Analysis: Syrian campaign confirms Russian need for landing ships

The political significance of the creation of universal amphibious assault ships (UDK) for the Russian Navy is exceeding its military importance so far. Many experts believe they are excessive in the Navy, the Independent Military Review writes.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001Official rendering of the Project 23900 LHD displayed during the laying ceremony at the Zaliv Shipyard LLC in Kerch on July 20, 2020. (Picture source: Zelenodolsk Design Bureau)

In modern low-intensity conflicts, the use of a universal naval combat platform, such as UDK is sufficient for a combat mission in a distant theater of warfare, and specifically a peacekeeping operation.

The Soviet Navy operated two antisubmarine ships of project 1123 - the Moskva and the Leningrad. Each carried 14 Ka-25 helicopters.

The construction of a third ship was cancelled. UDK of project 11780 were not laid because of disagreements between the Navy command and the General Headquarters. They had to carry 12 Ka-29 combat transport helicopters and 25 Ka-27 antisubmarine helicopters, as well as 40 tanks and a thousand of marines.

In the early 2010s, Russia planned to procure four French helicopter carriers capable of carrying 40 tanks and 900 marines. However, only two ships were ordered. The stern of the French UDK was built by the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The French cancelled the contract after numerous delays for the supply of the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol ships and paid back the money in 2015. Paris said it was a punishment for Crimean reunification with Russia, but the cancelled deal discredited France as a reliable military-technical partner anyway.

In 2015, both helicopter carriers were handed over to Egypt and called the Anwar Sadat and the Gamal Abdel Nasser. Their significance for the Egyptian Navy is small because of limited geographical engagement. In 2018, both ships landed an assault on the coast during a counterterrorist operation in the Sinai Peninsula. The operation was assessed as excessive.

Zaliv Shipyard in Kerch laid two Russian universal amphibious assault ships in 2020 - the Ivan Rogov and the Mitrofan Moskalenko of project 23900 designed by Zelenodolsk Bureau. The construction cost is close to 100 billion rubles. The first ship is to join the Navy in 2025 and the second one in 2027.

Media quoted the tactical and technical characteristics as saying the projected displacement has increased to 30000 tons against previous 25000 tons. It is likely necessary to carry a bigger number of aircraft. Besides 16 Ka-27, Ka-29, and Ka-31 helicopters and the latest Katran Ka-52K reconnaissance gunships, the UDK has to carry reconnaissance drones.

In ten years of the discussion of the UDK necessity for the Russian Navy the military-political situation in the world and the geography of Russian armed forces engagement has radically changed. The Russian military campaign in the distant Syrian theater of warfare showed the necessity to have such a warship in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It can also operate as a hospital, floating headquarters, command ship with long-range communications, and a floating base for humanitarian and rescue operations. UDK will be the nucleus of expeditionary forces in a distant theater of warfare. However, additional construction of frigates is necessary to help UDK operate in green waters, as it is vulnerable without protection. So far, UDK can operate in coastal waters or limited areas, such as the Baltic or the Black Sea, the Independent Military Review said.

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