Russia only has one aircraft carrier (and it may never leave again)

Russia has only one aircraft carrier and it has a troubled past, to say the least: It’s back to the shipyard for the only Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov. Repairs and overhauls are a common refrain for the cursed hauler that has endured major fatal crashes over the years. A March 22 Russian media report said the ship would be sent to a repair center in April. This means the carrier is likely to miss a significant portion of the war in Ukraine depending on how long the conflict lasts. Some think he may never sail again.

Big jobs to do

Admiral Kuznetsov will head for the 35and Zvyozdochka Plant – Russia’s largest shipyard in Murmansk, northwestern Russia. The work will not be finished before September. The carrier’s main problems are its steam turbines and arrester cables. A minimum of eight boilers will need to be replaced due to problematic pipes inside the boilers.

Dmitry Gorenburg, senior researcher at the CNA think tank, was interviewed by Business Insider. “The main problem with the ship is that it has a very problematic propulsion system,” Gorenburg said. “It’s just not reliable.”

The deployment in Syria becomes another negative point

The Kuznetsov had the opportunity to rebuild his reputation during the Russian intervention in Syria.

It deployed to the eastern Mediterranean in October 2016. Initial reports were positive when the Russians announced the carrier had launched more than 400 sorties, including night missions. But then the problems with the arrester cables appeared and the Kuznetsov lost two planes, including a Su-33 Flanker, when a arrester wire broke on landing.

A myriad of problems

In 2018, the aircraft carrier was assigned to dry dock to address these issues. Bad luck struck when the drydock sank. This resulted in a damaged hull.

That was not all. A crane on the drydock rammed the ship and created a major hole. It killed one worker and injured four others. It was estimated that these repairs would cost a billion dollars.

More Fatal Events

In 2019, two more died from an electrical fire in the engine room caused by a welding accident. Repairs were going to cost another billion dollars for this tragedy. Ten years earlier, another fire had killed a sailor. There was also a major oil spill in Ireland that year. The ship was so flawed that it often needed a repair ship and tugs to escort it on deployments.

Black smoke looks terrible

Another embarrassment for Admiral Kuznetsov is that he spews black smoke from his propulsion system. The ship runs on a black, sticky, tar-like petrochemical fuel called Mazut. Fuel oil sent to the combustion chamber does not burn completely. This partial combustion produces black smoke.

Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier: Destined for Retirement?

It looks like the Russians should just ditch the Kuznetsov and start over with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. But Russia’s ship supply system, notorious for cost overruns and schedule delays, would likely struggle with something so ambitious.

It must also frustrate the Russian naval command that its only aircraft carrier is not seaworthy enough to deploy in the current war in Ukraine. This would add a carrier air group to the fight. Without the Kuznetsov, Russia will have to rely on corvettes, missile cruisers and submarines firing missiles from a distance.

As it stands, the carrier won’t be ready until at least the fall of this year and that’s if upgrades, repairs and modernization efforts go as planned. But nothing is taken for granted with the Kuznetsov, a bucket of bolts that tested the patience of the Russian Navy.

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.

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