The Russian military is often touted as among the most powerful in the world, and in a number of ways, it truly is, however, it remains woefully behind other developed nations on the global stage in one important regard; its aging aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Now, as a result of fiscal limitations that may have been brought about by a combination of a stagnating economy and a series of sanctions levied against the Russians due to the military annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia’s sole carrier just had the budget to refit their Navy’s crown jewel slashed in half.
The United States, unsurprisingly, leads the world in both number of aircraft carriers employed and the capabilities offered by its fleet of capital ships. With a whopping ten Nimitz class super-carriers, one even more advanced Ford Class super carrier quickly entering service, and as many as eight smaller vessels that would qualify as carriers in any other nation’s fleet, the U.S. has a larger carrier based military presence than much of the world could boast as their entire militaries. France, Japan, India and the UK also lead the world in carriers, with Russia’s sole carrier, aging and unreliable, falling woefully behind its peers.
The Russian carrier, which is technically a sister ship to the Chinese Liaoning, has been due for a total overhaul for more than 10 years, but has seen plans for a refit delayed time and time again. While most carriers are used as a means of diplomacy and force projection, the Kuznetsov rarely makes globe spanning journeys like those expected of American carriers, and any time the Russian capital ship does venture out into the world, it must be accompanied by an ocean-going tug, the Nikolay Chiker, which always escorts the carrier, but remains just outside the edges of Russian official photos.
More than $866 million was slated to refit the old carrier, which famously broke down off the coast of Turkey in 2009, and again in the Bay of Biscay in 2012. However, as the carrier approaches its scheduled dry dock time, which is expected to take a whopping five years, the Russian government has sliced the overhaul budget down to just $433 million, meaning a large portion of the expected upgrades will no longer be forthcoming.
Chief among the priorities for this refit will certainly still be an update to the Kuznetsov’s unreliable power plants. Four of the ship’s eight turbo-pressurized boilers were slated to be replaced, with the other four undergoing extensive updates. It seems likely that the Russian Defense Ministry will still prioritize these updates, as the carrier doesn’t serve much good if it can’t travel under its own power. Other scheduled upgrades included a refinishing of the flight deck, new aircraft arresting gear for landings, and a series of improvements to the vessel’s air defenses. Beyond those, upgrades to electronics were touted by the Russian military, including updates to the its electronic warfare, communications, intelligence, navigation and combat control suites.
Which of these programs will now be on the budgetary chopping block has thus far not been revealed, but because of the significant reduction in funding, it seems likely that the Admiral Kuznetsov will remain outgunned and outclassed by its competitors on the high seas even fresh off of its first refit since 1998. Russia claims the carrier will remain operational for another 25 years following the scheduled upgrades.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons