Russia’s Karakurt-Class Corvette, a Primer – Amidst the war raging in Ukraine, NATO member states and newly-minted NATO-applicants, Sweden and Finland, are conducting the annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS 22) naval exercises in the Baltic Sea region. Formally hosted in Stockholm, Sweden, the drills include the participation of sixteen countries, over 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft and 7,500 personnel.
And, unsurprisingly, the exercises seem to have drawn the attention of fellow Baltic Sea power, Russia. As the first sea portions of the exercises began, reports emerged that a pair of Russian Navy Karakurt-class corvettes were spotted off the coast of Sweden near Stockholm tracking NATO and allied ships as they set sail for the Baltic.
Though this is certainly not the first time Russian warships have monitored and tracked BALTOPS exercises, it demonstrates the additional capabilities the Russian Navy has invested in with its new series of corvettes.
Designed in St. Petersburg by Almaz Central Marine Design Bureau, these “green water” littoral ships were designed to complement the Russian Navy’s modernized Buyan-M corvettes. Both the modernized Buyan-Ms and the Karakurt-class are part of Russia’s plan to replace its heavy and ageing fleet with faster, smaller, and nimbler seacraft
The Karakurt is powered by twin M-507D-1 diesel engines and has a top speed of 35 knots, range of 2,500 nautical miles and endurance of 12-15 days. It is capable of firing P-800 Oniks anti-ship missiles and Kalibr cruise missiles out of its eight vertical launching cells. Its Pantsir-M surface-to-air (SAM) system is believed to be effective against certain aircraft and both anti-ship and cruise missiles. Notably, it can engage up to four targets at a range of up 20 kilometers.
In addition, reporting suggests that the Russian Navy may be exploring the feasibility of adding the 3M22 Zircon hypersonic cruise missile.
This corvette’s air defenses are rounded out by two six-barrel 30-millimeter automatic guns able to engage targets as far as four kilometers away. A 76.2-millimeter AK-176MA automatic dual-purpose gun rounds out the ship’s firepower.
Russia has said that it expects as many as eighteen of the new Karakurt-class corvettes to be ready by the mid-2020’s. Though it is unclear how new international sanctions since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine will affect this timeline, Russia has made fairly good progress on its shipbuilding goals prior to the beginning of hostilities, producing six new corvettes, many currently in service. These ships will be split between Russia’s Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea fleets.
The Karakurt-class’ threat to adversaries and would-be adversaries is twofold. First, the ship is flexible. It is not just intended to strike surface ships, but is also fit for engaging coastal targets. The range on its cruise missiles has been demonstrated by its ability to hit, from the Mediterranean, ISIS targets deep in Syria. Additionally, as former chief of staff of the Russian Navy, Admiral Valentin Selivanov, has said, corvettes ideally operate from an ambush situation; they sail quickly and stealthily out of a bay, fire a salvo of Kalibr missiles, then hide.
RECOMMENDED: The B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Is A Beast
RECOMMENDED: Why No Battleship Was Better Than the Iowa-class
Still, as Russian military analyst, Michael Kofman, has noted in the past, “It is true the corvettes can hold most of Europe at risk with cruise missiles. But conventional cruise missiles don’t do all that much and it would take quite a few corvettes to equal the strike power of even a single US destroyer.”
Until those “quite a few corvettes” arrive, it seems the Karakurt-class will remain committed to low-scale attacks and shadowing NATO-allied naval exercises.
Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review