Admiral Kuznetsov: Russia’s only aircraft carrier is slowly dying
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is in the news again for the wrong reasons. The word ‘D’ reappeared. I’m talking about another ‘D’ for delay. Maybe up to a year before he’s ready to hit the waves. It seems like every year it goes into extended maintenance, there’s another schedule slip. In 2021, it was supposed to be ready this year. Then it was pushed back to 2023, now it won’t be ready until 2024. “Und so weiter” as the Germans say – meaning “etcetera etcetera”.
Admiral Kuznetsov – What’s the problem now?
The Kuznetsov has been on maintenance ‘sunset’ since 2018. Russian state media is vague about the exact disease this time around – something about an unspecified ‘fault’. Then it will undergo additional tests which could reveal other faults. You see a pattern emerging. The propaganda arm said the ship is expected to operate for another 10-15 years when it is finally ready.
Born under a bad sign
[1945[1945 has long chronicled this cursed bucket of bolts. It runs on a stinky, black, tar-like substance called mazut. It’s a former aircraft carrier that joined the fleet in 1985. The ski jump on top is obsolete – it’s not a flat deck with a modern catapult. Engines were never enough. It often broke down and had to be towed by tugs. It made only one combat deployment – to the Syrian theater in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea in 2016 and 2017. And that cruise lost two planes due to faulty arresting equipment.
You mean there were more problems?
Things went downhill quickly after this mission. In 2018, a floating crane fell and killed one worker and injured four others. A year later, a welding incident caused a fire that left two people dead and 14 others burned or injured by smoke inhalation. In 2021, a shipyard manager embezzled approximately $600,000 from the maintenance fund. Don’t forget the oil spill off Ireland. Now there are sanctions against the United Shipbuilding Corporation which will likely prevent the required work from proceeding on schedule.
Do something, anything
At this point, you would think the Russian Navy would give up and start over. Vladimir Putin, stung by his misadventure in Ukraine, is probably sullen and morose in the face of this latest news with his navy. What is the plan? If Russia wants to be a true high seas navy, it needs an aircraft carrier to project its power. The submarine force is one of the best in the world. Russian submarines test a hypersonic missile called Tsirkon. There are a few modern missile destroyers and frigates, minus the Moskva which was lost in the war in Ukraine. But overall, the Russian Navy is doing well, with the exception of the Kuznetsov.
Admiral Kuznetsov – Could Russia sell him?
This transporter is a mystery, and it may never leave again. Putin is likely misled by his Defense Ministry about Kuznetsov’s difficulty. He heard “one more year”, several times. It’s time for him to make an executive decision on the carrier’s future. Maybe it could be sold to a country like North Korea. Kim Jong Un wouldn’t care, but he wouldn’t appreciate the headaches and would feel like he had been punched by Russia. Would Iran be interested? You could see how the Iranians would want a carrier. They are always looking for the last advantage to intimidate their enemies in the Middle East.
This fiasco of Admiral Kuznetsov’s aircraft carrier is a shame for Russia. Staying the course is not reassuring. Selling it is probably a non-starter. Throwing it away is unthinkable. Admiral Kuznetsov is a money pit with no easy answers.
Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.