Russia is planning a new wing-in-ground-effect vehicle to support its expanded Arctic military operations. The airplane/ship, by Russia's Izvestia news agency, will weigh a staggering 600 tons, making it one of the largest "airplanes" ever built.
Thanks to global warming, the Arctic is becoming a focus of political and economic activity. Warmer waters have not only created new routes for shipping, but may unlock previously hidden natural resources. Russia, with much of its landmass north of the Arctic Circle, is one of the most polar-oriented countries in the world. Many of the country's military bases are located in arctic regions, and the country is setting up even more in order to protect its claimed territory—which .
Arctic bases are hard to service, with few roads connecting them and dangerous, unpredictable weather. Russia thinks it has found the answer in ground effect vehicles, or what Russia calls ekranoplans. Ground effect vehicles (GEVs) take advantage of the fact that the closer a wing operates to the ground, the more efficient it becomes.
Most winged vehicles usually stay far from the ground with the exception of takeoffs and landings, but GEVs are designed to fly just above a flat surface—such as the ocean—to transport people and cargo vast distances. GEVs can travel up to fifteen times as fast as a ship over water, and do not have to worry about minefields and torpedoes.
According to Izvestia, Russia's Alekseyev Design Bureau is designing a prototype 600-ton ekranoplan for supplying bases across the Arctic and Pacific oceans. The vehicle, tentatively named "Rescuer," will be 305 feet long with a wingspan of 232 feet. It will have a top speed of 341 miles an hour and be able to transport up to 500 people at a time.
Alekseyev is responsible for several GEVs built by the Soviet Union, including the Lun and Orlenok GEVs. The 400 ton Lun, with six canard-mounted engines and a half-dozen anti-ship missile launchers along its spine, was considered such a bizarre sight that it was allegedly when detected by Western intelligence. The 150 ton was operated by the Soviet Navy and could carry 150 personnel.
It is unclear if the "Rescuer"—which Izvestia has dubbed the "Arctic Monster"—will carry any weapons. Aerodynamic efficiency, and a resulting increase in range, might be considered more important than the ability to shoot at anything, and any vehicle carrying 500 Russian army troopers or marines should probably take evasive action rather than get in shootouts with the enemy. If the design is successful we might see an armed variant—after all, Lun was outfitted with six P-270 Moskit supersonic anti-ship missiles to attack enemy warships.
"Rescuer" will achieve lift in the 2022-2023 timeframe, with a full operational flight test in 2025. The vehicle will also operate in the Pacific, likely conducting personnel transfers and hauling equipment to isolated bases in the Russian Far East, particularly Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka Peninsula, and other outposts along the Sea of Okhotsk.