Russia’s flagship nuclear battle cruiser – the world’s largest – puts in for repairs

pyotr veliky drydock The Pyotr Veliky in dry dock at Roslyakovo. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Nilsen/The Barents Observer)

The Russian Northern Fleet’s flagship nuclear battle cruiser, the Pyotr Veliky has put into dry dock near Murmansk for planned repairs, naval officials told Russian news agencies.

The vessel is one of four Kirov Class battle cruisers built by Russia – referred to in Russian as “heavy missile cruisers”– and which comprise the four largest military ships in the world. The Pyotr Veliky is powered by two nuclear reactors.

pyotr veliky The Pyotr Veliky. (Photo: naval-technology.com)

The giant Kirov Class vessels began taking to the seas in the late 1980s and mid 1990s and are capable of engaging large surface ships and providing defenses for the fleet against air and submarine attacks, according to the Naval Technology portal.

As noted by The Moscow Times, the huge Kirovs represent something of an anachronism, as Western navies long ago began replacing their big sea guns with smaller, more agile destroyers to protect aircraft carrier flotillas.

The Pyotr Veliky’s repairs at the Roslyakovo shipyard near Murmansk are geared to keep the ship, which was commissioned in 1996, on the water until 2018, when it’s expected that the Sevmash shipyards in Severodvinsk would have space to begin an extensive modernization of the battle cruiser.

From 2018 to 2021, the Pyotr Veliky’ is scheduled to undergo a major overhaul and modernization, which will outfit it with new radio-electronic equipment and missile equipment, the Lenta.ru Russian news portal reported.

Maxim Shepovalenko, an analyst with the Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies told The Moscow Times that Russia’s naval rearmament program of 2011 envisions new destroyers and battle cruisers to begin construction in the late 2020s.

He further told the paper the three-step rearmament program is currently focusing on beefing up the submarine fleet, which is consistent with reporting by Bellona.

In fact, Russia has spent more on building new nuclear sub classes than was spent by the international community over 20 years to dismantle Cold War legacy nuclear subs.

severodvinsk b-port The Severodvinsk. (Photo: Courtesy of b-port.com)

The Russian Navy will also be building new frigates, Shepovalenko told The Moscow Times.

The lonely future of the Pytor Veliky

The Pyotor Veliky – formerly named the Yury Andropov for the short-lived Soviet Premier – along with its cousin the Admiral Nakhimov, are the only two of the four original Kirov battle cruisers still on active duty.

The Admiral Ushakov – which was previously known as the Kirov – was commissioned in 1974 and pulled from service in 2001. It was originally scheduled for dismantlement in 2003, but that has been severely delayed. The ship’s dismantlement is currently scheduled to begin in 2016.

The fourth Kirov ship, the Admiral Lazarev, has been deemed “beyond repair,” the Barents Observer news portal reported in 2012. Financial pressures have made the Admiral Lazarev’s dismantlement an uncertainty.

ushakov The Admiral Ushakov. (Photo: Wikipedia)

According to Vadim Serga, head press spokesman for the Northern Fleet, the current repairs on the Pyotr Veliky will wrap up by the end of the year, Lenta.ru reported.

They will include work on its hull, propeller systems, and cleaning and painting of the submerged portion of the hull, said Serga. Repairs will also be made to a number of the Pyotr Veliky’s battle and weapon’s systems, he said.

The vessel’s dark place in Russian naval history

During the largest post-Soviet naval exercises, which took place in August 2000, the Pyotr Veliky was the designated target of the doomed Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank after a torpedo explosion onboard, killing all 118 members of its crew, and constituting President Vladimir Putin’s first clash with national media.

The Pyotr Veliky guarded the area where the submarine sank during the subsequent salvage operation in 2001.

In March 2004, the Pyotr Veliky narrowly avoided scrapping by then Russian Navy Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov because of problems with the ship’s engineering maintenance, the Associated Press reported under the headline “Nuclear battle cruiser ‘in danger of exploding.’”

Kuroyedov told the agency the Pyotr Veliky had been badly maintained and could “explode any moment”, adding that “it’s especially dangerous because it has a nuclear reactor.”

The enormous battle cruiser was put in dry dock in April 2004 for repairs to its steering system, and a paint job for the underside of its hull. By August of the same year, it was sailing again.

Since, it has played an important symbolic role in Russia’s Arctic interests. In early September 2013, it led a flotilla of Russian navy ships through the Russian portion of the Northern Sea Route in preparation for establishment of regular patrols, The New York Times reported.

Charles Digges