Since 1980, and as 2016, the missile cruisers of the Kirov class are the largest cruisers in the world and the largest vessels in the Russian Navy, with the exception of the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. So much that they were referred as battlecruisers, a term created during the First World War to designate those warships that were so heavily armed as battleships (and often larger than them) but designed with a lighter armor scheme.

The advent of the modern fast battleship caused the obsolescency of battlecruisers during the 1930s. However the battleship concept was outdated as well and after the Second World War none of both types would be built again. When the cruiser Kirov was seen for the first time she forcibly had to cause a strong impression, quickly earning her such classification. And curiously, the resurrection of the battlecruiser concept brought with itself the last apparition in the scene of the American battleships of the Iowa class.

The Kirov entered service in 1980 and successively other three similar units would enter service: the Frunze in 1984, the Kalinin in 1988 and the Yury Andropov in 1998, while a fifth unit was cancelled in 1990. These ships would be later renamed as Admiral Ushakov, Admiral Lazarev, Admiral Nakhimov and Pyotr Velikiy, respectively. Gifted with nuclear propulsion and heavy guided armament, these units were designed to provide protection against aerial, surface and submarine threats equally.

As 2016 only one of the ships, Pyotr Velikiy, remains in service. The ex Kirov and ex Frunze have been for long years on the reserve and their fate is uncertain, not surprising considering that we are talking about Russian military material. It is suppossed that the older ship is in severe risk of being scrapped, but this could change unexpectedly considering the material and even moral value of these units.

For the third ship of the class, ex Kalinin, it was started a modernization program of also uncertain conclusion, due to the high costs that such a project generates. It is known that the antiship and antiaircraft missile systems shall be upgraded but there are also other key aspects that could be improved, for they constitute weak points in a modern warship: the absence of an array radar system to match the American AEGIS system, and the high radar signature that these large and structurally complex ships perforce have.

Kirov battlecruiser plans
1 - Helicopter pad :: 2 - Elevator :: 3 - Cargo ports for torpedo tubes :: 4 - AK-630 CIWS mountings :: 5 - AK-100 cannon mountings :: 6 - Command post for helicopters :: 7 - RBU-6000 ASW rocket launcher :: 8 - Fore command bridge :: 9 - SA-N-4 surface-to-air missile pop-up launchers :: 10 - SS-N-19 SSM vertical launchers :: 11 - SA-N-6 SAM vertical launchers :: 12 - Twin SS-N-14 ASW/SSM launcher :: 13 - Decoy launchers :: 14 - Surveillance radars

The two photographs below were taken onboard the Kirov. The first one allows to appreciate the numerous elements that tipically crowd the superstructures of Soviet/Russian warships. The second one shows two of the eight AK-630 Close-In Weapon System mountings installed on this ship (her sisters were fitted with only four CIWS mountings). The Russian Navy has been replacing the AK-630 by the hybrid system Kashtan for years but the AK-630 can still be found as a complement of the newer system in such an important ship as the Admiral Kuznetsov is.

Kirov cruiser
Kirov cruiser AK-630 CIWS
The following two photographs correspond to the Frunze, second ship of the class, and were taken circa 1985. This ship introduced upgrades in electronic systems, including antennas for satellite communications. These are much less vulnerable to interception and perturbation and allow greater data volumes than the terrestrial HF links. Also, from this ship, the two AK-100 cannon mountings were replaced by one AK-130, and the four AK-630 mountings astern were replaced by additional vertical launchers for the antiaircraft missile SA-N-8.

Kirov class battlecruiser Frunze
Kirov class battlecruiser Frunze
The ships of the Kirov class have an overall length of 248 meters, a beam of 28 meters and a draft of 8.8 meters. It is notorious the height of the main "mast", allowing the three-dimensional surveillance radar to scan the surroundings at about 50 meters above water level. The displacement of these ships reaches 24300 tonnes at standard load and 28000 tonnes at full load. As any modern warship, they are practically unarmored, including only 76-millimeter plating around the nuclear reactor compartment and splinter protection distributed along the ship.

The propulsion plant comprises two nuclear reactors and two steam turbines actuating on two shafts. But there are as well two conventional boilers to serve as a backup in case of reactor failure. The total output delivered is 140000 shaft horsepower, which allows for a maximum speed of 33 knots. Operational range is about 3000 nautical miles (5556 kilometers) at 30 knots if using conventional propulsion, while it reached 150000 nautical miles (277800 kilometers) at 25 knots if using nuclear power (this with the original reactors). Finally, the complement is around 760 people (estimated in 900 in the early 1980s).

The following photographs of the Frunze were taken as very late in 1992, for in that year she was renamed. Note the rusty condition of the hull as well.

Kirov class battlecruiser Frunze
Kirov class battlecruiser Frunze
Kirov class battlecruiser Frunze
In the next page we will see some information about the armament present on these ships and some pictures of the Pyotr Velikiy, last ship of the class and currently in active service.

~ Kirov Class Battlecruisers (II) ~

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