 with a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
Because in its final appearance the Project 23900 is depicted with propeller-steering columns as propulsion similar to the French universal amphibious assault landing ship (UDC) Mistral, a unified electric power system must have been used. Combined with the overall architecture and the fact that the dimensions of the Project 23900 ship are close to those of the Mistral UDC, it can be reasonably concluded that Mistral clearly acted as a model in the design of the 23900 ship.
Russian Helicopters Holding, a leading Russian designer and manufacturer of helicopters, is resuming tests of the deck-based Ka-52K Katran for the Project 23900 assault ship, the holding's general director Andrei Boginsky told Interfax. "You saw that the Commander-in-Chief took part in the laying of helicopter carriers. We have completed the landing part of the tests of the Ka-52K. It remains to deal with the issues of connections to this or that carrier," Boginsky said. "We have harmonized our approaches with the Ministry of Defense. (...) Now the ships have been laid, we are in dialogue on the details of continuation of further work," Boginsky said. In November 2019, the head of the Rostec aviation cluster, Anatoly Serdyukov, said in an interview with Interfax that, despite the lack of carriers, work on the Ka-52K shipborne helicopter would continue, their delivery is guaranteed for by the current state armament program (SAP) until 2027.
Combat helicopters Ka-52K "Katran" are designed for patrolling, fire support of landing troops during landing on the beach, solving the tasks of anti-landing defense on the front line and tactical depth. "Katran" previously made successful test flights as part of the campaign in the Mediterranean Sea of the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser "Admiral Kuznetsov".
In his interview with Izvestia, Russia’s military expert and historian Dmitry Boltenkov said that the plan is to create strong combat groups of ships. The first group of assault ships, that will include project 23900, will be deployed in the Mediterranean, while the second, led by Vladivostok and the Varyag missile cruiser, will cruise off the coast of Southeast Asia.
Russia's Commander-in-Chief of the Navy has been working on the organizational structure and staffing of the crews for 'Mitrofan Moskalenko' ship. In addition to sailors, the crews will include representatives of aviation and marines. Particular attention is paid to aviation technical positions. The qualifications of specialists must meet the highest requirements, since they will have to maintain the combat capability of equipment away from Russian bases and carry out repairs of any complexity in cramped conditions, having a limited set of tools and equipment. Teams are planned to be fully staffed in 2022. A training program has allegedly been already drawn up. After its approval, the sailors were supposed to start training, and then physically train on the built ships.
The Project 23900, 'Mitrofan Moskalenko' amphibious assault ship, developed as an alternative to the French Mistral helicopter carriers was laid in Navy warship ceremony on July 20 at the Zaliv plant in the Crimea. In his speech during the keel-laying ceremony, Vladimir Putin said: “The new ships will be equipped with advanced weapon systems, control and long-range communication systems. They will significantly strengthen the combat potential of the Navy, increase its strategic capabilities. The Navy has always reliably defended the borders of Russia. And nowadays it plays an extremely important role in ensuring Russia's security, firmly stands guard over national interests, helps maintain strategic balance and stability in the world. Russia has one of the longest coastlines and access to three oceans, so we will continue to pursue a course for the development of a modern combat-ready fleet, building ships equipped with promising weapons and equipment. I would like to note that over the past eight years, the fleet has included more than 200 ships, boats and vessels of various classes. We need to continue to consistently implement the measures of the state armament program so that by 2027 we have a share of modern ships in the Navy that exceeds 70 percent."
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By Marina Dierks -- Marina Dierks is a Warrior Maven Fellow, Expert Russian Linguist and Russia Analyst. A native speaker, who has lived in Russia for over 20 years, she has trained the military in the Russian language and has written analysis on Russian affairs, Russia’s ethnic and religious issues, history and culture. A linguist with experience in intelligence collection, analysis and interpretation, Marina has also supported the US Coast Guard Auxiliary as a Flotilla Staff Officer for several years.