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The Admiral Kuznetsov fire: Game over for Russia’s only carrier? Probably not.

PortandTerminal.com, December 13, 2019

At the moment, Russia’s only aircraft carrier is the troubled Admiral Kuznetsov, a ski jump carrier. Yesterday’s fire onboard the warship is just the latest in a long string of mishaps the troubled vessel has endured

MOSCOW – Yesterday Russia’s only remaining aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, caught fire while docked at the Arctic port of Murmansk for much-needed repairs. The blaze spread to cover 6,500 square feet as firefighters struggled to contain it. One person died and 10 were injured in the fire. Six are reportedly still in intensive care.

The Kuznetsov is shown here smouldering from a fire that occurred yesterday while the vessel was in port for repairs

Many are wondering if this latest incident to cripple the Kuznetsov isn’t the final blow and the end of Russian carriers for the time being at least. Problems have plagued the Kuznetsove since it was commissioned in 1990.

READ: Russia’s only aircraft carrier stricken by fire in latest mishap

One ongoing problem is that the vessel is powered by steam turbines and turbo-pressurized boilers that are so unreliable that it is accompanied by a large ocean-going tug whenever it deploys, in case it breaks down.

“There’s nothing more depressing for a naval captain when he leaves home waters than to be escorted by a tug because even your commander in chief thinks you are going to break down.”

British Royal Naval source

Flaws in the water piping system mean it freezes during winter. To prevent pipes bursting, the water is turned off to most of the cabins and half the latrines do no work.

Crane Crash

In 2018 the vessel sustained damage during repair work when the floating dock holding it sank and a 70-tonne crane crashed onto its deck, leaving a gash five metres (16.5 feet) wide. The dock reportedly sank after a power cut led to rapid flooding of its ballast tanks. Both its cranes collapsed, one hitting the aircraft carrier which was exiting the dock at the time.

At the time, Russian officials insisted the damage was “not critical”.

The Kuznetsov sustained damage during repair work last year when the floating dock holding it sank and a 70-tonne crane crashed onto its deck, leaving a gash five metres (16.5 feet) wide


The Kuznetsov has played a prominent role in Russia’s military campaign in Syria, where Russian fighter jets have supported troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

It was at the centre of two accidents during its mission in the Mediterranean in late 2016. A MiG fighter jet crashed into the sea as it approached the ship and an Su-33 crashed on landing when a cable broke, and the plane rolled off the deck. After that incident, the Russian Navy was forced to transfer the carrier’s remaining aircraft to an airbase in Syria to continue operations while the carrier’s issue was resolved.

Admiral Kuznetsov billowing smoke as it passes close to the coast of England, limping home from Syria

In January 2017, the Kuznetsov was dubbed the “ship of shame” by the UK’s then Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, as it returned from its mission in Syria, sailing close to the UK coast.

“We are keeping a close eye on the Admiral Kuznetsov as it skulks back to Russia; a ship of shame whose mission has only extended the suffering of the Syrian people,”

The ageing carrier sparked mocking headlines as it passed, belching clouds of black smoke.

The future for the Admiral Kuznetsov

Russia has cancelled more carriers than most countries have ever contemplated. At one point, former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev suggested that Russia would build and operate six aircraft carriers by 2025. That looks unlikely to happen.

For all of its faults and flaws, the Admiral Kuznetsov is Russia’s only remaining carrier.  And while it is old and in poor condition, Russia has no other carrier even close to being laid down. The Kuznetsov will in all likelihood be bandaged up and put back into service as soon as it is practical to do so.

Admiral Kuznetsov Specs

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