The Sovetsky Soyuz- (Russian: Советский Союз-) battleships are the largest - in terms of hull length and displacement - class of warships operated by the modern Soviet Navy.
Historically, the Battleship dominated the seas of the Early Modern World. However, the development of air power - more specifically, of naval aviation and of the aircraft carrier - rendered these once-pre-eminate dreadnoughts largely obscelete. The existing battleships served during World War II, and a few countries produced new ones during the conflict, yet their time was essentially done. Following the end of hostilities and the onset of the Cold War, no new battleships were produced and existing boats - with the exception of the American Iowa-class - were rather quickly phased out in favor of the aircraft carrier and other new technologies. The vein of building massive capital ships continued somewhat in the USA in the form of that country's massive iconic 'Supercarriers', but few other nations bothered to follow suit.
The modern, 21st Century Sovetsky Soyuz ships take their design name from an aborted class of 16 huge battleships designed and planned by the Soviet Union in the decade before World War II, known as 'Project 23' or 'Stalin's Republics' (because each would have been named for one of the constituent 'Socialist Republics' of the USSR). Four of these hulks, which would have rivaled the world's largest battleships of the time, were laid down before the project was eventually canceled. After the end of World War II, Soviet Navy surface warfare doctrine rapidly shifted towards smaller, faster vessels emphasizing powerful missile armaments - leaving little place for titanic big-gun ships or even the gigantic aircraft carriers favored by the Americans.
In subsequent decades, the Soviets produced a pair of relatively large ~53,000 tonne aircraft carriers, the Admiral Kuznetsov-class, which were intended to support / defend the missile-armed warships, submarines and aircraft that formed the backbone of their Navy (a very different role and design philosophy than that of the American Supercarriers). Four large, nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers, the Kirov-class, were also produced, and these would remain the largest surface combat ships in active operation in the world for many decades to come. Economic stagnation and then depression in the 1980s forced the abandonment of Project OREL, a plan to produce U.S.-style supercarriers (the ~75,000-tonne Ulyanovsk-class).
By the 1990s, the world essentially thought the Cold War to be over. The Soviet economy was crippled and its military spending drastically downsized, leaving the U.S. as the only global superpower. For the next 20-25 years, America and its vast Navy - which had always been much larger than its Soviet counterpart - had free reign over the oceans. This began a period that is referred to in the Soviet Union as the 'Wars of American Imperialism', during which the unchallenged U.S. engaged in a string of conflicts with various countries to cement and maintain its position of dominance - the Gulf War, Iraq War, Afghan War, the 'War on Terror', etc.
These conflicts not only weakened the trust of many of America's allies and damaged the unity of the once-stalwart NATO, but also revealed major weaknesses in the U.S. military: in particular, its [over-]emphasis on supercarriers. Modern American aircraft were being lost to outdated Soviet missiles in conflicts with 3rd World Countries, while the number of ships required to protect each of the huge Supercarriers - the so-called 'Carrier Battlegroups' - proved limiting to the U.S.N.'s flexibility as well as enormously expensive.
With the onset of the 2008 Financial Crisis, American forces began abandoning their footholds in Iraq and Afghanistan - after more than a decade of war in each - with little having been accomplished. The supremacy of the 'American Empire' was being called into question. No sooner had the U.S. begun to reduce its military spending and divert its attention toward badly-neglected internal matters, however, than the Soviets once again began to rise. The collapse of the housing market in China - the largest housing bubble in history by far - and the rising costs of oil crushed the Chinese economy almost overnight, leadig to a state of stagnation much like what the USSR had experienced in the 1970s. In 2016, the People's Republic of China was officially renamed the Chinese Soviet Socialist Republic - becoming a constituent country of the Soviet Union. This set a precendent, as merger into the USSR proved an expedient solution for the remnants of the Communist sphere in Asia - North Korea and Vietnam soon followed suit. Over the next 10 years, Mongolia and all of Southeast Asia soon followed, willingly or otherwise, while the economically stagnant and overtaxed Western Powers looked on in shock...
Everything changed in 2029 with the Soviet invasion of India, a country which had always had strong Communist sympathies. NATO moved to intervene. Over the course of the conflict, which dragged on until 2036 and forced the first reintroduction of the Draft in the United States since the Vietnam War, two American Gerald R. Ford-class Carriers - the pride of the U.S. Navy - and innumerable NATO aircraft were lost to modern Soviet missiles. In the end, the USSR was victorious and the half-million-strong NATO Expeditionary Force withdrew, placing India in a state of Soviet military occupation which has lasted to this day.
The government in Moscow, learning from the invaluable experiences of the war, used the inexhaustible wealth of their hugely expanded country to completely re-shape the Soviet military (which had fought in India using largely out-dated technology). The Sovetsky Soyuz-class ships were revived - at least in spirit - as part of this process.
Apart from the naming conventions, the modern Sovetsky Soyuz-class vessels have nothing in common with the Project 23 battleships of the 1930s. They are what, in U.S. Navy terminology ('Hull Classification Symbol'), would be termed BBGN - Battleship (BB), Guided Missile (G), Nuclear-powered (N). They are gigantic floating arsenals, blistering with arrays of various types of missiles and guns - their sole purpose is to be a mobile fire-projection platform to support a naval battlegroup.
