After years of repairs, Russia’s only remaining aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has left dry dock. It still isn’t ready for the open ocean though, and given Russia’s current priorities in Ukraine and the drain that war is causing on Russian resources, one wonders if the Kuznetsov will ever see the open ocean again. Tomasz Grotnik reports for Naval News on the Kuznetsov’s return to the water, writing:
The operation took place at night and was made possible by the completion of repairs to the aircraft carrier’s hull’s underwater section. The Kuznetsov has been under repair since 2018, but the bad luck that plagued it previously has yet to leave the vessel. The aircraft carrier is scheduled to return to service in 2024, according to current plans.
The Kuznetsov, formally designated by the Russian Navy as a “Project 11435 heavy aircraft carrying cruiser”, is Moscow’s only vessel of its type. It is a cross between an aircraft carrier and a strike ship, equipped not only with embarked aviation but also with a powerful P-700 Granit long-range anti-ship missile system. Kuznetsov went into service in 1991 and is now both morally and technically obsolete. Because the prospects of acquiring a successor are hazy for a variety of reasons, the Russians are doing everything they can to keep it operational. These efforts, however, are having a negative impact on them.
A recent, less than a three-month long, cruise to the Syrian region in late 2016 and early 2017 was counterproductive, with two embarrassing onboard plane crashes. After returning to Severomorsk, the ship was sent for a major overhaul combined with modernization.
The deal between USC and the Russian Ministry of Defence was inked in April 2018. The plan did not include the overhaul of the Granit missile system, which meant the carrier would not be fitted with this capability anymore. The Kuznetsov was assigned to the 82nd Roslakovo Repair Shipyard. The work was supposed to last until 2020, with the unit returning to service a year later, extending the service life of the ship by ten years. The aircraft carrier was docked on one of the world’s largest floating dock, the PD-50. It was 330 meters long and could transport 80,000 tons.
From then on, nothing went on smoothly. The PD-50 sank on October 30, 2018, as a result of a malfunction caused by a power outage at the dock’s pumps. One worker was killed, and the carrier suffered damage after leaving the dock at the last minute. A crane fell from the dock, causing damage to the flight deck. The incident impacted the overhaul’s completion date. The ship was towed to Severomorsk’s 35th Repair Shipyard, a subsidiary of the Severodvinsk-based “Zwiezdochka” Repair Center. Work was already underway on time after that, according to the revised schedule. Rakhmanov told TASS on December 9, 2019, that the aircraft carrier would return to the fleet in 2022. His words lasted three days…
On December 12, a fire broke out in the first compartment of the engine room, which was extinguished the next day. Two sailors were killed and 14 were injured. It consumed about 500 m2 of the ship’s area. On April 3, 2020, Rachmanov announced that the fire caused a loss of about RUB 500 million. In doing so, he reiterated the date of the Kuznetsov‘s handover in 2022, which immediately seemed unjustifiably optimistic.
The loss of the PD-50 dock, the only one in this part of the world capable of accommodating the Kuznetsov, necessitated a substitute. It was decided to rebuild and enlarge the two parallel dry docks located at the 35th Repair Yard, whose amalgamation, lengthening and modernization were to provide repair space for Russia’s only aircraft carrier. It wasn’t until May 2022 that the carrier went to the new dock, from which it was just hauled out.
However, before that happened, another fire broke out in December 2022. According to Rachmanov, no one was injured as a result of the incident, and there was no serious damage to the Kuznetsov. The overhaul will continue until 2024. Electronics are to be replaced (it was not specified what kind) and the following are to be repaired: the flight deck, ski-jump, engine room equipment and the propulsion system.
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