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Russia planning world’s largest aircraft carrier – to be ready when they may no longer be needed

Just how relevant aircraft carriers will be in 2030 depends on aircraft range and the range of offensive weapons

(NationalSentinelDefense: The Russian government has announced it plans to get back into the business of building aircraft carriers for its navy.

Only, the Kremlin’s not just planning to build those smallish, jump-deck-style carriers it used to build and which China is now building. No.

Nothing short of the biggest carrier on the high seas will do for Mother Russia. As the UK’s Daily Mail reports:

Russia has announced plans to build ‘the world’s biggest aircraft carrier’ to take on America’s Nimitz class ships.

The new Shtorm craft, known as Project 23E000E, could cost up to $17.5 billion each and enter service by 2030, state media reports.

Shtorm class carries would be powered by nuclear reactors and carry up to 90 aircraft, including the newly designed T-50, the report claims.

The T-50 is a Russian stealth fighter currently under development. CNN reported in December the plane is a single-seater built by Sukhoi and will undergo trials sometime this year.

Russia is billing the carrier as a super-super carrier, but experts say its design is close to that of U.S. Nimitz-class ships.

But the thing is, how relevant will aircraft carriers be in 2030? While most naval experts in the past never thought they’d see the end of the battleship, it came nonetheless because modern technology – warfare by long-range missiles – made guns obsolete.

Already U.S. naval experts are wondering if American carriers are reaching the limits of their capabilities, given the advances in long-range missile technology. The National Interest reported last year:

If the United States Navy is either unwilling or unable to conceptualize a carrier air wing that can fight on the first day of a high-end conflict, then the question becomes: Why should the American taxpayer shell out $13 billion for a Ford-class carrier?

That’s the potent question being raised by naval analysts in Washington—noting that there are many options that the Navy could pursue including a stealthy new long-range, carrier-based unmanned combat aircraft or a much heavier investment in submarines. However, the current short-range Boeing F/A-18 Hornet-based air wing is not likely to be sufficient in the 2030s even with the addition of the longer ranged Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.

“If these carriers can’t do that first day lethal strike mission inside an A2/AD bubble, why are we paying $13 billion dollars for them?” asks Jerry Hendrix, director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security, during an interview with The National Interest. “There are people making that statement: ‘it’s not our job on day one’—they can say there are all these other missions—presence and show-the-flag—but if that’s where they fit, their price ought to be scaled to that.”

Moscow may be planning to outfit its new carriers with the kind of longer-range aircraft U.S.-based naval experts say is needed to counter long-range anti-ship weapons. But even then, will technology make these floating airports much less relevant, and even obsolete, though expensive, targets?

As for the U.S. Navy, experts see utility for aircraft carriers well into the future, but it won’t be solved by a one-size-fits-all aircraft like the F-35. Rather, they say the Navy ought to be developing its own specific, mission-based unmanned long-range strike aircraft that can still do the job without putting massive naval assets in range of enemy weapons.

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