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    Russia’s Troubled Sea Giant: The Turbulent Saga of the Admiral Kuznetsov

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    Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier” by Ministry of Defence is licensed under CC BY 4.0

    The story of Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, reads like a chronicle of misfortune and operational shortcomings.

    Designed during the Cold War, the Kuznetsov has been dogged by accidents, mechanical failures, and a string of mishaps that seem to underscore the challenges faced by the Russian Navy in projecting maritime power.

    Since 2017, the Kuznetsov has been under maintenance, with the vessel experiencing everything from fires to a 70-ton crane punching through its deck.

    Admiral Kuznetsov” by ermaleksandr is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    As a result, the once formidable carrier is now more a symbol of Russia’s struggling military infrastructure than a key asset. It has remained conspicuously absent from recent conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine, highlighting its limited capabilities and the broader context of a Russian fleet in decline.

    The Kuznetsov’s woes start with its outdated fuel system; it runs on Mazut, a petrochemical relic from the past, resulting in thick and hazardous exhaust fumes.

    This contrasts sharply with modern aircraft carriers that boast nuclear power and limitless operational range.

    The reliance on Mazut, which requires preheating and pressurization, has also led to frequent piping failures, reducing the carrier’s speed to as low as four knots per hour at times. Consequently, the vessel is often accompanied by tugboats, standing by to tow her back to port if needed.

    Adding to its list of troubles is the carrier’s method of launching aircraft—a bow ramp, which is considered outdated when compared to the catapult systems used by carriers such as the U.S. Nimitz and Ford classes.

    This launch method limits the Kuznetsov’s ability to deploy heavier aircraft, forcing a reduction in ordnance and fuel loads, thus compromising the ship’s core mission of projecting airpower.

    Efforts to modernize Russia’s carrier fleet have been hampered by economic sanctions and manufacturing challenges. Plans for new Ivan Rogov-class amphibious assault ships, which might serve as light carriers, seem unrealistic in the current climate of economic difficulties.

    Meanwhile, the beleaguered Kuznetsov continues to project an image of operational inefficiency, characterized by its thick black smoke trail.

    Despite its unfortunate track record, Russia appears hesitant to retire the Kuznetsov without a replacement. This speaks volumes about the state of Russian naval power and the nation’s military capabilities in general.

    With the refit and maintenance schedule plagued by delays, and even a reduced budget for the necessary upgrades, the future of the Kuznetsov remains uncertain. Reports suggest that the ship might rejoin the fleet by the end of 2024 or 2025, yet this seems optimistic given the extensive list of issues yet to be resolved.

    With an aging air wing and a history of bad luck—including the sinking of its drydock and frequent fires—one has to wonder whether the Kuznetsov’s return to service would meaningfully bolster Russia’s naval power or merely continue its legacy of problems.

    The Kuznetsov’s plight could be emblematic of a Russian military apparatus that was once formidable but now appears to be a shadow of its former self—a paper tiger of the seas.

    Relevant articles:
    Admiral Kuznetsov: Russia’s Lone Aircraft Carrier Is Stuck in Forever Maintenance, The National Interest
    Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier Nightmare Is Here To Stay, nationalinterest.org
    Will Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier Ever Sail Again?, The National Interest
    Admiral Kuznetsov: Is Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Cursed?, Popular Mechanics

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