During the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union maintained a healthy collection of submarines and surface warships. Included in this stable were the heavily-armed Kirov-class of battlecruisers which forced the United States to bring back their big-gunned World War 2-era Iowa-class battleships. The Kirov-class was led by the Kirov herself which saw her keel laid down on March 27th, 1974 at the Baltiysky Naval Shipyard of Leningrad. She was launched on December 26th, 1977 and formally commissioned on December 30th, 1980, officially identified by NATO observers the following year. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the heavy defense cuts that followed, the vessel was placed in reserve status in 1990.At one time destined for the scrap heap, the vessel was renamed in 1992 to Admiral Ushakov and a plan was later announced for refitting and modernizing the Kirov fleet for reinstatement into the new Russian Navy. The Admiral Ushakov is expected to be recommissioned for active service with the Russian Fleet sometime around 2020 should the modernization program proceed as planned.
The naval term "battlecruiser" emerged in the 20th Century when it classified large, battleship-type capital ships for naval powers of the day. The type was differentiated from battleships by their lighter armoring which added improved speed and performance. They maintained the firepower of battleships but could be used to hunt down slower moving, less fortunate vessels of other navies. While many powers eventually abandoned the battlecruiser naming convention after World War 2 (1939-1945), the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin's direction, retained their use hence the Kirov-class battlecruisers of the 1970s.
As built, the Kirov displaced some 28,000 tons under full load and sported a bow-to-stern length of 827 feet, a beam of 94 feet and draught of 30 feet. Propulsion came in a hybrid form consisting of 2 x nuclear-reactors coupled with steam-based turbines, the latter providing boosting power while the combined arrangement delivered 140,000 shaft horsepower to 2 x shafts. As such, the vessel could be expected to reach speeds of 32 knots in ideal conditions with an operational range of 1,000 nautical miles. However, her nuclear-based propulsion theoretically allowed for essentially unlimited operational ranges, governed only by onboard food stores. The vessel was crewed by 727 personnel including an air arm of some 18 personnel and officers numbering 15. Armor protection included up to 76mm thickness near key components - primarily the nuclear reactor.
The profile of the Kirov exhibited a split-superstructure with the primary form at amidships with a secondary structure just aft. The main structure held the main mast as well as the bridge and various sensor and communications installations. The forecastle was home to vertical launch cells for missile armament while the stern was completed with a helicopter flight deck. The smoke funnel was contained at the frontal superstructure and combined with the main mast assembly. The main mast was home to an air-search radar pairing while an air-surface search system and fire control system (FCS) were seated at the secondary mast structure. The bow exhibited a noticeable upwards angle which gave the Kirov a distinct appearance along the horizon.
As any battlecruiser was only as good as her armament and processing systems, the Kirov did not disappoint. In the latter, the Kirov was outfitted with several systems making up her sensors, tracking and engagement suites. This included the Voshkod MR-800 series 3D search radar mounted at the foremast and the Fregat MR-710 series 3D search radar along the main mast. 2 x Palm Front navigational radars were set at the foremast while 2 x domes contained the fire control systems for the SA-N-6 surface-to-air missile defense systems. Similarly, 2 x Eye Bowl installations managed the SA-N-4 missile battery. AK-360 Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) control was governed through 2 x Bass Tilt systems. The Kirov was also out-fitted with all-important sonar arrays in the Horse Jaw LF sonar system installed in the hull and the variable depth sonar system through the Horse Tail installation.
In terms of armament, the Kirov was laden with cannon and missile armament to deal with a variety of modern threats at sea (or over it). 20 x P-700 "Granit" (SS-N-19 "Shipwreck") missiles served as anti-submarine/anti-ship weapons while 14 x SS-N-14 "Silex" cruise missiles could be carried to deal with inland targets. A total of 96 S-300PMU "Favorit" (SA-N-6 "Grumble") missiles protected the vessel from incoming aerial threats as did the 44 x OSA-MA PD (SA-N-4 "Gecko") anti-aircraft missiles. 2 x RBU-12000 (Udav-1) rocket launchers were added for attacking enemy submarines. 2 x 100mm AK-100 dual-purpose (DP) deck guns were provided for a more conventional approach to dealing with enemy surface threats or assisting in offshore bombardment of inland targets. For added measure against submarines and surface ships, the vessel was given 10 x 533mm torpedo tubes. Close-in defense was handled by 8 x 30mm AK-630 Gatling-type digitally-controlled cannon emplacements.
For over-the-horizon support (and anti-ship/sub-hunting sorties), the Kirov featured a stern-mounted flight deck for the launching and retrieval of navalized helicopters. The Kirov therefore supported up to 3 x Kamov Ka-27 "Helix" or Kamov Ka-25 "Hormone" series helicopters for the roles while full-service facilities were provided through a lower-deck hangar level.
After commissioning, the Kirov served in typical patrolling/deterrent roles for a bulk of her service career leading to the Soviet collapse. In 1990, she was stricken with an accident at her reactor propulsion system which crippled her severely. Defense cuts following the fall of the Soviet Empire led to her being stripped of much of her useful parts to help keep her sister ships afloat. Intended for the scrapman's torch, the hulk was saved through an endeavor that attempted to see the ship brought back for formal service - perhaps more in line with the guided-missile cruiser types fielded by the United States Navy. However, this seems to be a changing situation even into November 2013 which may alter the course of events for the Kirov/Admiral Ushakov.
The new Admiral Ushakov carries the name of Russian Admiral Fyodor Fyodorovich Ushakov (1745-1817) who sailed in the 18th Century for the Russian Empire and served during the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1768-1774 and 1787-1792.
April 2018 - The battlecruiser was in reserve since 1990. It is laid-up with plans to be scrapped.