Monday, May 18, 2015

Soviet Cruisers

In 1980, the Soviet Union completed construction of the first of four Kirov-class cruisers. Two more were completed by 1988; the fourth unit was not commissioned until 1998 due to a lack of funds for construction. Due in part to its size, Kirov is designated by some as a battle cruiser.

The hull measures 826 feet, 9 inches by 93 feet, 6 inches, displaces 25,860 tons when fully loaded, and is protected by an undisclosed type of armor. The ship relies on propulsion from nuclear-powered turbines that produce a maximum speed of 31 knots, which makes it the first Soviet nuclear-powered surface combatant. It is also sometimes defined as a battle cruiser because of its large array of weapons, as the Soviets desired a ship that would fulfill antiaircraft, ASW, and antiship duties. The majority of the missile systems are located in the forward section. Unlike the other cruisers of the Soviet era, some of these systems are equipped with reloading machinery. The Kirov mounts 12 SA-N-6 SAMs in a vertical launcher within the bow that can be reloaded by a magazine that contains 96 missiles. These can be fired at aircraft or missiles. It also carries one twin-tubed SS-N-14 ASW system with between 14 and 16 reloads. The bow section also contains a vertical launcher that holds 20 SSN- 19 SSM weapons, a descendent of the SS-N-3. Like its predecessors, the SS-N-19 can carry a conventional or nuclear warhead. Complementing these various missiles are two RBU-6000 ASW rocket launchers, 10 torpedo tubes for use against submarines and surface vessels, and one helicopter. The ship also carries two fully automated guns, 3.9-inch guns in the case of Kirov; the other vessels mount 5.1-inch guns. Finally, Kirov ships eight 30mm Gatling guns that resemble the Vulcan Phalanx for close defense against missiles and aircraft.

The Soviet warship program also produced three more cruiser classes during the 1980s and early 1990s, the first being the 20-ship Sovremenny- class designed for antiship warfare. They were followed by the 13-vessel Udaloy-class, which mounts weapons arrays for use against submarines. The final group of vessels that were completed between 1983 and 1989 are the two Slava-class cruisers. These vessels are a smaller, cheaper version of the Kirov class and are designed primarily as surface strike ships. All are conventionally powered. Together with the Kirov-class and two more units of the Kiev-class that were completed between 1981 and 1983, they are the final units produced by the Soviet Union before the collapse of the communist regime.

These cruisers and those built by NATO members reveal the extent to which the cruiser has evolved as a modern weapons system. In place of a relatively small but important set of roles that existed since the Age of Fighting Sail and became attached to the first cruisers of the nineteenth century, the newest ships are called upon to cover a myriad of tasks. This change was made possible by technological innovation that allowed for progressively more powerful and advanced weapons and sensory systems. In the later years of the Cold War, the roles of cruisers still included commerce protection and possibly reconnaissance through the use of radar and sonar, but the chief duties were antiaircraft and ASW defense. Both of these roles were important for task forces; the latter specifically was also vital due to the need in the nuclear age to protect against the launch of nuclear weapons by submarines. Surface warfare, in the case of cruisers that were armed offensively, also remained a key role. All of these roles remain important to the present day.

Despite large offensive and defensive capabilities, the Soviet and NATO missile cruisers built in the 1970s and 1980s were not tested in combat because the Cold War never produced a hot war between the superpowers and their allies. The extent of contact consisted primarily of projecting power in fleet exercises, where one superpower would closely monitor the activities of the other at sea.

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