The Russian Navy has largely been seen to be a shell of the former Soviet Navy. Due to funding issues after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many warships and submarines sat idle in port, while maintenance was largely an afterthought. However, in recent years, there have been serious efforts to modernize and significantly upgrade the fleet – but a black hole remains Admiral Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era heavy aircraft cruiser that was laid down in 1982, launched in 1985 but only became fully operational a decade later.
An overhaul and modernization program began on the carrier in early 2017 to extend her service life by twenty-five years, but nearly half a decade later the ship remains at the 35th Ship Repair Plant in Murmansk and won’t even begin post-refit sea trials until at least next summer.
A number of factors have come into play including delayed equipment, while the carrier was damaged in October 2018 when Russia’s largest floating dry dock, PD-50, sank and caused one of its 70-ton cranes to crash onto the ship’s flight.
The following December, a major fire broke out, resulting in the loss of life of two workers, while the fire-related damage was estimated to be upwards of $1.5 billion. The future of the warship has been repeatedly questioned as Russia lacks a dry dock large enough to service the ship – yet work has continued, at least on paper.
In fact, corruption has been a serious problem, and just this week there were reports that the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) conducted a raid of the Murmansk shipyard and questioned yard Director Sergei Verakso. FSB officers reportedly confiscated documents and computers related to the ongoing repairs of the Admiral Kuznetsov.
Another criminal case had been opened last December against Yevgeny Zudin, general director of Shipyard No. 10 in Polyarny. He was arrested under suspicion of the theft of forty-five million rubles (approximately $600,000 USD) that had been allocated to the repair of the carrier’s fuel tanks.
Better Late Than Never?
The warship is now scheduled to re-enter service at the end of 2023, but by some accounts, it might have been easier – and possibly more cost-effective – to build a new ship. However, officials at the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) have maintained that the efforts will prove worthwhile and that the ship will be better than ever.
“The overhaul and upgrade of the Admiral Kuznetsov will be completed in the first half of 2023,” Vice President of USC Vladimir Korolev told state media according to Naval News.
“The avionics, flight deck with the ski jump, electric equipment, the power plant will be replaced,” added Korolev. “The carrier will receive a new fully domestic takeoff and landing control system. The airpower will remain the same. The carrier will have no attack weapons, it will be armed with Pantsir-M antiaircraft complex.”
The warship is named for Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov, a Soviet naval officer who achieved the rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union and served as People’s Commissar of the Navy during the Second World War. Today, Kuznetsov is recognized as one of the most prominent men in the history of the Soviet Navy, but he had been removed from his post under Joseph Stalin and after being returned to duty clashed openly with Defense Minister Marshal Zhukov. The admiral was subsequently demoted and forced into retirement. Only in 1988 was Kuznetsov posthumously reinstated to his former rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.