Kiev class

The ships of the Kiev class were the aircraft carriers "par excellence" of the Soviet Navy, the first and only ones that operated with fixed-wing aircraft therein. The first of these ships, named Kiev, was launched the 26th December 1972 and commissioned the 28th December 1975. Successively would enter service her sisters Minsk (1978), Novorossiysk (1982) and Baku (1987), being this latter a more advanced ship that her predecessors, as we will see further on. These were awesome ships but their fate was not brilliant.

The Kiev was sold in 1993 to China, where she became a thematic park. The Minsk was sold in 1995 to a South Korean businessman who in turn resold her to a Chinese company, which has been since then using her as another thematic park, with irregular success, it seems. The Novorossiysk was the most unfortunate unit; she suffered serious damage because of a fire in the engine room, being sold for scrap in 1995 and finally broken up in 1997 in South Korea. The Baku, which had been renamed Admiral Gorshkov in 1991, was sold in 1995 to India; after a deep modernization effectuated in Russia, on which she was rebuilt with a full flight deck as in the Tbilisi class, she became the new aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy, INS Vikramaditya.

Early photographs of these ships are not abundant and their quality range from modest to really poor. The two images below show the Kiev. The upper one is very rare to find and probably older, since the helicopters carried are Ka-25; a peculiarity is the very worn appearance of the flight deck, which would be usually painted in a more or less vivid greenish color. The lower image shows the same ship navigating the Eastern Atlantic after her refit of 1982, now equipped with the newer Ka-27 and new barriers to reduce flight deck turbulences.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Kiev
Kiev class aircraft carrier Kiev, 1982
Note: blueprints of the Kiev are available in the Illustration Gallery.

The ships of the Kiev class can be classified as well as antisubmarine cruisers, being the aircraft carrier role rather secondary, since they usually operated a larger number of antisubmarine helicopters than that of fixed-wing aircraft. They were fitted with a powerful arsenal of weapons, effectively covering the antisubmarine, antiship and antiaircraft aspects of modern warfare. The heavy armament installed on the Kiev class could be compared to that found on large missile cruisers like those of the Slava and Kirov classes.

The most prominent weapon was represented by four large twin containers installed in the foredeck, for the surface-to-surface cruise missile SS-N-12 "Sandbox", able to hit any surface target on a radius of 550-700 kilometers, and specially intended against large ships, being their primary target the huge American aircraft carriers, which should be neutralized with a single impact from such monstrous missiles.

Before and after the large superstructure were installed two AK-726 76.2-millimeter twin cannon mountings, useful to attack light ships or slow low-flying aircraft. The antiaircraft armament properly said comprised two twin launchers for the surface-to-air missile SA-N-3 "Goblet" and two pop-up twin launchers for the surface-to-air missile SA-N-4 "Gecko". The antimissile defense comprised eight AK-630 CIWS 30-millimeter cannons, installed two before the bridge, two before the angled deck and four astern.

In front of the fore cannon mounting was installed a unique weapon system, a twin launcher SUW-N-1 for the antisubmarine missile FRAS-1. This weapon, which ended its operative life with the fall of the Soviet Union, was controversial, for it could be fitted with a nuclear warhead and required mid-course guidance from a helicopter during its flight towards the target, with the consequences that this could have on the helicopter crew. The rest of the antisubmarine armament comprised two antisubmarine rocket launchers RBU-6000, two quintuple launchers for 533-millimeter torpedoes and the many helicopters onboard.

The rare photograph below, from 1984, shows many details on the prow of the Minsk, even if it has not much quality. Note the rails to transport ammunitions and the chaff launchers placed between the two antisubmarine launchers. The second photograph shows the Minsk in 1983.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Minsk, 1984
Kiev class aircraft carrier Minsk, 1983
The air wing comprised up to 30 aircraft, usually a mixture of VTOL fighters Yakovlev Yak-38 and antisubmarine/rescue helicopters Kamov Ka-25/27. These helicopters were also essential for the long-range guidance of the antiship missile SS-N-12, using a real-time data link to provide over-the-horizon targetting and mid-course guidance. The flight deck was communicated with the hangar by means of two elevators.

