Ukraine War: Russia’s ‘Cursed’ Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov Set To Join The Combat Fleet In 2024 With New Capabilities

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is reportedly being equipped with a host of air defense systems and armed to the teeth to make it combat-ready.

In February 2023, Admiral Kuznetsov, the sole aircraft carrier of the Russian military, departed from the 35th SRZ drydock near Murmansk on Russia’s Arctic Coast. It has been speculated that the aircraft carrier is scheduled to enter service sometime in 2024, for which preparations are in full swing.

The aircraft carrier has undergone an elaborate overhaul for over five years. During this coordinated overhaul effort, the carrier has met with several accidents, including fires and an untoward dry dock sinking.

In the latest development that could finally see the carrier join combat service, Russian newspaper Izvestia has reported that the aircraft carrier is being made more combat capable by adding an array of state-of-the-art equipment.

Air Defense For Admiral Kuznetsov                                         

Citing some unnamed sources in the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), the recent report stated that the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would be armed with the latest Pantsir-M anti-aircraft missile and artillery systems. In addition, a new integrated air defense control system will be introduced on the ship.

The integrated air defense control system will automatically recognize targets, separate them between anti-aircraft systems and destroy them. The report highlighted that the new control system would be able to repel massive attacks on the ship, ranging from attacks by aircraft and helicopters to attacks by anti-ship missiles and drones.

Shipborne ADGMS Pantsir-ME | Catalog Rosoboronexport
File Image: Shipborne ADGMS Pantsir-M

The previous Dirks are being replaced by Pantsir-M, which is believed to be the most sophisticated ship-based anti-aircraft defense system in the Russian inventory. The Pantsir-M arsenal comprises eight missiles and two six-barreled 30-millimeter rapid-fire automatic guns. It can hit targets while flying at heights between one meter and several tens of kilometers.

Military historian Dmitry Boltenkov said this contemporary complex performed admirably during a unique military action. Russian navy sailors and officers have been endorsing the refurbishment of their ships with the Pantsir-M complex, capable of seeing small and big targets.

Firepower For Admiral Kuznetzov

The machine-translated report further stated that deliveries of ultra-precise long-range bombs to the aviation units have already started this year. These deliveries include several munitions that can hit targets tens of kilometers away. They differ in their mass, range of application, and correction and guidance systems.

The bombs that the aircraft carrier is being equipped with can be used to precisely kill moving objects, especially armored ones, and ground targets. Moreover, gliding munitions have the benefit of being significantly more affordable and accurate than guided missiles. They can also carry a larger warhead due to the absence of a rocket engine and fuel.

We require advanced guided missiles and planning bombs, as demonstrated by the ongoing special military operation, Dmitry Boltenkov told Izvestia. He added that, most crucially, aircraft can use them from outside the range of the adversarial air defense.

The Russian aircraft carrier will operate MiG-29 and Su-33 fighters.

Crew For Admiral Kuznetsov

Earlier this month, there were reports that the carrier is also getting a brand-new crew, for which preparations are already underway.

Izvestia estimates that the new workforce will consist of around 1,500 people. This is a small reduction from the ship’s prior crew complement, which the article and other sources indicate was greater than 1,900 people.

In its report, Izvestia had earlier claimed that adding “new automated systems and units” to the vessel has led to the decreased crew size. The report stated that aviation equipment operation and maintenance specialists would need to be recruited.

Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov - Wikipedia
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov – Wikipedia

This will be in addition to the maritime positions that need to be filled, including officers, midshipmen, sailors, drivers, navigators, and signalmen.

After completing the recruitment, the crew will undergo training and coordination. And then, it will conduct all the tests of the ship, which in 2024 should return to the combat fleet.

After a long and arduous journey of refitting and introducing the only aircraft carrier back into service, these new upgrades signal that the vessel might finally be welcomed back into combat. The ship’s overhaul was initially scheduled to be completed in 2021 but was postponed due to several mishaps since 2017.

Why Is Admiral Kuznetsov Called The Cursed Carrier?

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov has had a troubled history. It has been the only large aircraft carrier cruiser in the Russian Navy for a long time. It was introduced in 1985 and joined the Russian Northern Fleet a few years later in 1991.

In 1995, Kuznetsov was on active duty in the Mediterranean. In 2007-2008, as the head of a detachment of ships, it also made a trip to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2016-2017, as part of the operational formation of ships in the Mediterranean Sea, the warship performed combat missions off the coast of Syria.

The pilots of the air group carried out more than 400 sorties, hitting over 1,200 terrorist targets. After returning from the campaign, the ship was sent for repairs and modernization.

Even before 2017, Admiral Kuznetsov had experienced a fair number of mishaps. For instance, an onboard fire off the coast of Turkey in 2009 resulted in the loss of several crew members, and in late 2016, two of its fighter jets were lost while assisting in combat operations in Syria.

Several serious incidents have earned the carrier the moniker of a cursed carrier since it was sent for an overhaul in 2017. In October 2018, the floating dock PD-50 sank underneath the ship.

The ship was damaged by the fall of a dock crane but managed to remain afloat. It was then towed to the berth of the 35th shipyard in Severomorsk, where it was subsequently repaired.

In December 2019, a fire broke out on board the aircraft carrier. During welding work, a spark entered the hold, spilling fuel. As a result, two people died and 14 were injured. Another fire was reported on board at the end of last year. However, it was doused, and there were no casualties.

In February of this year, the head of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), Alexei Rakhmanov, said that the ship had been taken out of the dock and put into a place of permanent repair. According to the head of the USC, the aircraft carrier should return to the combat fleet next year.