Meet Russia’s Kirov-Class Battlecruiser – For the first time since the Cold War, Russia’s Northern Fleet has set sail armed to the teeth with tactical nuclear weaponry.
Since Moscow’s conventional military strength has largely deteriorated throughout its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin could be using its supply of tactical nuclear weapons to intimidate the U.S. and other adversaries.
The flagship of Russia’s Northern Fleet is a Kirov-class battleship cruiser dubbed The Pyotr Velikiy.
Not only is this vessel the largest and heaviest surface combatant warship in operation across the globe, but it is also Russia’s sole remaining active battlecruiser.
What Happened to Russia’s Four Battlecruisers?
Designated in the Soviet Union as a “heavy nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser,” the Kirov class ships are second in size only to large aircraft carriers.
These massive vessels were built to counter U.S. aircraft carriers in the mid-1970s by the Baltic Shipyard in Saint Petersburg.
While four cruisers were originally constructed, only two survived the dissolution of the USSR and the financial woes of the Russian Navy.
Today, only Pyotr Velikhiy remains in active service. Admiral Nakhimov, the third vessel to be commissioned by the Russian Navy, has been permanently docked in Sevmash for a decade undergoing perpetual repairs.
While the vessel could return to the seas this year, its imminent reentrance to service seems very unlikely considering the Navy’s history of “very slow” boat repairs.
The Kirov-Class Pre- and Post-Cold War
The battlecruisers were not originally constructed to function as missile cruisers. During the 1970s, the Soviet government wanted the ships to prioritize anti-submarine warfare by sporting a large variety of SS-N-14 missiles and torpedoes.
Over the years, the battlecruisers were supposed to operate alongside the Navy’s new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
However, these advanced carriers were never developed. The battlecruisers were outfitted with an array of fire control radar, air/surface search radar, and hull-mounted sonar.
As detailed in an earlier 19FortyFive piece, “The propulsion system was a combination of nuclear power and steam turbine, with two nuclear reactors coupled to two oil-fitted boilers, which superheated the steam produced in the reactor plant to increase the power output available during high-speed running, while it also provided an essentially unlimited range.”
Kirov-class vessels are roughly 830 feet long and can displace 28,000 tons of steam while fully loaded.
Today, the Pyotr sports the Granit (NATO designation SS-N-19 Shipwreck) long-range anti-ship missile system.
Additionally, the battlecruiser features an S-300F air defense missile complex with a dozen launchers and 96 vertical-launch air defense missiles.
A 130mm Ak-130 twin-barrel gun and an AK-630 artillery system are also installed on the Kirov-class ships.
While the vessel’s purpose has evolved since its original conception, anti-submarine warfare continues to play a role in its makeup.
Although the Kirov-class battlecruisers pack a huge punch, delayed re-fits and pricey maintenance costs prevent the ships from living up to their potential.
The suspect movement of Russia’s Northern Fleet is likely tied to the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts and not indicative of a potential offensive strike.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.