Key point: Moscow always wanted a large carrier, but never had the funds it needed for such a large project.
Had she ever sailed, the Soviet supercarrier Ulyanovsk would have been a naval behemoth more than 1,000 feet long, with an 85,000-ton displacement and enough storage to carry an air group of up to 70 fixed and rotary wing aircraft.
With a nuclear-powered engine—and working in conjunction with other Soviet surface warfare vessels and submarines—the supercarrier would have steamed through the oceans with a purpose.
Namely, to keep the U.S. Navy away from the Motherland’s shores.
But the Ulyanovsk is a tantalizing “almost” of history. Moscow never finished the project, because it ran out of money. As the Cold War ended, Russia plunged into years of economic hardship that made building new ships impossible.
The Ulyanovsk died in the scrap yards in 1992. But now the Kremlin is spending billions of rubles modernizing its military—and wants a new supercarrier to rival the United States.
Big Goals, Bad Timing:
Builders laid the keel for the Ulyanovsk in 1988, just as the Soviet empire began to break apart. The ship was such a large project that builders wouldn’t have finished her until the mid ’90s.
Construction took place at the Black Sea Shipyard in Ukraine—often called Nikolayev South Shipyard 444. It’s an old facility, dating back to the 18th century when Prince Grigory Potemkin signed orders in 1789 authorizing new docks to repair Russian naval vessels damaged during the Russo-Turkish War.
The famous Russian battleship Potemkin—scene of the famous 1905 naval mutiny and the subject of Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film—launched from the same shipyard.
Early in the Soviet period, the shipyard constructed battleships. During the ’60s and ’70s, workers built Moskva-class helicopter carriers and Kiev-class carriers at South Shipyard 444.
But none of these ships came close to the Ulyanovsk.
Named after Vladimir Lenin’s hometown, everything about the supercarrier was huge, even by Russian standards.
Her propulsion system would have comprised four KN-3 nuclear reactors, a model originally used to power enormous Kirov-class battlecruisers, such as the heavy guided-missile cruiser Frunze. Ulyanovsk could have easily reached 30 knots while under way.