Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov: Insert Joke Here – Russia’s only aircraft carrier always seems like it is a punchline waiting for a new joke, but the plight of the embattled warship is profound considering that it has endured the loss of life over its troubled history.
The Admiral Kuznetsov has been in drydock so long it currently doesn’t have a crew.
So, the Russian navy will have to scramble to recruit and train sailors who are adept at carrier operations on the high seas.
That means experts on the flight deck who can help launch and arrest airplanes, not to mention fighter pilots who have the right stuff to make carrier landings on dangerous seas and at night.
Who Is Going to Crew This Bucket of Bolts?
The cursed carrier finally left the dry dock in February near Murmansk on the country’s Arctic coast.
The Russians are hoping the vessel can launch on a cruise sometime in 2024, but that is optimistic judging from its troubled past and lack of a trained crew.
There is a possibility that sailors could be ready to go by then, but what will they train on when the Admiral Kuznetsov’s deck is being replaced?
There is no other carrier to practice take-offs and landings.
Trail of Tears
The ship has been under repair for five years so setting dates for when it is ready will likely not be accurate due to numerous accidents on the ship, including fires, crane wrecks, and dry dock sinkings that have killed and maimed workers.
But Russian state-run media has spun the future of the Kuznetsov into something that would make this carrier able to dominate the world, so we should take the claims with a grain of salt. Plus, the Russian military is concerned with ground warfare in Ukraine.
Current industrial endeavors and time, money, and resources are now dedicated to making tanks, acquiring artillery ammunition, and producing land-attack missiles. Shipbuilding is not a grave concern so there will be inevitable delays in the work on the carrier.
New Weapons Systems Are Being Trumpeted
The government-aligned media organ Izvestia claimed in an article on April 24 that the Kuznetsov would have elaborate air defenses for better survivability.
This includes Pantsir-M air defenders. The Pantsir-M is a medium-range surface-to-air missile system re-purposed from a tracked vehicle to be placed on ships.
The naval version of the eight missile Pantsir-M has been successfully tested on a Russian corvette in 2020. It is claimed to be “jam resistant” and can be used for close-in situations when an incoming bogey infiltrates other defense systems.
The Kuznetsov will be also supplied with advanced sensors and a battle system the Russians think is comparable to the U.S. Navy Aegis Combat System. The Russian version of this battle control software and computing suite will be better able to find, fix, and finish incoming threats. This is supposed to protect the carrier from enemy anti-ship missiles, aerial bombings, submarine cruise missiles, and drones.
Additionally, the Kuznetsov will have its own set of cruise missiles to enhance the attacks from its combat air wing.
“The ongoing special military operation clearly shows that planning bombs and modern guided missiles are what we need,” military historian Dmitry Boltenkov told Izvestia. “And most importantly, aircraft can use them without entering the enemy’s air defense coverage area. Thus, the aircraft carrier can solve the tasks of hitting surface and ground targets, and the range of its carrier-based aircraft is increased,” he said.
Are the Russians Serious About the Carrier?
Call me a skeptic, but this all sounds fanciful.
The ship is clearly not ready to hit the seas despite the enthusiastic rundown of its new weapons systems from a government mouthpiece newspaper. If there is not a crew ready to handle this hardware, when will they be able to train?
They could find experienced sailors on other ships and then transfer them to the Kuznetsov, but this assumes that the carrier will be seaworthy by 2024. Testing the weapons on a shake-down cruise could take additional months before the carrier would be ready for battle.
Thus, the Kuznetsov has a long road ahead. It is not clearly a priority, or it would have already been finished and ready to sail by now. The new weapons systems are optimistic in their timeline for efficacy and a new crew must be recruited and trained. Therefore, the Russian navy may not meet the 2024 deadline and the ship will be delayed once again.
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.