By Ilya Kramnik
The Russian and Ukrainian presidents have agreed that Russia will help Ukraine complete the building of the guided missile cruiser Ukraina, which has been docked unfinished at the Nikolayev (Mykolaiv) shipyard in Ukraine.
The question right now is, what fate does the future hold for this cruiser, the last commissioned unit of a class of warships known as Project 1164, and, in particular, who will the ship ultimately belong to?
The fourth Project 1164 class cruiser (the class is also referred to as Slava, by the name of its initial ship) was laid down in 1984 as Admiral Lobov. Under the project, its missiles were designed for use against high-survivability warships accompanied by auxiliary vessels with air and missile defense weapons systems.
It was to be supplied to the Russian navy in 1990, but construction slowed down in the late 1980s after the Soviet Union cut its military spending. The vessel was eventually launched in August 1990, but was in practice only 95% complete, lacking some non-essential equipment and weapons.
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the cruiser was turned over to Ukraine, which had no money for completing it, and renamed Ukraina. At first, the Russian navy could not buy it, and later, the deal was prevented by political differences between the two countries.
Neither could the warship be sold to China or India because its weapons, in particular the Bazalt/Vulkan (SS-N-12 Sandbox) missile system with a range of 1,000 km (622 miles), could not be exported as exceeding the 300-km (186-mile) international range limit on exported missiles.
When Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election in Ukraine last year, and a change in the political climate ensued, the two countries resumed talks on the completion of the cruiser for the Russian navy. However, the problem is it cannot be completed according to the initial design because the equipment created in the 1970s and 1980s is no longer produced.
In fact, the idea is to undertake an extensive overhaul to modernize the ship and arm it with modern weapons systems. Besides, the equipment mounted on the cruiser needs to be repaired or replaced after its long stay in the dock.
Most importantly, considering Russia’s serious need for large modern warships, it could actually buy the cruiser Ukraina (and possibly rename it again). A modernized cruiser armed with a modern combat command and control system, a multipurpose shipboard fire-control system and sonar equipment would be among the world’s most powerful and effective warships, if supported by the new-generation corvettes and frigates that are being built for the Russian navy, against any enemy. And if the modernization of the cruiser Ukraina proves a success, it could also be used on the other Project 1164 ships – Moskva, Marshal Ustinov and Varyag.
The cruiser Ukraina has a firepower second only to the Project 1144 heavy missile cruisers, such as Pyotr Veliky, currently the only ship of this class on combat duty. Its foreign analogue is the Ticonderoga class of missile cruisers (22), which have better electronic and air defense systems, but a weaker anti-ship capability.
An upgrade of the Project 1164 cruisers, with installation of new combat command and control systems and replacement of the S-300F Fort missile systems with new-generation weapons, would ensure them superior firepower compared to their main rivals.
However, even the best warships are not fully effective without a sufficient number of escort and auxiliary vessels, a coastal infrastructure and trained personnel. And they will be even less effective in the absence of a clear short- and medium-term naval strategy.
The Russian authorities are yet to prove that they are aware of this.
(Slava class cruisers were designed as surface strike ships with an anti-aircraft and ASW capability. They carry 16 SS-N-12 Sandbox nuclear-capable supersonic anti-ship missiles, with launchers mounted in four pairs on either side of the superstructure. Russia has three Slava class cruisers in service with its Navy.)
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti, where this article was published.