Admiral Kuznetzov: Should She Ever Sail Again? Russia’s lone aircraft carrier has been “dry docked” for maintenance and repairs for the past several years.
Yet the carrier’s maintenance and performance problems throughout its history might lead some to question whether the decades-old ship should return to service.
Admiral Kuznetzov: Aging Technologies
The ski-jump-like flagship of the Russian Navy made its first deployment as far back as 1995 with a capacity for 13 Su-33s and 11 helicopters, yet it did not support combat operations until 2016 when it launched Su-33 strikes against Islamic State terrorist groups in Syria.
However, during this engagement, a Russian carrier-launched Su-33 crashed into the ocean due to what was later discovered to be an arresting gear failure.
Along with its limited combat history, Russia’s Admiral Kuznetzov has not had a large number of deployments and does not seem to have advanced Russian interests in projecting global power. While Russia is known for its sophisticated and highly-dangerous submarine fleet, the country does not have much of a threatening surface Navy and simply does not project global power from the sea.
Russia’s carrier limitations have other dimensions, such as a lack of 5th-generation air capability. With the Su-57 operating as a land-based 5th-gen stealth aircraft, Russia currently has no equivalent to the US Navy F-35C or Marine Corps F-35B.
This certainly limits any ability to truly project air power against adversaries with advanced or capable air defenses, a circumstance which limits the carrier to supporting sea-launched air attacks over uncontested airspace.
Unlike U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Groups, which enable carriers to be protected and supported by heavily armed, upgraded modern destroyers such as the DDG 51 Flight IIAs and soon to arrive Flight IIIs, Russia’s carriers can only be supported by older Russian destroyers.
The most modern Russian destroyers are listed as having emerged as far back as 1992, 1993 and 1999, according to rusnavy.com. Significantly, it is not clear how much they have been upgraded with modern weapons and sensors.
Russia has been adding Frigates and Corvettes in recent years, yet its larger warships go back many decades. Russia’s two battlecruisers, for example, emerged in 1988 and 1998 and its cruisers date back to the 80s, according to rusnavy.com.
The question then in terms of capability would depend upon the extent to which they may or may not have been upgraded. Perhaps they were not built with the fire control technology, Vertical Launch Systems, or computing infrastructure sufficient to support modern weapons.
Rusnavy.com’s weapons specs on Russia’s most recent destroyer, the Admiral Chabenenko, do not list vertical launch tubes or any weapons systems with ranges sufficient to hold enemy ships and land targets at risk beyond 100 to 150 miles.
The Chabenenko reportedly fires Moskit anti-ship missiles listed with a maximum range of 150 miles. This suggests that not only do Russia’s warships lack VLS and longer-range interceptor-like weapons such as a U.S. SM-6 or SM-3, but also lack cruise missiles with any kind of impactful range.
A U.S. Navy launched Tomahawk, for example, can travel 900 miles to destroy land and sea targets and therefore massively outrange Russian Moskits.
Overall, this might suggest that Russia’s lone carrier may be facing a survivability problem and is less likely to succeed in any kind of open or “blue” water maritime warfare engagement or against a technologically sophisticated adversary.
The Kuznetzov cannot operate with the protection and firepower necessary to support global power projection operations.
For example, the Kuznetzov would likely prove extremely vulnerable in the current war against Ukraine, should it be available to launch air strike sorties from the Black Sea, given that Ukrainian-fired land missiles have already destroyed Russian ships.
Author Expertise and Biography
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.