Last week the Russian Navy began sea trials on the missile corvette Uragan. That reports the Pella Shipyard in a press release. This is the first ship of the Karakurt-class, so I thought it would be a good occasion to look closer at this quite interesting new ship.
Uragan is built in Saint Petersburg, and after completed sea trials it will serve in the Baltic Fleet. The sea trials will take place in the Baltic and in the White Sea. Overall, Russia plans to build 18 of these ships for use in all the country’s different fleets, so it is a program with a fair deal of commitment from the navy.
The Karakurt-class has the speed of a destroyer, the dimensions of a corvette, the firepower of a cruiser, and the silence of a submarine. At least that was the grandiose description that RIA Novosti made last year when the second ship Taifun was launched. Obviously, this is hyperbole, but it quite accurately encompasses what Russia is trying to do with the ship. They want to strike a balance where they get a lot of power in a platform that they can afford to mass produce and sustain.
The ship is not very big. At only 800 tons and 67 meters it obviously is no frigate. They are also less than half the size of the Steregushchiy-class corvettes, which hit a size-point that I am personally enthusiastic about. But the Karakurt-class does have an impressive weapons package, which makes it an aggressive opponent to deal with. It can carry up to eight Kalibr land attack missiles with a range up to 2500 kilometers or P-800 Oniks anti-ship missiles with a range of about 600 kilometers. And of course one should not forget that the Kalibr missile can carry a nuclear warhead. Karakurt literally is the name of the European black widow, and it seems fitting for the ship to carry the tag of a small spider with a deadly bite.
Fixes the shortcomings of the Buyan-M class
It is hard to talk about the Karakurt-class without comparing it to the Buyan-M class. The Russian Baltic Fleet currently has two ships of the Buyan-M class, namely Zelenyy Dol and Serpukhov.
Ostensibly, the two classes seem very similar. Both are newly designed corvettes with Kalibr missiles and approximately the same size and speed. But there are significant differences, and Karakurt is designed specifically to address some of the shortcomings of Buyan-M.
To understand the differences, it can be useful to start with the old categories of blue-water, green-water, and brown-water navies. Blue-water warfare is operations on the big oceans, green-water navies operate in the littoral areas, and brown-water operations refer to riverine warfare. The Buyan-M class is essentially a green-water ship that was designed to be brown-water capable. It can operate on the rivers and transit into the Caspian Sea. But ship design is largely about trade offs. As Russia experienced, the riverine qualities of Buyan-M significantly impaired the ship’s qualities in open waters. With a draft of only 2.6 meters, the center of gravity will be placed high in the ship, so it will be prone to forceful movements in the waves.
The Karakurt-class is built specifically to address this problem. It has a larger draft of 4 meters, and it is 150 tons smaller than Buyan-M (800 tons compared to 950 tons). As a result it is possible to lower the center of gravity significantly. This gives the Karakurt-class much better abilities in rough sea. It is still a small ship, but it will handle green-water operations much better than Buyan-M. It will also be able to transit between operation areas more flexibly. To further facilitate longer operations, Karakurt carries provisions for 15 days at sea, while Buyan-M only can stay out for 10 days.
Another big difference between Buyan-M and Karakurt is the air defense systems. Buyan-M is essentially designed to operate close to land under the umbrella of land-based air defense systems. It has a single AK-630M-2 “Duet” close-in weapons gun as its only defense against airborne threats. From the start, Karakurt will be equipped with two of these CIWS, but beginning with the third ship in the class, it will have the brand new and highly capable Pantsir-M medium range combined missile and gun system.
The developments in long-range missile technology mean that the Karakurt-class can project power well into the blue-water zone. A ship in the Baltic Sea will be able to conduct precision strikes in Madrid with Kalibr missiles, or they can threaten a ship in the North Sea with Oniks missiles. And every one of these ships must be treated as a potential launcher for nuclear missiles, which gives them a strategic significance in themselves.
The Karakurt-class will not give Russia a blue-water navy. They are too small for that, and they do not have the endurance for sustained operations. But they will give a potent lift to the country’s green-water capabilities.