The Orel Class

The story which didn't happen ... outside Atlantic Air Combat

For many decades the Soviet Navy had had plans to develop a strong surface fleet which would have included aircraft carriers, even more so after the end of the Second World War.   Among those advocating this development and their leading figure was Admiral N G Kuznetsov. However, with Stalin being obsessed with battleships, the project of developping a modern navy remained a paper one and for a time Admiral N G Kuznetsov himself was ousted to command the Pacific Fleet as a response to his strongly favouring ideas which Stalin didn't want to hear about.  So, it wasn't before Secretary General Krutchev took power that the idea could be turned into a real building plan.

By 1954 several designs had been prepared, among them the TsKB-17 which called for 30,000+ tons vessel carrying 40+ aircrafts.  Largely inspired by the methods of their American rivals associated with their own set of mind, the Soviet Union decided to build a serie of identical ships named after lakes rather than renown admiral, the first vessel naming the class : the Orel.

Anti-Aircraft Armament
While it was clear to Soviet planners that a large burden of anti-aircraft defenses would rest on escrot ships, the carriers themselves would not remain defenseless with three different guns present on board : .

 100   mm twin turrets (M1957) -
   45   mm quads (SM20ZIF)

Very much impressed by WW2 era Bofors or Vickers quads, the Soviet had developped their own weapon of the kind.   Development was protracted untill the late fifties when finally all reliability issues were solved

   14.5mm quads (ZPU-4)

In a way, this land weapon could be considered as obsolete against fast flying jet aircrafts.   However, as proved during the Korean War, this weapon could still offer a deadly sting at close range, even more so when slaved to a firing radar.   Besides, the Soviet knew about the Swedes installing such weapons essentially aimed at targeting anti-ship missiles and thus just borrowed the idea from their Baltic neighbour

Then again mimicking their Scandinavian potential foe, the Soviet Navy decided to adapt the newly developped Atoll air-to-air missile to a land-based platform, or actually a sea-based one.   Although the effective range was limited it was felt the setup was thought to be a much more adequate response to modern aerial threats:

 SAN-X SeaAtoll Radar directed passive anti-aircraft missiles (quad mount)

Although the various types of airframes used by their Air Force colleagues could not necessarily provide a basis for all the missions types involved, the main core of the shipborne soviet naval aviation was based on navalize versions of existing types : 


MiG17PF Fresco - Fighter/Interceptor


MiG19SM Farmer-G - -


Tu91 Boot - ASW


PZL.MD14 = = AEW


Ka25 Hormone - Pedro


PZL.MD14 = = COD
In addition, both carriers could operate helicopters for commando missions : 
MiG17UTI Fresco - Trainer

Having chosen to do away with piston engined aircraft the Navy opted for a two seater variant of the MiG.17.  It could have adopted the ubiquitous MiG15.UTI but it was considered a wast to navalize this ancient type while, at least initially, the Navy would essentially rest on the Mig17.  So, contrary to the Air Force, but imitating what China did for their own use, a two-seater variant was created.

Trainers CM175 Zephyr CM176 Zephyr II T1A SeaStar T2A Buckeye Athena.T1

Engine(s) 2 x Marboré II 2 x Marboré VI 1xJ33 1xJ34 1xDart/Mamba
2 x 400 kgp 2 x 480 kgp 1 x 2450kgp 1 x 1544 kgp 1 x 1500 ehp
Armament - 2 x 7.62mm/200rpg
- 2 x 110lb
- 2 x 13.2mm/175rpg
- 2 x 110lb
2 x 12.7mm possible
2 x 500lb
- (gun pod)
2 x 500lb
- =
- =
Details of this particular version of the French trainer will be found here : Potez CM176

Interception and Attack Fighters
Although the Navy was looking at a true supersonic aircraft, they had to content themselves with the Mig17.Fresco both for attack/anti-shipping and for interception roles.  Besides the trainer variant above, the following variants were produced for the Soviet Navy :
* Mig17.PF : single seater, radar equipped attack/interception aircraft (dual role)
* Mig17.PFM : two seater, all weather interception fighter with a secondary attack role

Then after suffering several setbacks, the Navy was able to operate their first true supersonic fighter in the form of a navalized Mig19 Farmer.  The delays were essentially due to the desire of the Navy to mix the twin engined Mig19 airframe with the electronics of the more modern Mig21, the latter type being considered unsuited for shipborne operations.   Again, the type was declined in various versions, in an attempt to both provide for a training aircraft and a two seat interceptor variants : 
*Mig19.UTI : two seat trainer
*Mig19.PF : single seat, radar equipped, attack/interception aircraft
*Mig19.PFM : two seat, all weather interception/attack aircraft

In the end, all aircrafts operated by the Soviet Navy were dual role attack/interception aircrafts although when newely delivered, the less capable Mig17 were essentially used in the attack/recce role while the more modern Mig19 were essentially used for interception/air cover missions.

ASW - Anti-Submarine Warfare
While the anti-submarine missions were essentially assumed by the Ka25 Hormone helicopters, the excessively short range of that aircraft lead the Navy to weight in favour of a fixed wing platform which could also be used in a AEW and COD versions.   Having had the opportunity to retrieve a downed American Grumman E1B Tracer from the bottom of the North Sea and the remains of a Grumman S2A Tracker which had crashed off the coast of North Korea, the Soviets had an idea of what they needed to perform similar tasks.   What they were lacking however was the proper airframe.

True, Tupoleve had developped the Tu91 Boot for attack purposes, and to a certain extent it could be turned into an asw platform but they believed this single engined aircraft wasn't good enough for their purposes.   But the Soviets had allies, and the Polish PZL company had been producing, albeit in limited number, an appropriately sized airframe in the form of the PZL MD12 Mielec.   So they asked PZL to review their design to meet their own purpose, and PZL came up with a vastly modified aircraft, trading the four piston engines for a pair of turboprop, and equipped bith folding wings and a true weapons bay.

From that revised design, PZL came up with an AEW variant mimicking the EIB Tracer and passenger/cargo version essentially aimed at providing the Soviet fleet with a decent COD aircraft

- Breguet Alizé - Fairey Gannet - Grumman Tracker
ASW - -
- Existing - Out of production - Canadian S-2A
AEW - - -
- To be created - Still produced - Not available
COD - - -
- Makeshift possible - Makeshift or new design - Cargo version of S-2A

This cross examination of options lead to the choice of the Fairey Gannet and the matter is detailed in the appropriate addtional Notes about this aircraft and its variants

 ASW - Anti Submarine Warfare

The choice fell on a new ASW7 version of the Gannet created around the Gannet AEW3 which was still then under production in UK.

 AEW - Airborne Early Warning

The Fairey Gannett AEW3 was chosen to cover the airborne early warning function - they were technically similar to the British version although the crew arrangement was very different.   The new aircraft was named Gannet AEW8 with Fairey (Westland)

 Fairey Gannett T5 - Trainer version

Initially considered essential, the idea has been abandonned the moment the design for the Swedish Gannet incorporated a second set of flying controls in the second cockpit.

 COD - Carrier On-board Delivery

After a protracted debate and considerable lobbying in favour of a Canadian produced S-2A Cargo Tracker, the choice finally fell on a specifically redesigned aircraft proposed by FFVS, the Gannet COD9 in Fairey Aviation (Westland) parlance.


SAR - Search And Rescue (PEDRO)
With the excellent Ka25 Hormone already available, the Navy didn't had to look far for an aircraft to cover that specific mission and thus, withtout developping a specific variant, ASW Ka25 were used "as is" for that specific purpose.