Kirov-Class: The Only Nuclear-Powered Battlecruiser in Existence Today

While the Kirov-class battlecruisers result from long-abandoned naval doctrine, Russia plans to equip them with its latest hypersonic missiles to make them relevant again.
ТАРК

The Soviet Union returned to the long-forgotten idea of deploying the Kirov-class nuclear-powered battlecruisers.

Not a single Navy considered it worthwhile any longer. However, the Russian Navy still uses nuclear-powered battlecruisers to project power and try to keep its status as a global maritime power.

They are the biggest and heaviest surface warships excluding aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships – and even if they’re old, they’re revamped to be a considerable threat to any country today.

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The Kirov-class battlecruisers

Kirov-Class Battlecruisers
Kirov-Class Battlecruisers by picryl.com. Public Domain.

Kirov-class battlecruisers were created between 1974 and 1998 to counterbalance the large U.S. warships and aircraft carriers. Although it was a concept that was already being abandoned, the Soviet Union bet on them and developed these battlecruisers… Only four were built before the collapse of the USSR, and just one of them is still barely in operation.

The four Russian battlecruisers

  • Admiral Ushakov (ex-Kirov). This was the first Kirov-class battlecruiser. It was scrapped.
  • Admiral Lazarev (ex-Frunze). This was the second battlecruisers of this type and was also scrapped.
  • Admiral Nakhimov (ex-Kalinin), which is undergoing refit.
  • Pyotr Velikiy (ex-Yuriy Andropov) is the only one operational today. 

The Pyotr Velikiy is the flagship of the Northern Russia fleet and a nuclear-powered cruiser that is probably the biggest pride of the Russian Navy today.

But reports said the Pyotr Velikiy’s reactor was in serious trouble and could even blow up at any moment. For this reason, this battlecruiser will enter a repair process that will take years to bring it back into operation.

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Throughout its service, it took part in various anti-piracy assignments and joined the Russian Navy in its operations in Syria.

On the other hand, the second battlecruiser in service, Admiral Nakhimov, underwent a modernization to renew all its equipment and armaments. Once the upgrades on the Nakhimov are over, the Pyotr Velikiy will undergo the same improvements.

Admiral Nakhimov is scheduled to rejoin the Russian fleet in 2023 with thoroughly revamped capacities. Although with the costs of the war in Ukraine, it is likely that some of the refurbishment of this ship will be delayed or, if ever, completed.

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Kirov-class battlecruisers specs

Croiseur russe Admiral Nakhimov
Croiseur russe Admiral Nakhimov by Fonduedaviation. Licensed under CC by 4.0

  • Built: 1974–1998
  • In service: 1980–present
  • Planned: 5
  • Completed: 4
  • Cancelled: 1
  • Active: 2 (one is undergoing refit)
  • Retired: 2
  • Displacement: 24,300 tons 
  • Length: 252 meters (827 feet)
  • Beam: 28.5 meters (94 feet)
  • Draft:  9.1 meters (30 feet)
  • Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph)
  • Range: 1,000 nautical miles (1,900 kilometers; 1,200 miles) 
  • Armor: 76 mm plating around reactor compartment
  • Aircraft carried: 3 helicopters

threat of the Kirov-class battlecruisers 

Tactical exercises of the Russian Navy
Tactical exercises of the Russian Navy by Igor Zarembo. Licensed under CC by 3.0

The arrival of the Kirov compelled the U.S. to bring back from the reserves the aging Iowa-class battlecruisers constructed before WWII.

But, the United States reconsidered its strategy and later took the Iowa-class ships out of service.

In modern warfare, battlecruisers are too vulnerable to missiles and torpedoes, and their construction and operating costs are extremely high to take the risk.

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However, the two Kirov class battlecruisers currently in active service are still a threat to any American ship. They are also a symbol of Russia’s naval power (if their capabilities are really as described by Russian propaganda).

They will soon be boosted with Russia’s most advanced missiles. These are the Zircon hypersonic missile and the Kalibr supersonic missile.

This will give these aging ships a much greater attack capability and could pose a threat to any military power.

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Battlecruisers are a thing of the past, but hypersonic missiles make them extremely deadly

The Kirov-class battlecruisers have many problems, and their nuclear reactors are a danger, not only for the crew but maybe for the whole world, because they could explode at any moment and cause a global disaster with nuclear fallout.

However, they could also pose a risk to the US and NATO if they get the capability to carry hypersonic missiles as expected – and that’s why ships of this class may remain relevant for years to come.


Featured image credit: ТАРК  by Суминов Олег. Licensed under CC by 4.0

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