Admiral Kuznetsov: Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Is One Giant Mess

Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier is filled with problems: Russia’s only aircraft carrier has rightfully earned the reputation of a cursed ship. Earlier this month, Russian state media reported that Admiral Kuznetsov will be unable to return to service until 2024. The “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser” has been undergoing repairs and modernization enhancements in shipyards for five years. Since the carrier’s entry into service, it has suffered from numerous breakdowns, fatal electrical fires, and failed aircraft landings. However, the vessel remains Moscow’s sole symbol of power projection at sea, as sad as that is.

Admiral Kuznetsov: A Long Name and Long History of Woes

Originally named the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov, Moscow’s sole carrier serves as the flagship of the Russian Navy. The vessel was first launched nearly forty years ago by the Black Sea Shipyard manufacturer in the former Soviet Union. The vessel is powered by a toxic, black substance called Mazut, a common fuel used for ships worldwide in the first half of the twentieth century. The heavy dark smoke the fuel produces makes the vessel very easy to spot. Designated a “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,” the carrier features at least 24 rotary-style vertical launch systems with eight missile cells each. According to The Drive, the “ship bristles with a virtual wall of close-in ωεɑρσռs systems (CIWS), including six AK-630 cannons and at least eight Kashtan missile/cannon CIWS systems.”

Despite its decades-long service, the Admiral Kuznetsov has only participated in one long-range combat mission. In 2016, the vessel traveled to the Eastern Mediterranean to provide air support to pro-Assad forces in Syria. This experience was lackluster at best and embarrassing at worst for the Russian Navy. First, the vessel lost two aircraft that failed to land on the ship’s flight deck. A MiG fighter crashed into the sea and a Su-33 crashed upon landing. Next, the carrier was ultimately accompanied by a tugboat on its journey back to Russia in case it couldn’t survive the waters on its own.

Admiral Kuznetsov: All the Problems

The Admiral Kuznetsov’s shaky history dates back even further. In 2009, a fire broke out on board the vessel while anchored off Turkey and killed a sailor. One month later, the carrier was involved in a large oil spill while refueling off the coast of Ireland. While the ship was docked for repairs in 2018, a bizarre accident involving the PD-50 drydock it was positioned on top when a giant crane crashed onto the deck. A second fire engulfed the carrier in 2019, killing two workers and injuring over a dozen more. While the aftermath of the fire produced several million dollars worth of damage, the Russian Navy was committed to refurbishing its aging (and failing) flagship.

The Kuznetsov’s extensive history of misfortune and accidents has led to its reputation as a “cursed” vessel. In 2017, the United Kingdom’s then-Defense Secretary called the Kuznetsov “the ship of shame,” a title that is widely recognized around the world. Despite its infamy, the Kuznetsov is the only carrier Russia has. The ship will likely remain “active” until Moscow requires a better alternative. Today, the U.S. has the only Navy with global power projection capabilities since it possesses the resources and support network to keep its ships at sea at any corner of the globe.