The inauspicious performance of Admiral Kuznetsov begs questions about the prospects for a new Russian carrier.
Belching black smoke, Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov reached the Med and began ops against Syrian targets about a month ago.
But after losing two fighters to arresting gear problems in less than a month, Kuznetsov’s air wing could be ashore at Khmeimim airfield for quite a while.
Even without the accidents, this might have been inevitable since its fighters can’t carry much fuel or ordnance and still ski jump off the carrier’s deck.
Nevertheless, on December 1, Military-Industrial Commission member Vladimir Pospelov told Interfaks-AVN that aircraft carriers have a place in future naval development planning:
“In the programs we are formulating for the future, ships of this class are present. The tasks and missions the Russian Navy is performing, I’m sure, in the future will be performed by ships of this class.”
As head of the VPK’s shipbuilding council, Pospelov emphasized that “several variants [of carriers] are always being reviewed.” He didn’t place special importance on the proyekt 23000 Shtorm model, and he intimated that no decision for nuclear propulsion has been reached.
More significantly, Pospelov stated that:
“. . . the decisions taken on the final variant will be optimal both in the effectiveness of accomplishing combat missions, and, of course, in the effectiveness and cost of the work.”
“And, of course, the possibilities of the economy are being weighed since naval aircraft-carrying systems are a very expensive pleasure. Particularly accounting for the fact that part of their missions can be resolved by other effective naval means.”
Interfaks-AVN interjected that what Pospelov has in mind are the Russian Navy’s new missile ships. The news agency likely means small missile ships like Serpukhov and Zelenyy Dol that fired Kalibr cruise missiles at Syrian targets in August.
Regarding those “other effective naval means,” Pospelov concluded that:
“A sharp increase in the effectiveness of shipborne systems, the development of radioelectronic weapons, the effectiveness of missile systems, and the reduction of their dimensions is going on. And in the completion of missions, their effectiveness is always increasing from the point of view of accuracy, range, and targeting.”
Still, in a final nod to carriers, he said:
“It goes without saying that development in the direction of an aircraft carrier is also principally important. On the whole not just for the Russian Navy, but for our country as a naval power.”
But Interfaks-AVN closed by reminding readers of Deputy Defense Minister Borisov’s statement that a new carrier might be built after 2025.
The Navy can’t be pleased by any of this.
Not only has Kuznetsov been an embarrassment when it’s supposed to demonstrate Russia’s world-class naval power. But now Pospelov — an influential bureaucrat — has hinted publicly that Moscow should consider whether investing in its “mosquito fleet” is a better bet than a high-cost, high-risk strategy of designing, developing, and building a new aircraft carrier for the twenty-first century.
A carrier won’t be in the next arms program, but rather, possibly, the one after next. With less defense funding likely in the outyears, delay in an expensive weapons system like this is almost the same thing as death.
The Navy, some in Moscow, and perhaps even President Vladimir Putin himself might really like the idea of building (or rebuilding) a major surface fleet to make Russia’s presence known on the world’s oceans. But things aren’t going well in Russia’s shipyards. If the Navy has to wait fifteen or twenty years to replace Kuznetsov, where will it be when that first, and perhaps only, new carrier arrives? Much, much further behind than today in its experience of operating a carrier battle group, let alone several of them.
In short, the U.S. Navy is unique in the world. Russia isn’t going to compete with its strengths and will have to think about meeting them asymmetrically.
This is why the idea of building numerous small combatants with lethal missiles to defeat or deny access to hostile forces in the closed seas surrounding the Russian Federation is appealing. It would allow Moscow to leverage its ground, air, and air defense forces against naval threats in a combined arms approach.
If China is doing it with its much larger economy, why not Russia?
With a future carrier put off to a distant time, perhaps Moscow has decided de facto for an anti-navy navy. As stated above, delay is about the same as death.