Why Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Is the Laughing Stock of Other Navies

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is a classic Soviet heritage that Russia is trying to preserve... with minimal success.
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier

The Admiral Kuznetsov was designed and built based on the military doctrine of a bygone Soviet era – and this aircraft carrier seems to be not aging well.

Today, it is Russia’s only aircraft carrier, and it has been plagued by numerous issues since it entered into service in 1995.

So, it’s not clear how much longer can the Russian navy retain this aircraft carrier in service, although it’s expected to be operational until 2030.

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The embarrassing problems of Admiral Kuznetsov

The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov has numerous problems that were highlighted in its most recent deployment in Syria. It experienced engine failures and suffered problems on the flight deck that resulted in the loss of two fighter jets.

However, its main problem is Mazut, an ultra-thick black and toxic fuel used to power Admiral Kuznetsov. It is an outdated technology, and it can’t be used in countries with higher environmental standards.

In fact, in the past few years, Admiral Kuznetsov has been known more for its heavy pollution “capabilities” than for its military might.

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Additionally, breakdowns and accidents are frequent, and the majority of its crew members are not well trained. Sailors are kept under poor conditions and in Russia, being assigned to the Kuznetsov is more of a punishment than a recognition.

The living standards inside the Admiral Kuznetsov are pretty poor too. Reports suggest that this aircraft carrier has no heating, the fans don’t work, and sometimes it doesn’t have running water.

To add to the low morale and miserable conditions in which the Russian troops live, the sinking of the Moskva has made it clear that the whole Russian naval forces are vulnerable and outdated.

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Flagship of the Russian navy

Admiral Kusnetzov
MilitarySportsHoliday2017 by Сергей Федюнин. Licensed under CC by 4.0

This aircraft carrier began its conception and production during the Soviet Union; it was commissioned in 1991 and became operational in 1995.

It was first named Riga, after the capital city of Latvia. Later, it was renamed, Leonid Brezhnev. Then Tbilisi, and finally, Admiral Kuznetsov.

Regarding its combat experience, Admiral Kuznetsov has been involved in the Georgian naval blockade and was also deployed in Syria, supporting the troops of Bashar Al Assad’s government.

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Russia is not in a position to build another aircraft carrier soon

The Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
The Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov by picryl.com. Public Domain.

At a time of austerity, Russia appears to be scrapping its fleet, and it’s not clear that Russia could possibly build an aircraft carrier in a reasonable timeframe or even modernize the Admiral Kuznetsov.

Sanctions placed on Russia and the ongoing costs of the war in Ukraine make it even more challenging to repair this carrier, let alone think about building a new one.

The upgrades applied included a 5-year life extension, but the outfitting and modernization were less aggressive than initially due to budget cuts.

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As a result, it’s fair to think that Russia has been left without a 100% functional aircraft carrier that would allow it to maintain its power at sea.

Additionally, the aircraft that Russia has are overrated and have performed poorly in warfare – and its main fighter jet, the Sukhoi SU- 57 is barely a prototype that cannot be mass deployed on this aircraft carrier.

Admiral Kuznetsov specs

Admiral Kuznetsov in drydock
Admiral Kuznetsov in drydock by IvtI 09. Licensed under CC by 4.0

  • Displacement: 53,000 tons
  • Length: 305 meters (1,000 feet 8 inches)
  • Beam: 72 meters (236 feet 3 inches)
  • Speed: 54 km/h; 33 mph; 29 knots
  • Range: 15,700 kilometers; 9,800 miles; 8,500 nautical  miles
  • Aircraft carried: 18 × Su-33 / 6 × MiG-29K / 4 × Ka-31 / 2 × Ka-27
  • Endurance: 45 days

Admiral Kuznetsov’s days are probably numbered

This aircraft carrier was the flagship project of the Soviet Navy and the pride of Russia. But, today, we are witnessing the last years of Admiral Kuznetsov, which is unlikely to have much time left.

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This aircraft carrier will likely be decommissioned with all the financial problems Russia will have to face in the coming years… And with all the shortcomings of the Russian armed forces, Russia’s only strategy is to continue intimidating the West with its nuclear arsenal and empty threats.


Featured image credit: Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier by Ministry of Defence. Licensed under CC by 4.0