Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, was delayed again which has been waylaid by years of malfunctions and maintenance issues, will require another year before it can return to service from ongoing repair and modernization work.
Originally, the Admiral Kuznetsov was expected to return to service this year. This deadline has been pushed back to 2023. However, TASS sources say that as early as 2024, Russia’s only aircraft carrier can enter service.
Admiral Kuznetsov was launched in 1985. Since joining the Northern Fleet in 1991, the ship has become known for its frequent breakdowns and malfunctions. In January 2009, the ship caught fire off the coast of Turkey, killing one crew member. A month later, Kuznetsov had another incident off the coast of Ireland, leaking about 300 tons of oil into the ocean.
The carrier has been undergoing work at shipyards in northern Russia since 2017. Officials planned to return Kuznetsov to service in 2022, but in 2021 that was pushed to 2023.
In 2018, the ship’s giant floating dock PD-50 suddenly sank to the seabed during an overhaul. By December 2019, at least one service member had been killed and 12 others injured due to a fire on board the ship.
That same year, Russia began construction of a new dock at Shipyard No. 35 to create a water tank large enough to house the Kuznetsov.
Admiral Kuznetsov had to repair it many times. Because breakdowns and accidents happen so often, the ship is often accompanied by a tanker for repairs. Every time he was on his way, Admiral Kuznetsov had to rely on a tugboat to get out of the port.
Last week, TASS reported that the transfer of the Kuznestov to a new floating dock in Sevmorput was about to be carried out. Defense sources cited by TASS say that Russia aims to complete the overhaul of the aircraft carrier by September at the latest.
Admiral Kuznetsov is believed to be the first real Soviet aircraft carrier. Previous classes of ships could only carry Ka-27 or Ka-31 helicopters or Yak-38 vertical take-off and landing fighters. However, Kuznetsov can serve an air squadron of new Sukhoi Su-33 fighters and MiG-29 fighters, along with helicopters.
Designated a “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,” Admiral Kuznetsov was built in the late 1980s and entered service in 1990, though it wasn’t fully operational until 1995. With recent upgrades, it can carry roughly two dozen fighter jets and 12 helicopters and is armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.
Despite numerous proposals, including for a nuclear-powered carrier, the Soviet and Russian navies haven’t fielded carriers with the size or capabilities of US carriers, in part because Moscow had competing priorities and limited resources.
Soviet-built carriers have lived on in different ways, however. Two Kiev-class carriers were sold to Chinese companies and became a hotel and museum. Another Kiev-class carrier was sold to India and became INS Vikramaditya in 2013.
Most notably, Admiral Kuznetsov’s unfinished sister ship was sold to China in a shady deal in 1998. After a massive overhaul, it reemerged in 2012 as Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier.