Russia hopes to have the infrastructure in place to build an aircraft carrier displacing as much as 115,000 tons by 2020.
That does not, however, mean that Russia will actually build a new aircraft carrier. Moreover, even if the Russians build the right facilities, that does not mean that Moscow will possess the know-how to construct a massive new nuclear-powered supercarrier. Indeed, the Kremlin’s last full-scale carriers were built during the Soviet-era at the Nikolaev shipyards in what is now an independent Ukraine.
"When we build new shipyards and a huge dry dock in the Far East, if there is such a contract, it will be possible to create an aircraft carrier having a displacement of 110,000-115,000 tonnes,” Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said on the Rossiya-24 new channel according to TASS.
“We will be capable of doing that starting from 2020."
The Russians are building a 114-meter—374 feet—wide dry dock at the Zvezda shipyard in the Russian Far East that might one day build such a large aircraft carrier. Rogozin noted that while the shipyard would be physically capable of building an aircraft carrier, the question of if Moscow needs such a large warship would be up to the Russian military’s general staff.
"We now have no restrictions regarding the tonnage of civil or naval ships we may choose to build there," Rogozin said.
Analysts in Russia told The National Interest that while it is true that Moscow is building a massive new shipyard in the Far East, the project is not a military development. Rather the project is a commercial venture with significant foreign investment from South Korea, which could complicate any attempt to build a military vessel at those shipyards.
Michael Kofman, a research scientist specializing in Russian military affairs at the Center for Naval Analyses, told The National Interest that the Far Eastern shipyards would use a lot of foreign imports.
“The cranes are bought from China,” Kofman said.
Moreover, simply possessing the physical infrastructure to build an aircraft carrier does not mean that Moscow has the technical knowledge to build an 115,000-ton warship. Russia has never built a warship of such size and complexity before in its entire history.
The only comparable vessels constructed during the Soviet-era were the much smaller roughly 55,000-ton Kuznetsov-class carriers. Even Ulyanovsk, a nuclear-powered carrier that was scrapped after 20 percent of construction was completed in 1992, was expected to displace no more than 85,000-tons. Thus, Moscow would have to relearn many of the techniques needed to build such a vessel.
“Having a dry dock does not equal the know-how to build a carrier,” Kofman said.
In any case, Russia is a Eurasian landpower—Moscow does not really have a need for a very large and very expensive aircraft carrier. A more likely scenario is that the Kremlin will invest in a large-deck amphibious assault ship that can be used to project power in Moscow’s immediate periphery.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.