Note: the Yak-38 was projected for being a V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft but this was not effectively achieved, so it remained simply as a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft.

The ships of the Kiev class have an overall length of 273 meters, a beam of 32.6 meters in the hull, reaching 53 meters in the flight deck, and a normal draft of 9.5 meters, which reached 12 meters at full load. Standard displacement was 36000 tonnes on the Kiev, Minsk and Novorossiysk, reaching 43500 tonnes at full load. The more modern Baku had a higher displacement, ranging from 38000 to 45500 tonnes. The complement was around 2000 people, being 430 of them personnel of the air wing.

The propulsion plant was one of conventional type, comprising eight turbo-pressurized boilers and four steam turbines actuating on four shafts, developing a total output of 200000 shaft horsepower, allowing a maximum speed of 32 knots. Operational range was around 13500 nautical miles (25000 kilometers) navigating at 18 knots.

The photograph below shows the Novorossiysk as she was in 1986, apparently with the deck recently painted. The aircraft in the flight deck are Yak-38 VTOL fighters.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Novorossiysk, 1986

The Baku (or Baku class)

The Baku, fourth unit of the Kiev class, fitted with more sophisticated radars for target acquisition and tracking, was incorporated to the Northern Fleet in 1988. The following photographs were taken in that year (maybe not all of them).

Note: Soviet/Russian vessels are subject to a different identification system than that used in western navies, with numbers that change according to the zone where the ship operates (Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Arctic Sea or Pacific Sea).

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
The armament was deeply revised: the containers for the SS-N-12 were increased from eight to twelve and the two 76-millimeter twin cannon mountings were replaced by two 100-millimeter single mountings, installed both before the superstructure. The twin SA-N-3 launchers were replaced by 24 octuple vertical launchers for the surface-to-air missile SA-N-9 "Gauntlet", placed in the prow and astern, and the SUW-N-1 launcher was suppressed.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
It has been a constant in Soviet aircraft carriers the large projection of the bow, of about 25 meters. This allows to optimize the deck area without further enlarging the hull. The 10-tube antisubmarine mortars RBU-12000 can launch 80-kilogram projectiles to distances of up to 12 kilometers. Next to the containers of the antiship missile SS-N-12 "Sandbox" they can be seen vertical launchers for the supersonic antiaircraft missile SA-N-9 "Gauntlet".

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
Between the two rows of antiship missiles can be seen the railings and the transporter used to reload the containers. Next to the crane, the two 100-millimeter 70-caliber single mountings and behind them four of the eight AK-630 CIWS mountings, all of these elements painted in a darker color. The two structures next to the AK-630 which loosely resemble searchlights are their fire control radars, called "Bass Tilt" in NATO denomination.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
The modified superstructure displayed four planar antennas, which indicated phased-array radars like the SPY-1 used in the AEGIS system, which had entered service in the United States Navy five years before. This new Soviet three-dimensional radar system was denominated "Sky Watch" by the NATO. The huge cylindrical radome, of eight meters in diameter, housed the "Fly Trap/Cake Stand" aircraft control radar. Below this structure they can be seen optronic trackers "Tin Man" and to the left a fire control radar "Cross Sword" for the missiles SA-N-9.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
In the flight deck we can see VTOL fighters Yakovlev Yak-38 and antisubmarine helicopters Kamov Ka-25 and, in the edges, more vertical launchers for the missile SA-N-9 "Gauntlet". Also are visible numerous liferaft containers, which are to be found specially in those vessels whose complement is large; the Baku had 1600 crewmen not including the personnel of the air wing.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
The davits operate simply by the principle of gravity, descending the boats to the sea by means of windlasses. Astern we can see more AK-630 CIWS mountings and their associated fire control radar "Bass Tilt". In the platform behind the radar we can see a twin decoy launcher, a model that appeared in the Moskva class in the early 1970s.

Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku
Kiev class aircraft carrier Baku

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