Could Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, come out of dry dock and take to the sea again? Is it possible this will happen in 2024?
The Admiral Kuznetsov, a black smoke-belching carrier, is still in overhaul and refit mode. The cursed ship that has endured fatal accidents, breakdowns, and other mishaps will be in re-fit and maintenance all through next year. Its electronics and power plant will be replaced, and work will be done on its ski-jump flight deck. There is always a chance it will never sail again.
Admiral Kuznetsov: Some In the U.S. Navy Think This Carrier Is ‘Toast’
One Senior U.S. Navy official who spoke to 19FortyFive was clear: He thought Admiral Kuznetsov “will never sail again.” He explained:
“Why would Russia put what could be hundreds of millions of dollars into an old aircraft carrier that has had countless problems and likely would get destroyed easily in any naval contest? Quite simply, this carrier needs to be disposed of in the least embarrassing way possible for Moscow. My best guess is that Russia decides to scrap this aircraft carrier sometime after the Ukraine war is over when fewer eyeballs are looking at their naval capabilities, so this won’t be a big story.”
The Russian Navy Has Struggled Lately
This is not a good time for the Russian Navy. Ukraine sunk its Black Sea flagship Moskva in April. It never accomplished any type of amphibious landing to take a coastal city such as Odessa. The Belgorod submarine was supposed to evaluate a doomsday weapon recently – the Poseidon nuclear-tipped and nuclear-powered drone torpedo. A test launch of that system didn’t happen. The Black Sea fleet was able to launch missiles and create a blockade, but that is all it can point toward as success. The Navy has largely been a disappointment and has not played a decisive role during the war in Ukraine.
Admiral ‘K’ Is MIA
As for the Admiral Kuznetsov, it has been missing in action. Russia has been working on the carrier since 2017. Shipbuilders have promised that the Kuznetsov, when it is back to duty, could serve another 10 to 15 years. This looks optimistic as the vessel is already outdated and no re-fit will change that. Remember, these are the same people who declared that the Kuznetsov would be ready to go in 2020.
This Looks Like a Disaster
The last photo of the Kuznetsov, which was taken in August, looks terrible. The flight deck was almost completely torn apart. All you can see is a rust-colored deck that appears unusable unless it is re-finished. Shacks for workers adorn the topside and only a small section looks normal. This is going to be a time-consuming project and 2024 may be the soonest the ship could be ready. The work could easily stretch into 2025.
Not Effective in Battle
The Kuznetsov combat record before the rebuild was less than stellar. It did deploy to Syria in 2016, but it only carried 15 aircraft and two were lost due to accidents. To add a further insult, it needed to be escorted by a tugboat during the voyage in case it broke down.
Born Under a Bad Sign
The refit period has been disastrous. In 2018, a 70-ton floating crane collapsed on the flight deck in an accident that killed one worker and injured four others. A welding mishap in 2019 caused a fire in the engine room, killing two more workers and wounding others with burns and smoke inhalation. Then the dry dock was damaged due to a power outage. There was even a shipyard boss who was arrested for embezzling funds.
Drydock hasn’t been the only problem. The ship struggled at sea too and broke down in 2015. The carrier has also leaked oil for months at a time. Another outdated aspect is that its engines run on a thick black tarry substance called mazut, which results in the ship blowing out dark smoke, making it look like something out of the coal-fired era. Mazut runs out rather quickly which means the Admiral Kuznetsov, on a good cruise, can only stay out to sea for two to three months.
The Navy Will Have to Play Second Fiddle
Admiral Kuznetsov doesn’t look like a priority for Russia. The United States and China have carrier forces while Moscow seems to be satisfied to let their own barely stay afloat. Carriers project power and offer national prestige – qualities that Russia usually strives for. But Vladimir Putin has his hands full in Ukraine, and the Russian Air Force and Navy will have to take a back seat in modernization efforts to focus instead on the building of tanks and armored vehicles for the army. The Kuznetsov has turned into an afterthought which means the ship will have a long stay at the shipyard and remain out of sight and out of mind.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.