A couple of interesting bits of news have come out about the future of Russia’s frigate development. The first one is the news that they are working on a next generation Kalibr missile. The story was reported by TASS, and it received quite some attention in the West. The new version will be called Kalibr-M, and it will presumably be a lot bigger than the current version of Kalibr. The range of the missile will exceed 4500 kilometers, and it will carry a much larger warhead of about one ton. Both range and payload are about the double compared to the present Kalibr missile.
The story is not confirmed by official sources, but it seems plausible that Russia would develop a larger Kalibr missile with a longer range. It also seems like a technically manageable task. Especially the longer range makes sense, because it gives more flexibility that you can launch missiles at greater distances. I’m not convinced that Russia really needs a missile with a larger warhead. Frankly they probably rather need one with a smaller payload so they can enjoy the benefits of precision bombing. But it does seem possible that Russia would move in the direction of larger warheads just because it sounds like the more terrifying thing to do. Like its smaller predecessor, Kalibr-M will be able to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. It is unclear when Kalibr-M will be ready for deployment but it is part of the 2027 state armament program, so probably before then.
The larger Kalibr-M missile will not fit the present Kalibr launchers, so not all ships will be fitted for it. It is intended for the larger surface ships and nuclear submarines. The first ships to be equipped with Kalibr-M will be frigates.1
And that leads us to the other frigate related news. This is all related to the Admiral Gorshkov class frigates. This project 22350 class of ship was designed in the early 2000’s and was intended for mass production of at least 30 units. That number was later reduced to eight, then six, and finally four. Admiral Gorshkov was delivered this summer, and the second in class, Admiral Kasatonov just finished the first stage of sea trials. The third ship Admiral Golovko and fourth ship Admiral Isakov are expected by 2022. The news here is that future ships will be equipped with an additional missile launcher which will increase the capacity from 16 to 24 Kalibr or Oniks missiles. It is not entirely clear whether any of the already planned ships will get the upgrade, or if it only concerns possible additional ships. But it is interesting that they work in this direction. I would expect these ships to have some flexibility so the 24 missiles could eventually be the larger Kalibr-M type.
And then rumors have started emerging about the future of Russia’s frigate development program. Some high-ranking sources tell flotprom.ru that the Defense Ministry is looking seriously into the possibility of building two more Gorshkov-class frigates, but that would apparently require a loan to secure the finances. And simultaneously, the Severnoye Design Bureau has received a contract on the design of a larger ship based on the Admiral Gorshkov class. This new ship is called project 22350M, and it will supposedly have a displacement of around 8000 tons, which is substantially larger than 5000 tons of the present Gorshkov-class. So aptly the class has been dubbed the Super-Gorshkov by the Russian military press.
Apparently Severnoye Design Bureau has until the end of the year to finish the work. So it seems like 2019 will be an interesting year where Russia will have to make some decisions about whether to build more of the existing Gorshkov-class ships with an extra missile launcher or to bet on the Super-Gorshkov. Because they can hardly afford both.