Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov always has been difficult to label—as it has been designated, in many instances, as a heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser instead of as a conventional aircraft carrier.
According to Tyler Rogoway at the War Zone, the “Kuznetsov is equipped with no less than 24 rotary-style vertical launch systems, with eight missile cells each. These fire the SA-N-9 ‘Gauntlet’ point air defense missile, and a whopping one hundred ninety-two of these missiles are carried in all. In addition, the ship bristles with a virtual wall off close-in weapon systems (CIWS), including six AK-630 cannons and no less than eight (notoriously formidable) Kashtan missile/cannon CIWS systems. The ship even sports its own anti-submarine defenses with a pair of UDAV-1 anti-submarine/anti-torpedo rocket systems.”
Such weaponry is indeed impressive, but could the Admiral Kuznetsov really take down a U.S. Navy Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier?
Toe to Toe
Prominent defense journalist Dario Leone at the Aviation Geek Club asked a similar question and looked toward James Shannon, Senior Chief Petty Officer BMCS (SW/AW)(E-8) in the U.S. Navy (1995-present), for the answer.
“On its latest deployment in 2017 Kuznetsov carried twelve P700 anti-ship missiles, twelve SU-33’s, six MiG-29’s and six helicopters. A Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier normally carries forty-eight Super Hornets, five Growlers, three Hawkeyes, one to two COD’s and at least a dozen MH-60S and MH-60R,” he writes on Quora.
“The kicker for Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s aircraft are not just in the numbers. Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s Super Hornet’s can launch with full payloads due to have catapults and buddy-stores tanking systems. Kuznetsov’s aircraft are significantly limited in payload due to the need to ski-jump and they have no organic tanking ability,” he adds.
Shannon tries to sum it up by saying that “the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier can send four complete Strike Fighter Squadrons and one Electronic Attack Squadron, fully loaded with full combat radius, with full Airborne Early Warning support and Organic Tanking support. The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s aircraft can hit Kuznetsov from outside of the P700 range and also the range of the SU-33 and MiG-29. Kuznetsov’s surface to air missiles would not be able to reach Reagan’s airwing. Kuznetsov would need to focus its small airwing completely on fighting AAW. The problem is that all of the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s aircraft coming in their vicinity will be capable of AAW, even the Growler’s will have AMRAAM’s.”
Not Done Yet
Then there is even more firepower on the way.
“The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s airwing will peel back the SU-33’s and MiG-29’s. The Growlers will then work on electronically disabling Kuznetsov’s fire-control ability (missile guidance). They will do with jamming and decoying, then they will hit Kuznetsov with AARGM anti-radiation missiles,” he writes.
“Following more slowly behind will be the subsonic anti-ship missiles coming from the Super Hornets. Forty-eight Rhino’s in the Airwing, many of them will have either SLAM-ER or LRASM. Kuznetsov probably already expended a fair amount of missile trying to shoot down AARGM’s and Decoys from the Growlers. Kuznetsov will not have much fire-control ability either way. The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s airwing can easily send fifty or so SLAM-ER’s and LRASM’s. It won’t take even half that to put Kuznetsov permanently out of action. Once its disabled and unable to fight, the coup de grace would probably come from two-thousand-pound laser-guided bombs,” he concludes.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.