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How Capable are Russia's New Admiral Gorshkov Class Frigates? Advanced Stealth Warships Herald the Beginning of a Vast Modernisation Program for the Russian Surface Fleet

August 06th - 2018

The Russian Navy’s new frigate class, the Admiral Gorshkov, has seen the first warship of its class delivered as of July 28th 2018. The program to design new frigates to replace the ageing Soviet built Krivak Class begun in 2010, though a number of difficulties in development led to the induction of the first ship being delayed from the initially planned date of November 2016. The overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 and the new Western aligned government in Kiev's refusal to supply gas turbine engines, the production facilities for which the country inherited from the Soviet Union which had long supplied new Russia surface ships, led to a near year delay in the commissioning of the first of the new warships until Russia's NPO Saturn could design the new engines required to replace those from Ukraine - a considerable feat considering how quickly it was achieved. The Russian Navy is reportedly planning to commission a fleet of 15 of the new warships, though this figure could rise as high as 30 frigates.

Russia's new frigates are designed with state of the art sensors providing unparalleled situational awareness surpassing those of many much lager and more costly warships. These include a Furke-4 5P-27 radar and Poliment 5P-20K 4 active phased array radars, a Monolit 34K1 surface search radar, a Puma 5P-10 main artillery radar and fire control system, three Pal-N radars and a Zarya M sonar and Vinyetka towed array sonar system. The warships also field advanced stealth capabilities, which alongside a Prosvet-M electronic warfare suite serve to considerably enhance its survivability at sea. Two Palash naval air defence systems, close in weapons systems designed to intercept incoming anti ship missiles and guided bombs, provide further protection against incoming attacks. These may be replaced by navalised Pantsir systems on future frigates.

Unlike their Soviet era predecessors, the Admiral Gorshkov Class are designed as multirole warships capable of carrying out both anti surface and anti submarine warfare, and their armament remains their most outstanding asset giving them a considerable advantage over frigates fielded by rival powers. Despite its small size, displacing just 5,400 tons when fully loaded, the warship fields 48 vertical launch systems capable of deploying some of Russia’s most sophisticated missile platforms. Sixteen of these cells are used to deploy cruise missile platforms - the Kalibr and the P-800 Oniks - as the main offensive weapon of the frigates. Similar in its design and capabilities to the Chinese CX-1 and Indian Brahmos, the ramjet powered P-800 retains a 600km engagement range and can impact targets at Mach 2.5 - fast enough to evade any known Western air defence system and able to cause serious damage to enemy warships with the sheer force of its kinetic energy. The Kalibr, a newer missile design which entered service in 2012, retains a shorter range of under 300km but can impact targets at speeds nearing Mach 3 with a sizeable 500kg payload.

The remaining 32 cells on the Admiral Gorshkov Class warships house advanced air defence missiles designed to intercept incoming missile and air attacks - allowing the frigates to provide protection to accompanying ships at sea as well as plugging gaps which may emerge in Russia’s ground based air defence network when deployed near its coasts and otherwise defending the airspace of the Russian mainland. The air defence missiles are primarily navalised platforms derived from the S-350 and S-400 systems, including the 120km range 9M96, and 9M96M, D and DM and the shorter ranged 9M100 infrared guided missiles with a 15km range. This gives the warships a multilayered air defence system which makes them extremely difficult to target with air and missile attacks - complementing the frigate’s advanced point defence and electronic warfare capabilities.

Alongside other weapons systems, Russia’s new frigates deploy 330mm torpedo tubes which can be equipped for anti submarine operations - with a rear hanger accommodating a single helicopter which is capable of further serving an anti submarine warfare role. The Admiral Gorshkov represents the first in a new generation of Russian surface warships which are set to provide a long awaited and much needed boost to the navy’s capabilities. Other than its submarine fleet, these capabilities have seen a considerable decline since the Soviet Union’s disintegration - and Russia has only recently moved to develop sophisticated shipbuilding capabilities for large surface vessels having formerly relied heavily on Ukrainian shipyards during the Soviet Era. The warships are set to be followed by highly sophisticated heavier platforms making use of similar technologies including the Shkval Class destroyer, two upcoming assault carrier classes, the larger of which is expected to displace 40,000 tons, and possibly even a supercarrier based on the SHTORM design concept and deploying fifth generation fighters from its deck. The commissioning of the first Admiral Gorshkov Class could thus be seen to represent the beginning of a new era for the Russian surface fleet - one which is likely to be centred more around the increasingly important Pacific theatre where the Navy is set to retain a greater presence to support national interests and Russian allies in the region.

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