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Putin’s Next Crisis: Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Needs to Die

Aircraft Carrier
In November of 2018, Admiral Kuznetsov was damaged when a 70-ton floating crane fell on the flight deck.

It is difficult to believe, but Russia’s only aircraft carrier caught fire again. We have extensively chronicled the foibles and downright bad luck of the cursed Admiral Kuznetsov carrier. From breakdowns to crane crashes at drydock to another deadly fire that took place in 2019, there has been nothing but bad news for the vessel.

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What’s the Latest Incident?

The latest fire happened on December 22 at the Zvyozdochka shipyard in the port of Murmansk on the Barents Sea located in the northwest region of Russia. Twenty people had to leave the ship, though there were no deaths or injuries, according to state-run media. Emergency responders put the fire out quickly, news reports said.  

Damages to the Deck 

Naval News reported that the fire spread to a 20-foot area on the deck. Sailors are checking for other damages and making sure all were evacuated safely.

Years of Repairs

The fire started during repair work as the Admiral Kuznetsov had been at drydock since 2018. The carrier was supposedly on schedule to return to sea in 2024. This fall the shipbuilder told reporters in Moscow that unspecified “obstructions” were present in the ship but that repairs were on schedule and that workers would do everything in their power to fix the carrier.

Mediocre Combat Record

Russia’s initial estimates said it would be ready by 2020. Shipbuilders previously thought the carrier could serve another 10 to 15 years once it was fixed. The ship saw a combat deployment to Syria in 2016, but this resulted in two aircraft being lost due to accidents. The carrier is so unreliable that it had to be shadowed by a tugboat in case it became incapacitated.

What Else Has Gone Wrong?

In 2018, a 70-ton crane fell on the flight deck in a mishap that killed one worker and injured at least four others. This caused extensive damage. A welding accident in 2019 set off a fire in the engine room. Two more employees died during this emergency. Others suffered burns and smoke inhalation. Then work was delayed due to a power outage. There was even a shipyard director who was arrested for embezzling funds.

Smoky Exhaust Makes It Look Unhealthy

The Kuznetsov broke down at sea in 2015. It is known for appearing unhealthy due to the black smoke it puts out. This is due to a thick and tarry fuel called mazut the ship burns. The mazut-fueled power plants only enable the carrier to stay out to sea for two to three months at a time.

Repairs Are in Vain

This carrier has been a comedy of errors. Even if it were fixed and sailing today, it would be considered outdated. It would be an easy target for American anti-ship missiles like the LRASM long-range anti-surface cruise missile, even though the shipbuilder and Russian navy have claimed it will be outfitted with the latest offensive and defensive weapons.

Bad Year for Russia

How can a ship have such hard luck? With the latest fire, the Kuznetsov will likely not be ready in 2024. It is a wonder no one was killed during the accident. Russia will have to double down efforts to meet its timeline. Vladimir Putin must be furious and embarrassed by this incident. Russia’s navy had endured a bad run lately. Its Black Sea missile cruiser flagship, the Moskva, sunk in April. The Ukrainians originally feared that the Russian navy would attempt an amphibious landing against Odesa at the beginning of the war but that proved beyond its abilities.

Just Stop the Madness

Russia could just quit the work and write off the carrier as a total loss. But due to Putin’s stubbornness in the face of adversity, the Russians will probably go back to the drawing board and have the shipyard workers start work again on the bucket of bolts. This ship was born under a bad sign and the latest fire is another example of their military’s awful year. The Admiral Kuznetsov exemplifies Russian incompetence.

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Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’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.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, 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.