The Russian Navy was poorly positioned to assert itself as a major global force years before its war with Ukraine. Events, since the Kremlin began its invasion suggest that this is even more true now.
To Putin, it seems that the Russian Navy is a “sinking ship” in every sense of the word. Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to attack and destroy Russian surface ships from shore, and beyond an initial amphibious raid on Odesa, the Russian Navy has not posed any serious naval threat to Ukraine.
The current state of the Russian Navy
Although some may wonder how far Russia can rebuild its navy after the war with Ukraine, the Russian navy was not much of a threat to begin with. This challenge is not only complicated by the numerous problems associated with the damaged and now berthed Russian aircraft carrier. Still, it is also evidenced by its inability to project power into Ukraine from the ocean in any dramatic way.
Despite this reality, the Russian Navy continues to present several significant threats, such as its growing fleet of technologically advanced submarines and the emerging ability of its surface warfare ships to fire hypersonic weapons. For example, the Russian Navy is modernizing and revamping some of its massive, if somewhat dated, Cold War-era battlecruisers, adding to them advanced interceptor missiles, close-in naval defenses, ship-integrated long-range air defenses, and even hypersonic weapons.
If Russia is indeed arming its upgraded 1980s battlecruiser, Admiral Nakhimov, with up to 60 hypersonic missiles, many NATO countries and the United States could face a massive and potentially unparalleled threat.
The modernization of the battlecruiser Admiral Nakhimov
Arming a battlecruiser with hypersonic missiles would go a long way in changing and improving the offensive firepower of the 1980s-era Russian battlecruiser Admiral Nakhimov. An interesting article in Forbes magazine claims that the Russian ship is “almost as big as the Iowa-class battlecruisers” and could well become the “most powerful surface combatant in the world.”
According to the Forbes report, the large Russian battlecruiser is also armed with a number of additional weapons, including 20 large Granite supersonic missiles. The ship is also armed with 40 9K33 Osa short-range missiles and no fewer than 96 S-300 long-range missiles. Also important, the ship is armed with a Kashtan melee weapons system, with Gatling guns and eight 9M322 short-range missiles.
Comparison with the US Navy
Could Russian battlecruisers rival American Tomahawks in long-range missiles? Is the Russian Melee Weapons System (CIWS) comparable to the US Navy’s Enhanced Weapons, which fire a Phalanx melee weapon to take out small boats, drones, explosives, or other types of melee threats? As part of an integrated defense system, many Navy ships are also armed with deck-launched interceptor missiles for short- and medium-range attacks, such as SeaRAM and Rolling Airframe Missiles.
Finally, both a US Navy destroyer and a modernized Russian battlecruiser would operate with drones and helicopters capable of surveillance, hunting submarines, and even directing forward strikes in the ocean.
Although a Navy destroyer would be smaller than a modernized large Russian battlecruiser, its high-tech weaponry could give it a distinct advantage in any type of open or “blue water” maritime combat. This would likely depend on the modernized weapons’ performance and relative technological capability.
The United States has massively modernized its Tomahawks, SM-6 missiles, CIWS, and SeaRAM, giving them greater range, the ability to hit moving targets at sea, and next-generation guidance systems. Clearly, it would be critical to know the relative sophistication status of these Russian weapons and, perhaps even more important, to what extent they are networked with other ships, drones, or even submarines that surface to network.
The modernization of the Admiral Nakhimov battle cruiser marks a significant step in the Russian Navy’s efforts to remain a relevant naval force. Equipped with hypersonic missiles and state-of-the-art weapons, this ship could potentially threaten countries like the United States and those NATO. However, these weapons’ technological capability and networking would play a crucial role in the naval balance of power.