Due to historical and political considerations, carrier development such as Admiral Kuznetsov got off to a slow start in the Soviet Union.
The debate over large decked carriers has been ongoing for decades starting the 1930’s with Stalin; however, two carriers were planned but canceled with the start of WW II with the ground war being a major consideration.
After the war, the Soviet Navy saw how the aircraft carrier played a pivotal role in defeating Japan.
In 1945 the Soviets drafted plans to construct a new class of carriers by the 1950’s.
With Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev took over the Soviet state and announced deep military cuts. The plans to construct a new class of carriers were stopped by Khrushchev feeling that a nuclear strike would eliminate a carrier as a viable weapon so the carrier program became a prime target for cancellation.
In the early 1960’s when the Brezhnev regime took over, the carrier became a reality with the Moskva and the Leningrad built between 1965 and 1968.
However, they were not true aircraft carriers supported only with helicopters, no fixed-wing aircraft.
This concept was one of the anti-submarine vessels used as a weapon suite that protected against the American nuclear submarine threat. Again the compromise between the anti sub and fleet protection was the Kiev CVHG class in 1975, both were helicopter vessels.
Arguments between the government and the military continued but the day of the true Soviet aircraft carrier was at hand in 1991 with the Admiral Kuznetsov CV class aircraft carrier.
Admiral Kuznetsov was first named “Riga” for the city of the “Leonid Brezhnev“, next was “Tbilisi” also a Russian city.
Admiral Kuznetsov classification was changed from “CV“, aircraft carrier, to “TAVKR“, or heavy aircraft carrying cruiser. The reason for the name change was the Montreaux Convention in 1936 stated an aircraft carrier CV could not pass through the Dardanelles. Russia’s carriers are built on the Black Sea making this an international issue when the time came for the ships to enter the Mediterranean Sea and beyond.
Currently, Admiral Kuznetsov is the only Russian fixed-wing carrier in service. She is conventionally powered and has a mixture of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The carrier’s main fixed-wing aircraft is the multi-role Su-33. The air groups can perform air superiority, fleet defense, and air support missions.
Also onboard are twin seats Su-27, which are used for pilot training along with the Su-25UTG. The carrier also carries the Kamov Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopters for anti-submarine warfare and troop transport.
Fixed-wing aircraft taking off from the Admiral utilize a ski-jump on the front of the flight deck.
Aircraft accelerate up the ski-jump using their afterburners. This results in the aircraft leaving the flight deck at a modestly higher angle and elevation than on a comparable American aircraft carrier with their flat deck and steam catapults. The ski-jump creates less G-force on the pilot because the acceleration is lower.
The result is a takeoff speed of only 120-140 km/h requiring an aircraft engine that will not stall at low speeds.
The Russian Navy has indicated they will continue to be committed to aircraft carrier development based on the US Navy model. This is easy to say however it will require massive funds, technology, and additional trained naval personnel currently not available.
Also, the Khrushchev mindset has not completely gone away with the cost of the USN model and anti-ship missiles making a carrier an easy target in a conflict.
Another issue is the additional cost of the carrier fleet to protect the carrier.
Some in Moscow feel this is not a good argument due to Russian ships having a weapons suite of SSM/SAM missiles on board for air threat protection.
The expansion of a Russian carrier fleet is bleak at best. However, the desire to provide political forward presence like the visit to Venezuela on 11/25/08 and Cuba in early 2009 is a top priority.
The future of the Admiral Kuznetsov is problematic with parts becoming an issue and refits scheduled closer together.
The Russian government feels she will be in service till 2030, being the only carrier supporting fixed-wing aircraft.
Another problem for the military will be to maintain her aged aircraft.
Her sister ship, Varyag was launched in 1988 but never completed.
Some reports indicate is she is to be sold to the Peoples Republic of China another report says she will become a floating hotel.
She is reported to be moored at the Nikolayev South shipyard in Ukraine.
Navy officials indicated due to her material condition she will never go to sea.
*This article was originally published at www.militaryfactory.com