Does Russia Need an Aircraft Carrier? The sheer size of Russia’s land army, armored vehicles, and fighter jets – though now reduced due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine – is undoubtedly sufficient to present significant threats to Eastern Europe.
And yet, in order to achieve influence and pursue its ambitions beyond the European continent, Russia will need a far more formidable Naval presence.
But does that mean Russia needs an aircraft carrier?
The Russian Navy and the Aircraft Carrier Question
While Russia may not have the ambition to operate as a massive global power with a forward presence across the globe similar to the U.S. Navy, the country does have clear ambitions in the Arctic and Black Sea.
Russia borders the famous and often discussed Northern Sea route providing clear access to the Arctic, and the country has certainly been increasing its Arctic presence and influence in recent years.
Russia is known to operate a large number of icebreakers but has only one carrier which is now being repaired and not available. Would Russia need more aircraft carriers should its leaders wish to capture more territory and influence in the fast-changing Arctic?
The answer would seem to be yes, as an ability to project power and maintain a forward presence in waters near the Arctic would prove critical to any ability to maintain influence or present a threat there. In recent years, for instance, Russia has added more bases, equipment, and personnel to various locations throughout the Arctic.
And yet supporting those assets with projected power from the sea is not possible for Russia, a circumstance which seems to limit any ability to truly hold enemies at risk in defense of its assets in the Arctic. A small number of aircraft carriers could be key to accomplishing this.
The Black Sea Question
Of course, Ukraine and Russia itself border the Black Sea, so an ability to launch air strikes and fire cruise missiles from that area would prove critical in any engagement.
Ukrainian forces, for instance, have already had success destroying Russian ships in the Black Sea, so if Russia had the ability to launch air strikes from the ocean, the circumstances along the coastal areas and Odesa circumstances might be quite different now.
Aircraft Carriers Still in Russia’s Future?
Overall, Russia’s Navy is not only smaller but also believed by many observers to be limited in its ability to attack ocean and land targets from surface ships. Should Russia have budget flexibility and industrial capacity, it seems there are a number of key areas where its posture might benefit greatly from the presence of more aircraft carriers.
Russia’s submarines, by contrast, are known to be both extremely advanced and threatening to U.S. and NATO naval forces. However, the country’s inability to mount and project any real kind of surface Naval warfighting power will place massive limitations on the kinds of missions it can accomplish.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.