Ekranoplan - The Caspian sea monster is back

The beast is back – the Caspian sea monster

Arnold Fischer
3 minutes

Towards the end of the Sixties, the USSR’s ‘ekranoplan’ alarmed Caspian Sea fishermen as well as the western world. The ground-effect flying “thing” looked scary and really was quite frightening too. Now Russia is working on a follow-up to the idea and hopes to develop a low-flying stubby-winged ground-effect aircraft, with plans for the prototype to be in the air by 2027. The “Orlan” is intended to launch missiles, just like its USSR predecessor, and will therefore serve as both troop transporter and fleet destroyer, just like the ‘Caspian Sea Monster’.

Ground-effect over the water

Ekranoplans, that is to say ground-effect vehicles (GEV), are not conventional aircraft as such but fly in what is known as ground effect, just a few metres above the ground. A kind of rolling air cushion forms above the ground under the short wings and the fuselage, which provides aerodynamic lift. The advantage of this design is that it needs less energy and the aircraft can carry significantly more payload than traditional aircraft. We have already reported in detail about ekranoplans.

By design, the ekranoplan is solely intended to be operated on water. Admittedly, it would ‘fly’ over land but no stone would remain unturned on the ground, as the rolling curtain of air acts like a solid body and would destroy everything in its path.

The Orlan’s payload is said to be 300 tonnes (by comparison the German Army’s Airbus A400M has a payload of only 37 tonnes). Flying at a speed of 550 km/h and with a range of up to 2,000 kilometres – these figures precisely match those of the largest ‘Caspian Sea Monster’ of its time. However, what sets this remodelled Orlan apart is its ability to transport troops and tanks from A to B, extremely quickly and armed to its teeth.

The Cold War revisited

It almost sounds incredible: Russia is rearming itself. Old war technology, such as the tanks designed for the polar regions, are being reactivated. The former military bases on the polar sea dating back to the USSR era are currently becoming operational again. Gigantic ice-breakers and large battalions of troops are permanently stationed in the polar region. But why? The sea route to the north of Siberia is becoming increasingly important as a result of climate change, as it represents the shortest route between Europe, China, Japan and Korea.

Like the Lun class of the 1970s, the Orlan is therefore designed to carry missiles to defend the strategically important northern route in the polar waters. The possibility of serving as a fleet destroyer and transporting up to 40 guided weapons, like Kalibr cruise missiles or Iskander missiles, will make the Orlan a new offensive weapon the likes of which the world has never before seen.

Cover picture Wikimedia Commons – Soviet Military Power 1988 – 26th August 1988

by Arnold Fischer

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