A New Class of Ship by Russia, UMK Varan

Russian Universal Sea Ship Varan (UMK)
Artist impression of Russian Universal Sea Ship Varan (UMK)

Russia’s Nevsky Design Bureau (PKB) has started to design “Varan”, a universal sea ship (UMK), a new approach to amphibious assault ships.  

After the end of the Cold War, the Amphibious Assault Ships (LHA/LHD) become popular with their capabilities.

An amphibious assault ship is a type of amphibious warfare ship employed to land and support ground forces on enemy territory by an amphibious assault. The design evolved from aircraft carriers converted for use as helicopter carriers. Modern ships support amphibious landing craft, with most designs including a well deck. Coming full circle, some amphibious assault ships also support V/STOL fixed-wing aircraft, now having a secondary role as aircraft carriers.

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Amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) transits in the South China Sea (Image: US Navy)

The role of the amphibious assault ship is fundamentally different from that of a standard aircraft carrier: its aviation facilities have the primary role of hosting helicopters to support forces ashore rather than to support strike aircraft. However, some are capable of serving in the sea-control role, embarking aircraft like Harrier or the new F-35B variant of the Lightning II fighters for combat air patrol and helicopters for anti-submarine warfare or operating as a safe base for large numbers of STOVL fighters conducting air support for an expeditionary unit ashore. Most of these ships can also carry or support landing craft, such as air-cushioned landing craft or LCUs.

These ships are also used for different missions such as;

– Transportation of troops,

– Humanitarian Tasks (Disaster relief etc.)

– Patrol Missions, show off flag, etc.

A lot of navies (Spain, Italy, France, China, Australia, Egypt, Turkey etc.) started to to build/use this class of vessels.


According to Russia’s Tass agency, a distinctive feature of Varan is to be a multifunctional structure that can be converted to several types of large surface ships, including an aircraft carrier, LHD, transport and hospital ship, and even a support vessel for the Arctic zone. This approach is new both in Russia and world shipbuilding, and this project will become a pioneer of a new class of naval equipment – universal sea ship (UMK).

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Artist rendering of UMK Varan (Source: Nevsky Design Bureau (PKB))

UMK Varan can carry 24 multipurpose aircraft, 6 helicopters, and up to 20 UAVs, Nevsky said in a booklet released on the occasion of its 90th anniversary. The ship will have a lot of automation and robotic systems, as well as integrated combat control systems.

The ship’s displacement is about 45,000. It has a length – about 250 m, a width of 65 m, draft at the structural waterline – 9 m. Varan is capable of speeds up to 26 knots.

Modular Structure

The Nevsky Design Bureau notes that the ship’s design is based on a modular structure, which will ensure a high rate of construction. In order to minimize the time and cost of repairs during the operation period, equipment will be built into the main blocks of the UMK.

The “Varan” will be powered with gas turbines, similar with the propulsion systems of the Russian Navy. “The ship will also receive the standard ship systems that are already in supply – this will also significantly reduce the cost of construction.

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Artist rendering of UMK Varan (Source: Nevsky Design Bureau (PKB))

From the beginning, “Varan” was designed as a ship, that could be constructed any large shipyard of the Russian Federation without significant modernization of production facilities. “This will allow organizing the construction of several ships in a series and will lead to a significant reduction in construction costs and construction times.

Nevsky Design Bureau (PKB)

Nevsky Design Bureau (PKB), part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, is the bureau that is one of the largest domestic developers of universal ships and the only designer of aircraft carriers and training ships in Russia.

Program status

According to the Nevsky Design Bureau, “Varan” is generally at the level of the preliminary design, and some of the main parts are at the stage of preliminary design. “The general arrangement schemes, schematic diagrams of the main power plant and the electric power system of the ship have been developed, a three-dimensional model of the hull has been created,” the company said, noting that Varan is being developed on the initiative of the bureau. It is also planned to create a teaching and learning complex in an export-oriented form.

The main priority of the project is to become cost-effective, coupled with the necessary combat effectiveness, which ensures the maintenance of the military-political status of the state,” – informed the bureau.

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Artist rendering of UMK Varan (Source: Nevsky Design Bureau (PKB))

Similar Platforms

At the moment there are no similar platforms of “Varan” says Nevsky. The world’s largest shipbuilding companies produce multipurpose LHDs that designed to perform a number of tasks, but there are no multifunctional ships based on a single platform.

In terms of displacement, “Varan” can be compared to the U.S. Navy’s America class LHD’s. Currently, the US Navy has two ships – America and Tripoli; another ship, Bougainville, was laid down in March 2019. These LHD’s are distinguished by their big cost, which reaches $ 3.3–3.4 billion per combat unit. 

China is actively building Type 075 LHDs – three ships of this class are already constructed and are at different stages (none of them has yet been commissioned), subsequently, their number will be increased to eight. 

pla navy's type 075 class lhds (source: weibo)
PLA Navy’s Type 075 Class LHD (Source: Weibo)

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