Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the long-troubled Admiral Kuznetsov, last saw action in 2016 in support of Pro-Assad forces in Syria.
That deployment proved embarrassing for the Russian military: it lost two aircraft as they attempted to land onto the ship’s flight deck. When its rotation was over, the Admiral skulked back to Russian waters spewing black smoke and accompanied by an ocean-going tugboat — just in case the old carrier couldn’t manage the trip under its own power.
Since then, things have only gotten worse — which is really saying something about a carrier once dubbed by the U.K.’s Defense Secretary, Michael Fallon, as the “Ship of Shame.”
The Admiral sat in dry dock, undergoing repairs and maintenance as its budget was repeatedly slashed, until last year when a fire broke out on the vessel causing extensive damage. While the Russian flagship survived the incident, two massive cranes collapsed on its flight deck, tearing a 200-square-foot hole on the top of the ship and setting repair efforts back by months. Worse still, the dry dock housing the carrier did sink during the fire… and at the time, it was the only dry dock Russia had that was large enough to support the Admiral’s repairs.
In the intervening months, Russia seems to have been working on repairing the vessel at their arctic port in Murmansk, that is, until Thursday, when the aircraft carrier once again burst into flames during repairs. This time, five people were injured, six others were rescued from the vessel, and at least three remain missing at the point this article is being written.
— Atlantide (@Atlantide4world) December 12, 2019
According to Russia’s state-owned news outlet TASS, the fire first began in the vessel’s engine room on the second deck before rapidly expanding to encompass an area of around 600 meters, or nearly two thousand square feet. Although few details have emerged regarding the cause of the fire, the head of Russia’s state-owned ship building firm, United Shipbuilding Corporation, has already begun blaming the fire on “human error.” This is not an uncommon approach to incidents embarrassing to the Russian government.
Russian aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” caught fire during repair works at Zvezdochka plant. 8 workers rescued, 1 unaccounted. Fire at least at 120m2 in engine room https://t.co/EhBCrUKBg8 #Russia pic.twitter.com/011TFOQSrk
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) December 12, 2019
With many already wondering if the Russian carrier would ever see the high seas again after the 2018 fire, this new incident may well serve as the nail in the Admiral Kuznetsov’s proverbial coffin. If the internal damage is too significant to repair, Russia may opt to divert what’s left of the carrier’s funding to new programs like their rapidly expanding submarine fleet or their troubled exotic missile programs.