On February 21, Admiral Kuznetsov, the sole aircraft carrier of the Russian military, departed from the 35th SRZ drydock near Murmansk on Russia’s Arctic Coast.
The aircraft carrier was seen being pulled by a tugboat in footage released by Zvezda News, the state-run media outlet of the Russian Ministry of Defense, on its Telegram channel.
According to the Zvyozdochka Ship Repair Center, a division of United Shipbuilding Corporation, which spoke to the local media, the operation to pull Admiral Kuznetsov “from the dry dock has been completed.”
Zvezda News stated that the aircraft carrier departed from the dock to the song “Farewell of Slavianka,” a Russian patriotic march.
Alexei Rakhmanov, the head of United Shipbuilding Corporation, is quoted in the report as saying that the vessel has departed the dock since all of the underwater work had been finished.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) February 21, 2023
In December 2022, it was first reported that the Russian military had begun withdrawing Admiral Kuznetsov from the dockyard. At the time, the operation was expected to take a month to complete.
Ultimately, the operation took nearly two months, with the ship finally leaving drydock in late February 2023.
Admiral Kuznetsov was brought to its specially constructed drydock in Sevmorput, also known as Shipyard Number 35 or the 35th Shipyard, in May 2022.
In 2018, Moscow’s biggest floating drydock, PD-50, sank due to a mishap. After that, Russia tried to secure a drydock solution large enough for Admiral Kuznetsov. The whole situation drew attention to shortcomings in Russia’s naval support system.
In response to the unexpected loss of PD-50, a lengthy effort was made at the 35th Shipyard to construct a new drainable basin large enough to house the aircraft carrier.
Nevertheless, the flagship of Russia’s Northern Fleet is expected to start operating again in early 2024.
The Ill-fated Overhaul Of Admiral Kuznetsov
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was put into service in 1990. It was the only carrier ever completed in the Soviet Union and the only one the Russian Navy kept after Kiev-class carriers were decommissioned. It could accommodate 24 aircraft.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, Varyag, a sister ship to Admiral Kuznetsov, was still being constructed. The Ukrainians took over the Varyag when the Soviet Black Sea Fleet’s ships were divided between Russia and Ukraine.
The incomplete ship was then sold by Ukraine to a Chinese buyer for $20 million with the assurance that it would be converted into a floating casino.
The Varyag eventually found its way to a Chinese naval shipyard, where it was refitted for its original mission. It was turned into China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
The Russian aircraft carrier’s last deployment occurred in 2016, assisting Russian operations in Syria. The 60,000-ton ship has gone through unlucky incidents that have complicated its overhaul project.
The Kuznetsov has been out of service for maintenance since 2017. The overhaul, which aimed to provide the ship with an additional 25 years of service, included new electronic warfare, communication, propulsion, and combat systems.
By 2020 or 2021, the repairs were anticipated to be accomplished. But, for several reasons, the restoration work was prolonged.
In 2018 a dockyard crane fell, creating a 200-square-foot hole in its flight deck. The ship was being repaired at Murmansk when a major fire broke out in December 2019, resulting in at least one fatality.
In March 2021, the director of Shipyard No. 10 in Polyarny was detained on suspicion of embezzling $589 million that had been wrongfully allotted for the restoration of the Kuznetsov.
In December 2022, a fire resulted in what the Russian authorities labeled “minor” damage. That was not the first time the vessel had caught fire. A separate fire incident in 2009 resulted in the death of a sailor due to smoke inhalation.
It goes without saying that over its entire service life, Admiral Kuznetsov has experienced a lot of challenges. An ocean-going tug even accompanies the aircraft carrier in case of emergency. Whatever the case, it is reported that work on the ship continued in some form throughout these setbacks.
Many experts have even questioned whether Russia is making the best investment by continuing to fund Admiral Kuznetsov when other projects might be more valuable and long-lasting.