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Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Is a Floating Coffin Waiting to Sink

Admiral Kuznetsov
Image Creative Commons.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is Russia’s only aircraft carrier. It’s suffered many mishaps — its dry dock sank in 2018, and an adjacent 70-ton crane came crashing into the deck, killing four and leaving a giant crater in the flight deck. In late 2019 the ship caught fire during repair work. In short — there are many problems. But the Admiral Kuznetsov will sail on.

Cursed Ship?

The non-nuclear aircraft carrier (technically classified as a heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser, in order to legally navigated the Turkish Straits) has a reputation for being very unreliable. Part of the problem lies with its steam turbines and boilers. When deployed, the Kuznetsov is accompanied by a tugboat support ship in case of a breakdown that prevents it from reaching port under its own power.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Peter Roberts, a naval expert at the Royal United Services Institute explained the perception of cursed ships in naval culture. “In naval folklore, there’s something called an unlucky ship and Kuznetsov is undoubtedly an unlucky ship.” Part of the problem stems from the blueprints, partly from pure chance. “Kuznetsov is one of those that has things going wrong through design and just through luck.” In any case, not a ship you’d want to be on.

Water, Water, Every Where Nor a Drop to Drink

After Admiral Kuznetsov’s 2017 deployment to Syria, it was escorted through the English Channel by elements of the Royal Navy. While steaming through the channel, heavy black smoke was seen billowing out of the aircraft carrier’s smokestacks.

The ship was widely derided on social media as a grave danger — to the environment.

Bombs Away

In 2018, the Admiral Kuznetsov was undergoing repairs and maintenance, when the dry dock it was berthed on, the PD-50, sank. As the dock sank, a 70-ton crane also collapsed onto the ship, gauging a massive hole in its hull.

The PD-50 was one of, if not the, largest floating dry docks in the world. Without it, the Admiral Kuznetsov will have to use a non-floating dry dock — that is, one that is not mobile, but based on land. While not ideal, it’s not necessarily the end of the Admiral Kuznetsov just yet.

Apparently plans are underway to re-float the PD-50, although it that is possible remains to be seen. What is a near certainty, however, is that the Admiral Kuznetsov will most likely not meet its a major overhaul of its propulsion system, originally planned to be complete in 2021.

Admiral Kuznetsov

Admiral Kuznetsov in the waters south of Italy with USS Deyo, foreground, steaming off her port side.

S.O.S.

Most recently, the Admiral Kuznetsov was in Murmansk, docked for repairs. A fire, allegedly caused by hot metal from welding falling onto an oily cloth, which then caused electrical wiring to catch fire, burned “an area of 600 sq m and took about 20 hours to bring under control.” While not an enormous blaze, the fire caused an outsized $1-1.5 billion in damages and two deaths.

Admiral Kuznetsov

A starboard quarter view of the Russian Navy Northern Fleet aircraft carrier ADMIRAL FLOTA SOVETSKOGO SOYUZA KUSNETSOV exercising at sea.

One source suggested that the high cost of repairs for the fire may have been due repair material other components also going up in flames, as these parts may have been sitting on the deck awaiting installation.

Uncertain Future

If Russia actually has the need for an aircraft carrier, if continued money for repairs could be better used elsewhere is debatable. What is however sure, is that despite the myriad setback experienced by the unlucky ship, the Admiral Kuznetsov will likely sail smokily on into the future, tugboats in tow.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Jizmo Onyabhutti

    June 25, 2021 at 8:40 am

    An aircraft carrier is a purely offensive weapon. America has what? 12 or 13 of these things so that it might project force anywhere on the planet. Russia has one, and it is old, using WWII technology. Who is the world’s aggressor?

    • Peter Butt

      May 26, 2022 at 7:19 pm

      You answered your own question! “Force projection” is NOT aggression!

  2. Jon Harrison

    June 25, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Russia.

  3. Jay Perry

    June 25, 2021 at 11:38 am

    Bading aggression on the size of one’s navy is not only a weak argument, it is lame.

  4. Maya Ayala

    June 25, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    @ Jizmo Onyabhutti – You wrote, “An aircraft carrier is a purely offensive weapon.”

    This is egregiously FALSE.

    The aircraft carrier can be used for offense or DEFENSE. In fact, even an “offensive” can be used for “defensive” purposes. If aircraft from an aircraft carrier took out terrorist bases, then the “offensive” was carried out for “defensive” reasons.

  5. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    June 25, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    Vodka + Russians + boat = problems

  6. snailmailtrucker

    June 25, 2021 at 11:18 pm

    Without American AirCraft Carriers all across the Globe….Petty Dictators everywhere would be Killing and Raping even more Innocent people than they are already !

    GOD BLESS AMERICA FOR HER STRENGTH THRU POWER…..
    FOR THE GOOD OF FREEDOM LOVING PEOPLE EVERYWHERE !

  7. R. Seybold

    June 26, 2021 at 1:32 am

    Are these stories originally written in a language other than English and then translated? They are replete with grammatical errors leaving the reader to assume things that may not be fact.

  8. El_Robobob

    December 18, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    And yet the liberals and their media allies want to hammer home this ridiculous argument that Russia is our biggest adversary! As this article succinctly showcases, Russia is in no shape to give us a true fight (at least at sea. On land they are more dangerous, but still we would be able to defeat Russia if they ever decided to initiate WWIII. We also dominate them in the skies, whether over land or over water).
    Funny how the mainstream media rarely mention our ACTUAL biggest foreign enemy. Probably because the aforementioned enemy has many/most of them in their pocket? And then there are some who do it for free because they want to see a Maoist regime succeed the United States of America and our capitalist system. AOC, Bernie, etc.
    Note that in the previous paragraph I used the “foreign” qualifier when describing our biggest enemy. That’s because the media is our biggest enemy since they’re already on our shores and they don’t need beachheads to hurt us. They’re entrenched, fortified, and backed by their fellow Marxists (and China’s paid lapdogs) in the highest levels of our government.
    Wake up, people! China is clearly preparing for something. Russia would be a far better ally than an enemy. They’ve already lived through communism and rejected it after decades of misery. China on the other hand has managed to make communism profitable, has deep pockets and vast natural resources to wage war, and has aspirations for world domination. We need to be prepared for the day when they make their move. We should forward deploy significant resources to the Indo-Pacific region ASAP and keep them there as long as it takes, rotating fresh troops in and relieving those who have been there 6 months or more. As long as it takes.
    Whether we want this war or not it’s coming.

    • Lel

      May 3, 2022 at 5:17 am

      Actually, America’s biggest enemy right now are the lying, inbred far right nut jobs that have been brainwashed into believing the free press are the enemy and the Democrats have anything to do with China.
      You halfwits are pretty much subhuman.
      Oh, and China hasn’t invaded Europe.

  9. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    February 2, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    Dumb

  10. Dr. Slater

    April 2, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    Our forefathers who shored against communism countries had a reason: They KNEW from their time’s knowledge the strong desire for China and Russia to dominate the world’s countries. We feed them money and materials to build up their war machines. Look at Ukraine and Russia today and China’s reluctance to speak against them. Keep feeding the beasts and there will be a problem. China already has too much military might. They won’t take a side. They have a talent to using forces to whatever meets their desires.

  11. Richard M

    May 16, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    An aircraft carrier is a portable airfield, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a way to have an airfield where you don’t.

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