Russia has a major maritime problem: the largest ship in its fleet

The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov remains a problem nest for the Russian Navy. The vessel has been under maintenance at a shipyard in Murmansk since 2017. It is expected to be operational again by the end of 2024, although this date may be strongly questioned.

A total of 26 aircraft carriers are currently sailing at sea. The United States clearly has the supremacy with no less than 11 ships under the US Navy flag, and these are by far the largest: at 333 meters long, they exceed the Russian ship Admiral Kuznetsov by about thirty meters, and in terms of tonnage they are about twice as heavy.

Ship Dispute

Admiral Kuznetsov is far from being the most modern aircraft carrier: the ship was first launched in 1985, at the shipyard in the Ukrainian city (then in the Soviet Union) of Mykolaiv. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine, the ship was always the subject of a diplomatic dispute: the then Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk had suggested to the ship’s captain, Viktor Yarygin , to temporarily dock in Sevastopol, Crimea, until it was determined whether the ship was Ukrainian or Russian owned.

Eventually, the deputy commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, Yuri Ustimenko, himself descended on Crimea to order Yarigin to join the naval base of Vidyayevo, in the Far North. The ship did not arrive there until more than a year later.

Over the next few years, the ship saw regular service, both in training and in actual combat missions. In 2016, for example, Russian Sukhoi Su-33 fighter jets were launched from Admiral Kuznetsov to bomb the positions of the Islamic State and the Nusra Front (the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) in the provinces from Idlib and Homs in northern Syria.

serial problems

The following year, however, it was decided that the carrier needed major maintenance. The ship’s propulsion and electronics, for example, needed to be modernized to extend its lifespan for another 25 years. But almost at the same time as the works, the problems began.

On October 30, 2018, the ship was damaged while at anchor in Kola Bay, off the Russian city of Murmansk. There, work was done on the ship in a floating drydock, then the largest in the world, built to work on ships and submarines too large for the facilities of the naval base itself.

This drydock, due to a technical fault, suddenly began to sink. A 70-ton crane began to wobble and fell on Admiral Kuznetsov’s deck, creating a 19-square-meter hole. Several workers were also injured in the accident, with the floating drydock suddenly becoming a submerged drydock.

Is it worth it?

Eventually, it took three months before the crane could be removed. The ship itself was also repaired, which cost over a million dollars and took up to eight months. In December 2019, another incident occurred on the ship. A fire broke out that claimed the lives of two workers and injured 14 others.

The ship itself was also badly damaged; a source within the Northern Fleet informed the Russian news agency Kommersant that the total cost of repairs and modernization of the ship amounted to no less than $1.5 billion.

At the time, people were already wondering if it was all well worth it and whether the now 35-year-old ship could not be replaced by a new one instead. Plans for a successor were already in place, but the final design has yet to be approved and it seems doubtful it ever will. Russia, meanwhile, has sold the plans to India and does not appear to have enough surplus budget to build a new aircraft carrier, bearing in mind that it has a war to wage in Ukraine.

And then one last problem was yet to come. Because last week, another fire broke out on the ship, which could be extinguished quickly, however, without too much damage. The ship was about to leave the drydock, an operation that could take up to a month. However, full modernization will take some time; by the end of 2024, it should then be definitely ready for deployment again by the Russian Navy.


Russia has a major maritime problem: the largest ship in its fleet