To someone living in the 2nd decade of the 21st century in our own, post-Cold War world, these battleships appear quite modern. In the eyes of their contemporaries, however, they are rather old-fashioned - lacking much of the blocky, smooth stealth-oriented shape characteristic of current Western designs. Appearances, however, are deceiving.
The uniquely long, relatively narrow hull (not to mention their massive size) gives the Sovetsky Soyuz-class an appearance rather like that of a giant oil tanker. Inside, however, - nestled in the center between their two towering superstructures - is a quartet of powerful nuclear fusion reactors, providing an essentially limitless source of energy. At its bow, appearing almost comically tiny in comparison to the mass of the hull, is a superfiring pair of battleship-style dual turrets: four 305mm (~12") railguns in a 2x2 arrangement. These magnetic cannons, while smaller in calibre than the 14-16" conventional guns used on the last generations of battleships in the early-mid 20th century, are far more devestating. Their function, however, is not primarily in engaging other surface warships, but for shore bombardment and fire support during amphibious landings - the same purpose for which the U.S. Iowa-class was kept in service through much of the remaining 20th Century even after the rest of the world had abandoned its battleships. The range of these guns is largely a question of physics (the curve of the earth, gravity, inertia and so forth): firing a solid-state projectile at extremely high velocity - the mode of attack for which the guns are best suited, or at least most associated with - results in a much shorter range, because the rounds are traveling so fast that they will not match the curve of the horizon. In theory, such is the accelerating power of these weapons that they could be used to hit targets in Earth's orbit. However, for this reason, the guns can also be load various other types of ammunition and launch it with much reduced force: firing missiles through the accelerator rails at low power to impart them with a huge velocity boost (in a manner / concept similar to Soviet tank guns), for example. They can even be used with nuclear ordnance if desired, in the form of either specially designed high-velocity shells or certain types of fission warhead cruise missiles modified for the purpose.
The real hitting power of the Sovetsky Soyuz-class, however, lay with its huge and diverse array of heavy, medium & light missiles. Banks of large VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells sit at either end of the hull: just ahead of the forward superstructure / bridge tower (but behind the two main gun turrets) and just after the rearward superstructure directly ahead of the stern, respectively. These heavy cells can be used to discharge large, powerful surface-to-surfacemissiles - in theory, even ICBMs, if modern technology hadn't rendered them useless - or, more usually, a larger number of smaller [but still very powerful] intermediate-weight missiles of various types. The launch tubes concealed within the deck are not actually vertical, but sit at an angle, and must elevate up out of their chutes like concealed gun barrels once the hatches are raised: the era of true vertically-launched ballistic missiles has essentially ended, with the line between the two traditional types missiles - ballistic & cruise - having become rather blurred. This design of semi-vertical launch cell (various forms of which are used for most all the USSR's medium & heavy VLS applications) is unique to the Soviet Union and far superior to the conventional straight vertical set-up. These cells, no matter their form, are always 'cold-launch' (meaning the thrusters of the missiles do not ignite until they are clear of the tube) and incorporate magnetic acceleration coils to propel the missiles with great velocity. In this way, the range of the missiles can be greatly extended by having them ride the momentum of their acceleration for the first part of their flight path. The battleships also have a total of sixteen above-deck magnetic-propulsion launcher installations - in four staggered columns of four, with one column on both sides of either main VLS battery - for deploying low-angle [i.e. cruise] missiles and torpedoes (modern Soviet torpedoes being two-stage cruise missiles that shed their jet propulsion sections and dive into the water for their attack runs). Each of the 16 mounts has three tubes. They are primarily intended for use against hostile maritime vessels - i.e. ships and submarines - but can be used for general surface attack against installations and land targets as well.
The entirity of this missile armament is autoloaded - fed from a pair of cavernous central magazines located on either side of the fusion reactors. Within these holds, in a largely-automated process (although still requiring some crew), the missile loads of the various launchers as well as the warheads equipping said missiles can be configured.
Secondary armament comes in the form of a number of automatic 180mm (~7") and 125mm (~5") cannons in dual turrets. These are automated, wired into the advanced computers and detection equipment of the vessel, and are capable of blistering rates of fire. They can be used against surface targets to considerable effect but primarily act as heavy anti-air & point-defense, supplementing the ship's prodigious array of light SAM and 37mm (~1.5"), 57mm (~2") & 85mm (~3") CIWS (Close-in Weapons System) installations. The Sovetsky Soyuz-class also has a number of much smaller VLS cells for light-weight missiles, which can be used to deliver SAMs, SS [Surface-to-Surface] or multi-role missiles. Unless a particular type of action is expected, they are almost always loaded with the multipurpose missiles, which have inferior performance compared to a dedicated-role missile of the same size but can be programmed for attack runs against a wide variety of targets. These small launchers, unlike the others, have additional missiles stowed directly beneath them to permit more rapid firing, although their stocks can be replenished as needed from the central magazines via an automated conveyor connection.
Additionally, a small hangar facility is located between the superstructures, occupying the upper few decks along the centerline. Here, the battleship stores a complement of Su-108 VTOL drone fighters and its suite of reconnaissance / ASW [Anti-Submarine Warfare] aircraft (various other drones and four piloted helicopters). The 'roof' of this hangar - i.e. the section of the main deck above it - opens by swinging outward to permit takeoff, eliminating the need for elevator(s) and protecting the craft when they are not in use.