Staunton, April 4 – Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the much-troubled Admiral Kuznetsov, that even now cannot go to sea without the accompaniment of tugboats capable of pulling it back to port, may never return to active service because, after the drydock disaster of last October, Moscow doesn’t have the capacity to refit it anytime soon, Ilya Kramnik of Izvestiya says.
In an article in the Moscow paper today, Kramnik says that it is possible that the ship will have to be written off entirely or reduced to serving as a training center for new recruits but not be capable of playing any serious military role (iz.ru/863860/ilia-kramnik/chto-delat-s-avianostcem-admiral-kuznetcov-mozhet-ne-vernutsia-v-stroi).
To avoid that outcome would cost enormous sums to develop new yards in which the ship could be refitted, money that many in the Russian defense ministry believe, the Izvestiya journalist continues, could be better spent on building several smaller ships or even a nuclear-powered submarine.
At present, Kramnik says, the troubled carrier is docked in yards on the Kola Peninsula, its screws and other portions of the vessel damaged by the accident at the end of October 2018 in which the floating dry dock in which the ship was being worked on sank. There is currently no adequate replacement for that facility, at least in the Russian North.
Some naval officers and shipbuilders have made promises that everything will be solved and that the Kuznetsov will be returned to service by the end of 2021; but an examination of the wharves and dry docks capable of handling a ship of that size suggest that such predictions are wildly and impossibly optimistic, the journalist continues.
As a result, he continues, ever more voices within the defense establishment are suggesting that it would be better not to try to refit the Kuznetsov but instead spend the money on a pair of frigates of an atomic-powered submarine. And such people say that even if the ship does go to sea again, it will be only as a training site and not a combat-ready vessel.
If their views are correct – and Kramnik strongly suggests that they are – Russia will no longer have an aircraft carrier in service, a development that will further undercut its claims to be a military superpower, limit its ability to project power far from its shores, and, at the same time, put more pressure on the Kremlin to seek to open bases it can use in lieu of such a ship.