The amphibious assault has proven to be one of the most dangerous, yet ultra-critical, components of warfare since ancient times. As such, it falls onto naval forces to supply the fighting men and machines with the means to cross over from water to land in an attempt to carry the fight to the enemy. Various naval powers of the world have invested mightily in the technologies that enable such doctrine to exist and the Soviet Navy contracted for the massive "Zubr-class" LCAC ("Landing Craft Air Cushion") before the fall of the Soviet Empire (1922-1991). The first vessel in the class was commissioned in 1988, representing the largest air-cushioned vehicles in the world. In the post-Cold War world, their service now falls under the Russian Navy flag as well as several other powers of the world.
The Zubr-class is identified by NATO as the "Pomornik" and is also known by the Soviet/Russian Navy designation of "Project 1232.2".
The Zubr craft is given a length of 187 feet with a beam measuring 84 feet and a draught of 5.2 feet. It displaces at 415 tons when under normal load and reaches 555 tons when under full load. Her profile includes a bridge superstructure at amidships with three large, shrouded propulsion fans aft. The forward section of the boat is largely unobstructed and sports a raised bow with a lowering ramp for embarking/disembarking units, systems, cargo and infantry. The hull - specially-designed to mitigate the effects of magnetic naval mines - sits atop an inflatable bed which provides the necessary cushion when going ashore. The cushion is deflated to bring the bow ramp to ground level. The Zubr craft features a surface search radar, chaff launcher and decoys among other integrated systems. Armament (largely self-defensive in nature) includes Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) launchers, 2 x 30mm AK-630 cannons and 2 x rocket launchers. The vessel can also dispense naval or anti-personnel mines as required.
Internally, the Zubr features a centralized hold for carrying vehicles or cargo. Living spaces for the four officers, 31 enlisted personnel and combat-ready infantry are afforded while being fully protected by an NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) system in the event of nuclear war. Some creature comforts are also added including eating areas, heating and cooling to allow the Zubr to operate in most any climate setting. The vessel's hold can house up to three Main Battle Tank (MBT) type vehicles, up to eight Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) or similar, ten general military vehicles or up to 500 infantry. Of course the craft can also replace these items with pure cargo, taking advantage of its 4,300 square foot hold.
The Zubr relies on a combination of 5 x Kuznetsov NK-12MV series, gasoline-fueled turboprop engines, two used for generating the necessary lift and three utilized in propelling the vessel. All told, these installations generate up to 11,836 horsepower. The three propulsion engines manage four variable-pitch propeller assemblies. The Zubr can make up to 40 knots in ideal conditions and reach speeds up to 60 knots under certain conditions. Operational range is listed out to 300 miles. The hull is designed for operations in up to "Sea State 4", which identifies wave heights of four feet to eight feet.
To date (2014), only nine examples of the Zubr have appeared. Two are in service with the Russian Navy (770 Evgeny Kocheshkov and 782 Mordovia) while two have been acquired by the Ukrainian Navy (U420 and U424). The Greek (Hellenic) Navy has taken on service of four vessels and originated from both Russia and Ukraine. These are named in addition to their hull numbers - HS Kefalonia (L180), HS Ithaki (L181), HS Kerkyra (L182) and HS Zakynthos (L183). The Chinese Navy is believed to have contracted for four of the large amphibious vessels with two of them to be built in Chinese shipyards. One has already been taken into service.