Admiral Kuznetsov: the last Russian aircraft carrier is on the verge of collapse

Russia’s only aircraft carrier is finally running after roughly ten months of squatting at the Sevmorput naval shipyard in the country’s northwest. Known for her grim and disastrous history, Admiral Kuznetsov has suffered a series of unfortunate events since her reintroduction into service in 2017.

This week, a Russian state media outlet released footage of a tugboat pulling the large ship. There is little hope for Admiral Kuznetsov’s long and successful future, despite claims by the Soviet Shipbuilding Corporation that all underwater work necessary to resuscitate the carrier has been completed.

In December, Russian media first reported that the carrier had started the process of decommissioning from the dry dock. A “minor” fire broke out on board the ship just a few weeks earlier, and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry indicated that Admiral Kuznetsov could not move under his own power.

Although these few incidents alone paint a grim picture for Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the ship has suffered much more since her refit work began.

The only Russian aircraft carrier has a grim history.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era aircraft carrier built in the early 1990s, is the sole example of its kind to survive the fall of the Soviet Union. Next to the Kuznetsov, a sister ship was built. However, it was not finished when Ukraine finally recovered from the USSR.

Unlike US aircraft carriers, the Kuznetsov’s primary mission is to support and defend Russian surface ships and submarines, and it is not expected to sail long distances to project power.

One of the main limiting factors of the aircraft carrier is its power source. The mazut – the extremely thick, tarry substance that seems to envelop the Kuznetsov when it travels – is inefficient. The carrier may be seen from miles away due to the dense black smoke surrounding it in the ocean.

Admiral Kuznetsov has had zero “wins” since 2017

Constant mishaps accompany the mediocre construction of the Kuznetsov on board. In 2016, the aircraft carrier deployed to combat in Syria for the first time. Unfortunately, two airframes were lost to a faulty arrester cable, forcing the rest of the carrier-based platforms to relocate to land.

Although Kuznetsov’s operational tour was grim and minimal, continued incidents seemed to plague the carrier upon its return home.

The fall of a floating crane on the ship’s deck in 2018 resulted in the death of one worker and the injury of several more. A year later, a welding mishap in the ship’s engine room sent 14 workers to the hospital.

Following Kuznetsov’s brief stay in Syria, the ship was sent home to undergo repairs to extend its useful life. In October 2018, Russia’s largest floating dock – PD-50 – sank, ripping a 200-square-foot hole in the center of the carrier’s deck.

The escalating Kremlin invasion of Ukraine has only highlighted the sorry status of Russia’s lone aircraft carrier. The current prospects for the Russian army are not very rosy since it is in a situation of arms shortages and economic sanctions imposed by the West.

However, the Kremlin will probably interpret Admiral Kuznetsov’s slight move as a big victory at the national level for propaganda purposes.