Experts assess Crimean prospects for landing ship construction - take 1

The Russian Navy has long been trying to get new-generation landing ships. TASS reported in early September quoting industry sources that two universal landing ships with a displacement of 15000 tons are to be built in Kerch in Crimea.

Experts assess Crimean prospects for landing ship construction take 1 925 001 Priboi amphibious landing ship (Picture source: Navy Recognition)

President of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) Alexey Rakhmanov later denied the report saying no decision had been made and no construction site had been chosen. However, Defense Ministry sources told the Izvestia daily the plans to build new-generation landing ships at Zaliv Shipyard, which was one of the biggest in the Soviet Union, can be implemented.

The contract for the construction of two Mistral universal landing ships seemed to be a real opportunity to reinforce the Navy. However, France refused to hand them over to Russia under US pressure, cancelled the contract and paid the fine. The ships were sold to Egypt.

Russia did not actually sustain major losses. The money was paid back and nobody could strip Russia of technologies and equipment that is obtained according to the contract. The damage was the delayed renewal of the landing forces of the Navy.

Russia immediately began to speak about its own construction of the warships. However, political problems and the economic crisis, as well as reduced military appropriations barred the immediate implementation of the plans. It was reported in 2015 that Russia was designing two projects of landing ships: a helicopter-carrying dock with a displacement of 15000 tons and a universal landing ships with a displacement of 30000 tons. The former had the Dutch Rotterdam project as a likely prototype. The latter had to be bigger than the 20000-ton Mistral.

However, no contract for the construction has been signed. In the spring of 2019, two new and upgraded big landing ships of project 11711 were laid. The Vladimir Andreev and the Vasily Trushin differed from the initial project of the Ivan Gren which was handed over to the Navy in 2018 and the Petr Morgunov which is to become operational in 2020. They have bigger displacement, size and architecture with the superstructure in the bow and a bigger flight deck in the stern.

Specific characteristics of the ships are not disclosed, but the key difference of project 11711M is likely an increased 4-6 helicopter force for airborne assault and fire support by Ka-52K gunships.

The upgraded project 11711M provides bigger capabilities against the initial one which was designed according to Soviet perceptions of 1960-1970s about marine actions which had to support the sea flank of the ground forces and land tactical assaults from warships to the coast in the radius of operation of coastal aviation.

The perception has changed since then and in the past forty years, the leading sea powers radically changed the approach to seaborne assault and switched to the so-called over-horizon marine landing by boats and helicopters from a warship staying 20-30 miles outside the zone of adversary artillery and missile fire.

The over-horizon assault accelerates the process and most of the force can land in half an hour after the ship occupies a position outside the visibility from the coast and thus secures itself. Helicopters and boats have to provide fire support, as well as the weapons of the marines delivered to the coast by air or sea. Such a necessity was comprehended yet in the USSR and a new project 11780 was designed in the 1980s to build a 25000-ton high-speed landing ship of an aircraft-carrying architecture which would correspond to the US Tarawa amphibious assault ships.

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