Sunday, April 7, 2019

Kuznetsov Retiring?

No, not Yevgeny, so you hockey fans of the Washington Capitols do not have to worry.  The speculation is that the Russian Navy may decommission their only Aircraft Carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.  She was launched 34 years ago and named after the Admiral of the Fleet and Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II, Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov.  She was built in a Ukrainian ship yard.  Her sister ship, the Varyag, was sold to the Chinese Navy and is now the Liaoning. 

The Kuznetsov has had a troubled history.  While on her last deployment to Syria she had to be accompanied by an ocean-going tugboat in case of propulsion failure.  During that transit she belched out huge plumes of black smoke.   After returning to her home port at the Northern Fleet Base in Severomorsk she was transferred to a ship repair yard in Murmansk.  Plans were to replace her power plant and completely modernize her electronics suite.  Work was supposed to be completed by late 2020.  However, with the failure and sinking of drydock PD-50 in which she was being retrofitted, that may not happen.  In fact there is much discussion in the Russian press as to whether the retrofit is worth it and several have called for her to be decommissioned.

So, if she is decommissioned, the question in my mind will be:  Do the Russians know something we don't about the effectiveness and vulnerabilities of carriers in the 21st Century considering current state of the art in A2/AD weapon systems?   Maybe not.  They have proposed and reportedly started early design and development of a super-carrier of their own, the Shtorm or 23000E.  That carrier has been postponed by Putin.  But it is still part of the Russian State Armament 10-year plan.  Russian officials quoted in Sputnik claim construction on it will start sometime after 2024.  And they are talking of possible exports to India.

Too bad about the Kuznetsov.  The guy she was named for was an interesting sailor.  Born and raised in a small village near Arkhangelsk, the son of a Serbian immigrant father.  He lied about his age and enlisted when he was 15 as an able bodied seaman during the Russian Civil War.  He served with a Red Flotilla on the Dvina River.  I have to wonder if he saw action against Detroit's 339th Infantry during the North Russia Intervention?  Or against Brits, Canadians, French, and Italians who were also there?   22 years later as People's Commissar of the Navy he disregarded orders from Stalin and put the Navy on battle stations several hours before the start of Operation Barbarossa.  The Soviet Army and Air Force were caught with their pants down because of Stalin's paranoia that the British, perfidious Albion, were trying to get him in a war with Hitler and refusing to respond to Luftwaffe recon overflights. Some claim that Kuznetsov saved the Soviet Navy from destruction by that alert.

Kuznetsov was later (1947 and 48) put on trial by Stalin and demoted, then eventually rehabilitated.  In 1955 Zhukov removed him from his post.  Not until 14 years after his death was he exonerated of all charges, reinstated to his former rank, and perceived as one of the most brilliant men in the history of the Soviet Navy.  He has been praised for providing the ideas and concepts for building up a blue water navy during the 60s and 70s.  Even though those ideas were carried out after his fall from grace by schmoozer and political Admiral, Sergei Gorshkov, who had the influence with the Communist Party's Central Committee to pull it off.   To the left is a photo of Kuznetsov at the Yalta Conference in 1944 standing with CNO/COMINCH US Fleet, Admiral King.

UPDATE:  Kuznetsov was a prolific writer writing many books and articles on naval tactics and strategy.  And long after his death, his widow turned over much of his later writings to the press.  Unfortunately the only book of his translated into English that I know of is historical:  "Memoirs of Wartime Minister of the Navy" by Progress Publishers.

There are a few excerpts on the internet, for example:

UPDATE #2Looks like they will not put her out to pasture. 
Yesterday Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that repair and modernization of the aircraft-carrying cruiser "Admiral Kuznetsov" will be completed next year.  “At the moment, work is being carried out in accordance with the master plan schedule. Technical readiness of the cruiser is 25%. Its repair and modernization is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, ” Shoigu said on Tuesday at a conference call at the Russian Defense Ministry.   He also mentioned several other Naval projects:  Two new Ivan Gren Class amphibious Assault ships, ten new stealthy Derzky Class corvettes, and two new Admiral Gorshkov frigates.


  1. The Russian Su-34 have such a great range that the Russians don't need carriers to dominate the surface of their Northern SSBN bastion (if they still use that concept at all). They don't even really need any tankers.

    The carrier was always good for but one thing; bombing on Third World countries' soil. The Russians intervene rarely far away, and have little use for it. They can make use of proxy airbases as in Syria in most conceivable realistic cases, so the case for the carrier is a weak one even before going all economist on it.

    The Russian Navy is in a sorry state of affairs - even their most important programs (SSNs and SSBNs) don't progress well. Their conventional AIP sub would be a great export opportunity, but the Russian navy doesn't fund its full development as initial customer and even the Indians have no real interest in buying what's a mere proposal in need of additional development funding.

    Personally, I think the Russians could let go of all warships and dominate the surrounding seas with land-based aircraft like Su-57 (and maybe PAK-DA) in the future. They are extremely continental and their navy is fragmented into four seas anyway. Their road- and rail-mobile ICBMs and possibly some black sea SSB should be a good-enough deterrent; the survivability of their SSBNs against British and American SSNs is worse than questionable anyway.

  2. Kuznetsov was a champion of land based naval aviation. His Baltic Fleet Air Arm launched raids on bases in Memel, Danzig, Gdynia, and Turku, Kotka, & Tampere. They also dropped mines and attacked convoys. It was he that conceived and planned the bombing of Berlin by the Baltic Fleet Air Arm right after the Luftwaffe bombed Moscow in late July of 41. Goebbels blamed it on the RAF because Göring had told him the Soviet Air Force had been destroyed. That raid on Berlin may have only been a pinprick but it caused Hitler to delay the push on Leningrad in order to conquer Ösel Island (now Saaremaa) in Estonia where the raid was launched from. Also his Northern Fleet Air Arm provided safe passage for over 1,400 ships in allied convoys, and helped defend Murmansk during Operation Silverfox.

