Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Is Project 22160 Russian Navy's LCS?

I will not lie, I accepted the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ships program from the get go--the concept seemed sound and technological approaches seemed reasonable. Knowing late Admiral Cebrowski's views on real naval combat, hence Street Fighter Program, from which LCS evolved, and purely out of aesthetic reasons, I thought that LCS were great ships. That is until the whole program turned into the unmitigated disaster. The warning signs for "littorals" were already in place from the inception and the major of them was the fact that for a ship, however handsome, which reached 3500 tons of displacement LCS carried only 57-mm gun and some 3 (yes, three) mile-range anti-whatever missile. Of course, the real kick of LCS was its modular design which was supposed to provide different mission modules but for a ship with a price tag around $ 400 million the whole notion of going into the enemy's littoral and not being armed properly seemed rather suicidal. 
Yes, LCS-1 are handsome and fast boats.

It also seemed very outdated and very... American. Only in 2014, after several public scandals, US Navy decided to review a possibility of installing anti-shipping cruise missiles on these ships. Is it the case of "better late than never" or is it the case of trying to revive a lifeless body, I don't know. There was, however, one thing about LCS which greatly attracted Russian Navy--it was modularity of what Russians define as general purpose patrol ships. This is how Patrol Ship of Project 22160 evolved in what it is today. With the fourth hull of 22160 being laid down in 2016, the actual mission "packages", or armament, of these ships remain somewhat of a mystery. 

For starters, while not as intense as LCS discussions in the US, 22160s are not without controversy in Russia. The main point of contention being their mission (or lack thereof, depending on POV), the secondary point being Russian Navy going, as in Soviet times, for multi-type menagerie of combat ship, especially at the (perceived) expense of large combatants. I will express my personal point of view--I think both points are not valid at all. 

1. If to believe what goes around in open media, these 1,500 ton displacing ships will be able to carry either containers or have UKSK VLS. There is also the talk that these ships could be fitted with Shtil Air-Defense system. Of course, recent naval trials of Tor-M1 system and upcoming navalized Pantsir do create a range of options for 22160s. If that is the case, then 22160s, apart from general patrol duties, including anti-piracy operations, will pack a serious SuWA punch and that is how Russians like their ships--with long-range anti-shipping and land attack cruise missiles. Here is a Distributed Lethality 101. 

2. The issue of finding a mission is not an issue at all. From Somali anti-piracy operations, to providing escorts, to aiding Russia's Coast Guard in guarding littoral, and, finally, providing for additional weight of anti-shipping missile salvo--there are many roles which 6 (planned) of those ships can play. They are littoral combat ships which can defend themselves both in domestic and adversarial littorals.

First 22160 at Zelenodolsk Shipyard
22160 Model

So, will these ships become Russia's "LCS" or will they turn out to be useful general purpose combatants capable of bringing a gun to a knife fight? I don't know yet, but, yet again, I like the concept and Russians certainly have a history of creating real "street fighters" in their navy.    

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