Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is synonymous with doom and tragedy.
Riddled with a history of misfortune, the heavy ship has been under repair at the 35thshipyard for more than six years. According to Russian state-media outlets, the country’s sole aircraft carrier could re-enter service by late 2024.
On July 4, TASS reported that the Admiral of the Soviet Fleet Kuznetsov claimed that the carrier could begin state trials as early as next Fall. “If [the vessel] is tested flawlessly, it may be transferred to the Navy in late 2024.
If something goes wrong during the trials, the process will inevitably be postponed to 2025,” the official said, adding that delivery delays and project postponements are responsible for the ship’s lengthy repair schedule.
An overview of Admiral Kuznetsov:
Since its introduction to service, the Kuznetsov has had a bleak and disastrous reputation. Originally named the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov, the heavy carrier was the fifth Kirov-class battle cruiser during the former Soviet Union. The USSR manufacturer Black Sea Shipyard developed the Kuznetsov along with every other Soviet carrier. Built to combat American aircraft carriers during the height of the Cold War, the Kuznetsov was designed to support and defend the USSR’s submarines, surface ships, and other strategic airframes. Unlike American carriers, the Kuznetsov was not designed to sail long distances to project power.
Specs and capabilities:
Admiral Kuznetsov is conventionally powered and relies on mazut as a fuel, which separates it from other Western naval ships that are typically powered by gas turbines or nuclear power. Mazut is an extremely thick and tarry substance that appears to engulf the carrier when it travels, a limiting factor that makes the Kuznetsov’s travel less efficient. Armament-wise, Russia’s sole aircraft carrier is fitted with two dozen rotary-style vertical launch systems with eight missile cells each. As explained by The Drive, “These fire the SA-N-9 ‘Gauntlet’ point air defense missile, and a whopping 192 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.” Additionally, the Kuznetsov is equipped with anti-submarine/anti-torpedo rocket systems.
The Kuznetsov’s shoddy fuel source is not the only reason why this carrier has such a marred reputation. In 2016, the carrier was deployed for the first time to aid Russia’s efforts in Syria. Early on in its deployment, two airframes were lost due to a faulty arresting wire, forcing the rest of Moscow’s carrier-based platforms to relocate to shore, essentially rendering the Kuznetsov useless. Within two years, a subsequent crane accident sent the drydock to the seafloor and killed one worker. In 2019, a fire in the engine room killed two more workers following a welding accident. In December, Russian outlets first reported that the Kuznetsov had experienced another “minor” fire onboard the vessel.
Clearly, Russia’s sole aircraft carrier has a troubled past. Perhaps it is time for Moscow to retire the Admiral Kuznetsov once and for all.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.