The Kirov class nuclear powered battlecruiser Admiral Nakhimov has been in dry dock undergoing a deep refit for years now, with the promise being the ship would come out the other side basically new, with a whole host of new weapons and sensors.
The Russian Navy's plan is to eventually have two massive Kirov class ships operational at the same time, which will be a first in nearly two decades. Before that can happen Admiral Nakhimov's refit needs to be completed, after which the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), which soldiers on today with largely all its Soviet-era weapons and sensors, will replace it in dry dock. After the Pyotr Veliky is refit to the same standard as the Admiral Nakhimov the two battlecruisers could potentially roam the seas for decades to come.
Executing a deep refit it on a severely dated, 28,000 ton nuclear battlecruiser that has sat idle for over a decade and a half years in the frigid White Sea is no small task. In fact, the Russian Navy's initiative to refit the Admiral Nakhimov is a decade old, with work only really picking up steam in 2014. And now the news is that the ship's delivery will be pushed back yet another year, to 2021.
Originally the project was going to end in the latter part of this decade, around 2018. Then it was pushed back to 2019, and then 2020. Normally this would sound like the whimpering end to yet another over ambitious and under funded Russian weapons initiative, but in this case it appears to be quite the opposite.
Images and video shot recently of the giant surface combatant show it receiving a lot of attention, with many portions of the vessel totally gutted, especially areas where new weapons and sensors will go in the place of old ones. Scaffolding encompasses almost the entire vessel, and even its red hull paint paint look fresh.
There is no question that the ship's refit is deeply underway and that it's not just a cosmetic facelift and bolt-on remodel aimed to squeeze a few more years out of a tired old design, it's a total rework of the vessel that is very unlikely to not come to fruition with so much momentum behind hit. And once Sevmash shipyard is finished, Admiral Nakhimov, which was launched in 1986, is slated to bristle with modern weaponry.
The refit ship is slated to feature a whopping 174 vertical launch tubes—more than any other surface combatant or submarine in the world. 80 of these tubes will be filled with modern Russian cruise missiles, such as the subsonic Kalibr, supersonic Onix, and supposedly the hypersonic Zircon. Additionally, the ship's air defense capability will be adapted from the S-400 system and will have the rest of its tubes stuffed with the family of missiles associated with it (40N6, 48N6, 9M96). In addition, pretty much every combat related system on the ship is supposedly going to be replaced with modern components and many of the ship's other systems will also be overhauled. The work is being done by Sevmash shipbuilding.
Video showing just how extensive the work on Admiral Nakhimov is (starts at 4:45):
Once completed, both ships will serve as the centerpieces of Russian flotillas and will be the largest Russian fighting vessels in operation until—or if—the carrier Admiral Kuzetsov comes out of its own refit, which has supposedly been slashed in scope recently due to budgetary concerns.
Some would argue that putting so much into these dinosaurs from the Cold War era is a waste of scarce funds that could be used to build smaller surface combatants and more submarines. But seeing how far along the Admiral Nakhimov is, the proverbial "ship has sailed" on that debate, and Pyotr Veliky will likely cost far less to modify because it is in good operational condition today and Admiral Nakhimov has already served as an experimental template for the refit.
With Russia's long-hyped but now sidelined Lider class super destroyer no longer in potential competition with the Kirov class, at least not in the foreseeable future, these huge Russian surface combatants will continue on in a class of their own.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com