Published on 8/11/2023 at 10:33 AM EST – Russia’s most famous ship is known not for its lethality, nor for its capabilities, but for tragic disappointment. In fact, the flagship aircraft cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov is the butt of many naval jokes. As Moscow’s sole carrier, the Kuznetsov’s history of failure is a real problem for the Kremlin.
A Brief History
Named after revered Soviet Admiral Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov, Russia’s oldest and sole carrier was commissioned in the mid-1980s.
The capacious vessel was intended to be the lead ship of the Admiral Kuznetsov class, but the Soviet Union nixed its sister ship in 1991. The Kuznetsov’s greatest design flaw is its fuel source, which creates a heavy black smoke that is easy to detect from miles away. The thick, tarry Mazut substance that powers the aircraft carrier also worsens the ship’s existing design flaws. Specifically, the ship’s inadequate piping installations limit its boilers from operating properly, and the proper boiler and piping needed for Mazmut is not there.
Despite its design shortcomings, the Kuznetsov can theoretically pack a punch. The ship has a Granit anti-ship missile system fitted with 12 surface-to-surface missile launchers. With a range of more than 400 km, the Granit missile is also capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads.
Additionally, the carrier is equipped with the Kashtan air defense gun/missile system, which Naval Technology outlines further: “Eight systems are fitted, combining missile launcher, 30mm twin gun and radar/optronic director. The range of the laser beam-riding missiles is from 1.5km to 8km.
The gun can fire up to 1,000 rounds a minute in a range from 0.5km to 1.5km. Six AK630 AD 30mm air defense guns are also fitted.”
The Kuznetsov’s Troubled History
Since 2018, the Kuznetsov has been out of commission and undergoing repairs. During its years on the dry dock, the carrier has suffered a series of unfortunate events.
Last December, the flagship caught fire. A few years prior, a floating dock used in the overhaul abruptly sank, causing a crane to fall into the ship’s flight deck.
This incident occurred a mere months after a previous fire broke out on the ship, killing two sailors and injuring many more. The Kunzetsov’s short-lived deployment in 2016-2017 was also an embarrassment for the Kremlin, as two airframes were lost due to faulty arresting wires on the flight line.
Despite the Kuznetsov’s cursed past, Russia is set on ensuring its sole aircraft carrier sails once more.
Russian state media outlets recently reported that factory sea trials of the carrier would begin next spring. However, the Kuznetsov’s refitting has been delayed numerous times.
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.
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