Why Russia's new missile ships aren't really all that powerful
A new ballistic missile submarine wasn't the only new vessel the Russian Navy got this November.
The new Karakurt-class corvette — dubbed "Typhoon" — was launched at the Pella shipyard in St. Petersburg Nov. 24, after a short ceremony.
The Typhoon, only the second Karakurt-class corvette made so far, is the latest example of the Russian Navy's increased reliance on small and heavily armed ships that can carry a massive payload of missiles. Russia plans to make 18 Karakurt-class corvettes in total.
The small vessels, comparable to the US Navy's littoral combat ships, and known in the naval world as corvettes, were originally designed for use in the littoral zone, the area of water close to the shore. As such, the corvettes are much smaller than the frigates and destroyers that are the traditional focus of navies around the world.
Russia, however, has always had difficulty competing with its rivals in this regard, and now seems to have turned to smaller vessels. Russia used its corvettes for missile strikes on targets deep inside Syria, proving that corvettes are just as capable and threatening as their bigger naval brethren.
What makes the Karakurt-class so potentially dangerous is the fact that it is a much more improved version of Russia's previous corvettes.
The Karakurt-class corvettes have a displacement of only 800 tons (compared to over 900 for Russia's Buyan-M class), can operate in the deep sea for fifteen days, has an operational range of 2,500 nautical miles, and has stealth technology that will make it even harder for potential enemies to target, given their small size.
But it's the Karakurt-class' armament that makes the threat so apparent. It is equipped with eight vertical launching systems that can carry either supersonic P-800 Oniks anti-ship missiles or Kalibr-NK cruise missiles.
The Kalibr-NK missile has a range of 2,500 kilometers (approximately 1,553 miles), while the p-800 Oniks has a range of 500 kilometers (approximately 310 miles). The Kalibr-NK was the missile used against ISIS targets deep inside Syria.
The ship also has an AK-176MA 76.2mm automatic gun in the front, capable of firing 150 rounds per minute, and can engage targets as far away as 15km.
In terms of anti-air defenses, the Karakurt is equipped with a naval version of Russia's Pantsir-S1, called the Pantsir-M. It is a combined surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system that can shoot down targets up to 20km away.
In essence, the Russians seem to have created a small ship that is as fast as a destroyer and just as capable, but smaller.
However, the Karakurt-class may not be the thing that keeps NATO commanders awake at night.
Michael Kofman, a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses specializing in Russian military affairs, told Business Insider that although the corvette is very capable, its threat level "must be placed in perspective."
"Russia and NATO are, in some respects, on the same team when it comes to over-blowing Russian military capabilities and engaging in a bit of threat inflationism," Kofman said in an email.
"It is true the corvettes can hold most of Europe at risk with cruise missiles," Kofman said. "But conventional cruise missiles don't do all that much and it would take quite a few corvettes to equal the strike power of even a single US destroyer."
The guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) arrives at its new homeport in San Diego. Zumwalt, the Navy's most technologically advanced surface ship, will now begin installation of combat systems, testing and evaluation, and operation integration with the fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Emiline L. M. Senn)
Kofman also notes that despite its stealth technology and increased seafaring capabilities, it still has lower endurance and survivability in comparison to other vessels, making the Karakurt not cost-effective for any type of ground-attack role.
Rather, the corvette is most likely to excel in an anti-ship role. "It is more than likely intended to venture out and fire salvos at enemy surface action groups or carrier strike groups should they get near Russian maritime approaches," Kofman said.
However, he said that despite this, the Karakurt-class corvette is a good investment for Russia, saying that "it is an effective platform for fielding long-range, anti-ship weapons, and thus deterring in conflict NATO or US forces."