Russia — the country that's failed to build its super carrier and any meaningful amount of its newest jets or tanks — is now claiming that it's going to build the world's first catamaran aircraft carrier, a vessel that would carry an air wing while suffering less drag and costing less than other carriers.
While this effort will likely suffer from the same problems that prevented the construction of the super carrier, it's still a revolutionary design that's generating a lot of buzz.
The U.S. has purchased and leased some catamaran ships, but nothing nearly the size of the proposed Russian aircraft carrier. The HSV 2 in the photo has a displacement of less than 5 percent the size of the Russian design.
So, first, let's explore the highlights. Catamarans are multi-hulled vessels with the hulls in parallel. If you're unfamiliar, that basically means that if you look at the vessel from the front, you can see a gap right down the middle of the hull near the waterline. The Russian vessel would be a semi-catamaran, so there would be a gap, but it would be beneath the waterline.
This greatly reduces drag and makes the vessel more stable while turning, but also reduces the amount of space below the waterline for aircraft storage, living spaces, and so forth.
The proposed design would be a 40,000 to 45,000-ton displacement ship, similar to American Landing Helicopter Assault ships, vessels that would've been called escort carriers in World War II. This puts it at a fraction of the size of America's Ford-class carriers, which displace nearly 100,000 tons.
Russia's only current carrier is the Admiral Kuznetsov, and it's less than impressive.
(U.S. Defense Department)
But it would still carry a healthy complement of aircraft, up to 46, including early warning aircraft and helicopters. That's a far cry from the Ford's 75 aircraft, but a pretty nice upgrade over the LHAs' 30+ aircraft.
The catamaran would have an 8,000-mile endurance, anti-torpedo and anti-aircraft defenses, electronic warfare systems, and four bomb launchers.
All-in-all, that could make for an effective and affordable aircraft carrier. So, will Russia be able to crank this ship out, maybe clone it a couple of times, and become the effective master of the seas?
Well, no. Almost certainly not. First, Russia has the same spending problem it had when it threw a hissy fit after France cancelled the delivery of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Russia responded with designs for the Storm Supercarrier, a ship larger than America's Ford-class.
Most defense experts at the time weren't very worried, and we shouldn't be now. Russia has few personnel with experience building ships of this size. That's actually why they wanted to buy the Mistral class in the first place — and the Mistral is half the size of this proposed catamaran.
The Soviet Union constructed the bulk of its ships in areas that broke away when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many were built in Ukraine, which now has a troubled relationship with Russia (to put it mildly). Russia lacks the facilities and personnel for such construction.
The PAK-FA/Su-57 is seemingly a capable fighter despite issues with its engines and other developmental hangups, but Russia simply can't afford to buy them, or to buy a catamaran carrier.
Infographic from Anton Egorov of Infographicposter.com
And then there's the money. Russia designed a reasonably modern and well-received tank in the T-14 and a good fighter in the PAK-FA, but they couldn't build many of them because oil, currently, is way too cheap. Russia's economy is relatively small — actually smaller than that of Texas or California — and it's heavily reliant on oil sales.
And then there are the glaring flaws of the design. While the catamaran has the advantages mentioned above, it would have serious trouble moving in rough seas, as catamarans have a tendency to dig their bows into waves in rough conditions — and taking waves from the side would likely be even worse.
Someone may build a catamaran carrier one day, but it won't be Russia. So, for now, just check out the model and think about how cool it is. But don't expect to see this thing at sea. Russia will have to just keep making due with the leaky, poop-filled, unreliable Admiral Kuznetsov.