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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval

Russian Supercarrier Coming Soon? Electromagnetic Launch System Currently Being Tested for a Future Carrier - Navalised Su-57 Likely to Follow

July 13th - 2018

With much uncertainty regarding the future of Russian naval aviation, and proposals having been made for the commissioning of a large carrier warship under the SHTORM program with capabilities analogous to the U.S. Navy's Gerald Ford Class, a recent statement from Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) has indicated that a large carrier is currently under development. USC President Alexei Rakhmanov stated regarding the program on July 5th 2018: "We closely follow developments in shipbuilding in the leading sea powers and do not sit idle. Work is currently underway to develop systems that can also be used on modern aircraft carriers. For example, we are working on special modifications of new aircraft launch systems.” Considering previous reports regarding Russia’s plans to develop electromagnetic launch systems (EMALS) for its new carriers, with older steam based systems increasingly considered obsolete and set to be phased out of service in the coming years, it is highly likely that the system referred to by President Rakhmanov was an electromagnetic launch system. CEO of the St. Petersburg based Nevskoye Design Bureau Sergei Vlasov has previously stated that Russia had begun work on developing an electromagnetic catapult system for future carriers.

Reports regarding the active development of EMALS technologies, recently developed by the United States and China and inducted into service for the first time in mid 2017 onboard the American supercarrier USS Gerald Ford, somewhat confirms the military’s intention to induct a full sized carrier warship in the near future - possibly under the SHTORM program. These reports coincided with proposals by Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) to develop a carrier based variant of the Su-57 fifth generation air superiority fighter - which would be able to make full use of of electromagnetic launch systems onboard a future Russian supercarrier. UAC President Sergey Korotkov emphasised regarding the new carrier and the advanced fighter which it would deploy that the fighter would need to be tailored to whichever launch system the warship used - specifying that use of an EMALS system was essential. "If a new carrier is being built, it must have modern features, such as electromagnetic catapults," he stated.

The SHTORM carrier program is heavily based on the Ulyanovsk Class supercarriers laid down in the final days of the Soviet Union which were set to deploy steam catapults for launching fixed wing aircraft - the most advanced launch system developed at the time. With Russia having considerable experience with the design of large carrier warships from the Soviet era, the development of a number of cutting edge systems such as carrier based AWACS platforms and electromagnetic launch systems can go a long way towards modernising the Ulyanovsk design and using it as the basis of the SHTORM design to develop a world leading warship. Whether the increasingly dated Admiral Kuznetsov carrier, a lighter warship which lacks any catapult systems whatsoever and which is currently undergoing an extensive refitting, will remain in service alongside the new carrier, remains to be seen. Russia appears however to be investing heavily in expanding its carrier fleet, having planned four helicopters carriers - estimated to displace 35,000 and 20,000 tons under two classes which are likely to also deploy fixed wing fighter aircraft. This could potentially provide the Russian Navy with a carrier fleet of six warships by the late 2020s - making it the third largest in the world after only China and the United States and marking a considerable improvement from the troubled state of today. These costly plans, as with several of Russia's more ambitious weapons programs, are heavily reliant on vast improvements being made to the Russian economy in the coming six years - without which a supercarrier may well be a luxury the country's armed forces will struggle to afford.

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