    The carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was never intended for power projection ashore, or "bombing on Third World countries soil" as you call it. The original concept was for it to defend submarines and surface fleets mainly in the Barents Sea but also in the North Atlantic. Her designation was a "Heavy Aircraft-carrying Missile Cruiser". Originally her main complement was long range surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles. The SU-33s were primarily for defense and the KA-27 helos for ASW. But I believe those SSMs were removed about a decade ago. Not sure why. She has only deployed down to the eastern Mediterranean off of Tartus Syria six times in her 30 year lifespan and that was only to show the flag, except for the last deployment in 2016/17 when she participated in bombing the FSA. Those were typically 90-day deployments during arctic winters when the days are short in the Barents Sea where flight ops are limited.

    I agree about your comment on Russian SSBN survivability.

    1. I know that the Soviet CV fleet was meant to dominate the seas of the Northern Bastion, not bomb Third World countries.
      Yet the latter is the only thing the carrier is and ever was (somewhat) good for de facto.

      The unusually good range of the Su-27 allowed for land-based air cover for the Northern Bastion.

      The handful sorties a carrier like that could generate pales next to the vastly more powerful land bases. A single torpedo from a SSN could put a carrier out of action for the remainder of a war anyway.

    2. Well actually, the biggest threat to the Northern Bastion was NOT a NATO surface task force, which your SU-27s maybe could have handled. The threat was US Navy attack subs. If we can believe open source press reports then Virginia Class SSNs are frequently on patrol in the inner Northern Bastion. Which the SU-27s were useless against and the IL-38s or TU-95s would never have found anyway. Plus those SU-27s never had the range for that Bastion Defense Area your first link shows in the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap.

      So they needed something like the Kuznetsov class carriers to help find that threat. Their mistake was to try to make it multi-mission capable with anti-ship missiles, fighter/attack fixed wing, and ASW helicopters. They should have developed it into a strictly ASW hunter-killer ship. i.e. keep the KA-27s, add a squadron of fixed wing ASW aircraft, beef up the sonar, perhaps add a TASS-like system? Quiet it down a lot, a noisy hunter scares away the quarry. And they should have spent bolshoi rubles on a SOSUS like system, which they may finally be doing:

    3. Their Moskva and Kiev carriers provided ASW helos. That purpose didn't require a jump ski carrier.

      The Moskvas were the most efficient design for the ASW helo carrier purpose.
      The Kuznetzov was about supersonic fighter(bombers), and those could have been had with land bases.

      So again, the only real utility they brought to the table was threatening or bombing distant places a bit.

    4. Moskva Class was not seaworthy - a distinct disadvantage in the Barents Sea and the North Atlantic. Would probably have been fine for the Black Sea and the Med.

      Kiev Class did have a ski-jump ramp like the Kuznetsov. They carried about a dozen fixed wing strike fighters - older ones, YAK-38s. The one they sold to India, the INS Vikramaditya, now carries MIG-29s.

      It seems neither you nor I like the Kuznetsov but for different reasons: You think it has a single utility to be used for bombing the Third World. I dislike it because I perceive it to be a multi-mission monstrosity - designed for too many dissimilar warfare specialties therefore not good at any of them.

  3. I posted an update above on Admiral Kuznetsov's writing.

  4. My recollection is that the Soviets didn't tend to do the cabinet-war/military assistance from offshore. Typically they would work with a land-based local proxy. So, as you note, mike, while the US carriers have typically done a lot of bloody-handed work in the less-paved parts of the globe the Soviet Navy seldom did.

    I think Sven's point, though, was that it seems that since 1945 we have no dataset for blue-water carrier operations. Clearly the USN thinks that's the mode their carriers will primarily work in. But in fact most of the actual USN carrier operations have been as floating CAS/air superiority platforms for cabinet wars, and nothing at all for the Soviet carrier(s).

  5. "the Soviet Navy seldom did."

    Only once that I know of. During a 2016 deployment to the eastern Med they participated in the Aleppo offensive of Nov/Dec. But even for most of that the carrier based aircraft flew most of their missions out of Hmeimim AB with just a few sorties from the Kuznetsov itself.

    Were there others?

    1. Not that I can recall. I don't have a good handle on what the Soviets were doing during the various Arab-Israeli wars, but I don't recall hearing that they were in the eastern Med at the time. Nothing during the various proxy wars in Africa. AFAIK not even anything during the confrontations along the northern fringes of the Black Sea between Russia-Georgia and the Ukraine. Cuban Missile Crisis? Nothing I can think of. Nothing in SE Asia, either...

      So "seldom" pretty much translates as "nothing I can think of".

    2. Were there no US carriers near the coast of Libya during the earlier attempt at killing Gaddafi, and the most recent one one, the Hitlery Clinton war of the poses?

    3. Chief, carriers are not allowed to transit the Turkish controlled straits of Dardanelles, and Bosporus (By an International agreement, soon to be ignored by Murrica), Sultan Erdogan will be the decisive issue, methinks, since they have a lot of potential hostages.

    4. Eddie -

      That is why the Russians always called their carriers as "Cruisers" wink wink. They can carry two to three aircraft squadrons and still go through the Turkish Straits.

  6. And unlike the particularly aviation-rich Japanese "destroyers" the Russian designs actually justify their designation with hardware.

    1. Ise and Hyuga? Named after their hybrid predecessors in WW2, which were half battleships and half carrier. Multi-mission monstrosities like the Kuznetsov!

  7. I posted another update above. Per the Russian Defense Minister Sergei yesterday repair and modernization will be completed next year.