Why Russia’s Innovative Kiev-Class ‘Carrier-Cruiser’ Hybrid Failed to Leave a Mark

The Kiev-class was an ambitious Soviet initiative to master the seas and deter US Navy submarines and carriers... However, its legacy has faded into obscurity.
Kiev-class 1986

The Soviet Union first commissioned the Kiev-class aircraft carrier in 1975. At the time, it was an advanced aircraft carrier designed to threaten NATO’s nuclear submarines, especially those of the United States.

More than 40 years later, this aircraft carrier is now just a distant memory of what was once a real threat to the US Navy.

The Soviet Kiev-class aircraft carrier

The Kiev-class aircraft carrier had an array of anti-submarine warfare weapons. These included sonar-guided anti-submarine torpedoes and helicopters equipped with dipping sonars.


The Kiev-class carriers were designed to hunt and destroy enemy submarines. Among its primary weapons were the UW-N-1 FRAS Anti-Submarine Rocket launcher.

In addition, the Kiev-class carriers had a robust defensive armament, which made them very difficult to sink, such as the AK-630 and M-11 Shtorm.

But, this aircraft carrier mostly carried helicopters and aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing aircraft (SVTOL) capabilities.


So, it could rather be compared to American amphibious assault ships and not like a conventional American aircraft carrier such as the Nimitz-class or Ford-class.

And the Soviet Union chose to go with the Kiev-class and commissioned four ships: Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk, and Admiral Gorshkov.

With these four aircraft carriers, the Soviet Union could keep U.S. submarines at bay and showcase its naval power.


The Kiev-class aircraft carriers today

The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier was the replacement for the Kiev-class. It is a conventional aircraft carrier that carries top Soviet-Russian aircraft such as the Mig-29 or Sukhoi Su-33.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier by Ministry of Defence. Licensed under CC by 4.0

So, with Admiral Kuznetsov in service, the Kiev-class aircraft carriers were discarded entirely. They were expensive to operate for the conditions of the Soviet Union before its fall, and the Russian economy could not afford these warships either.

Out of the four aircraft carriers of the Kiev class, the Novorossiysk was scrapped entirely when it was sold to South Korea in 1997.


The other three are still in service, although two of them provide a service quite different from the military.

The Kiev has been a luxury hotel in China since 2015, and the Minsk is used as a naval museum also in China.

Regarding Admiral Gorshkov, it was renamed and refurbished in India – and became the INS Vikramaditya.


The Indian INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya during trials
INS Vikramaditya during trials by the Indian Navy.

The Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier and the flagship of the Indian Navy. The ship was built in Russia and commissioned in 2013.

The Vikramaditya has a displacement of nearly 45,400 tons and is equipped with an array of modern weapons and sensors.

Additionally, the ship’s air wing consists of 36 aircraft. They could be MiG-29K fighters and Kamov Ka-31 helicopters.


Kiev-class specifications

aerial port view of the Soviet KIEV-class
aerial port view of the Soviet KIEV-class by picryl.com. Public Domain.

  • In service: 1975–1996
  • Aircraft carriers built: 4
  • Draught: 10 meters (33 feet)
  • Length: 273 meters (896 feet)
  • Flight Deck Width: 53 meters (174 feet)
  • Beam: 32.6 meters (107 feet)
  • Displacement: 45,500 tons
  • Speed: 59 km/h; 37 mph
  • Aircraft carried: Yakovlev Yak-38, and Ka-25/Ka-27/29 helicopters

The Kiev-class left a mark on history but they never achieved their goal of deterring the US Navy

The Kiev-class carriers were a potent symbol of Soviet naval power and played an essential role in the Cold War standoff between East and West.

Today, they are just a piece of history – and even the Indian Vikramaditya, with their renovations, have little to do with the original Kiev-class project.

Featured image credit: Kiev-class 1986 by Unknown author. Public Domain.


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