Russian Navy Ponders Fate after Decommissioning of Carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov
Weighed down by aging warships from the Soviet era and lack of funding, the Russian Navy surface fleet is trying to figure out its future after its only aircraft carrier, the RFS Admiral Kuznetsov (063), retires in 2020.
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That date still remains despite Russian state media in May 2016 saying the Kuznetsov will undergo an extensive three year-long refit beginning the first quarter of 2017. The refit is expected to increase the service life of the carrier by 25 more years.
The decommissioning of the Kuznetsov will inflict a huge loss of prestige on Russia and will be a huge slap to Russia's face. It will transform the Russian Navy into a coastal navy without the means to project Russian power overseas.
Only Russia's submarines can reach out worldwide and since no one is supposed to see a submarine, these warships can't be visible symbols of national power.
Russia will be alone among the five great military maritime powers (the U.S., China, India, the United Kingdom and France) without an aircraft carrier. Even Thailand and Brazil have their own aircraft carriers.
As for the Kuznetsov's refit, nothing has been heard about it from state controlled media since May 2016, leading to speculation no contract was signed for the overhaul work last year. The refit contract should have been signed in June 2016.
News of the alleged refit, however, was leaked before the Kuznetsov and a small squadron of seven ships on Oct. 15 began a journey from Murmansk in the Barents Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to launch airstrikes against anti-Assad rebels in Syria.
The squadron arrived off Syria in November and launched a few airstrikes before suspending them. Two of the fighters aboard the Kuznetsov crashed into the sea due to non-battle causes. One fighter was lost because the Kuznetsov's arresting gear failed, which meant the pilot had to crash his jet to save himself.
The surviving fighters were then transferred to the Russian air base at Hmeymin where they launched their bombing raids. The Kuznetsov and her escorts left the Mediterranean in late January and docked in Russia on Feb. 9.
The unnecessary three month-long deployment off Syria will likely delay plans for the refit and accelerate the decommissioning of the Kuznetsov, which experienced excessive wear and tear in the mission. It might not now be economical to refit such a badly battered ship.
State propaganda, however, immediately said the Russian Navy will analyze "all the positive aspects that were practiced at sea for the first time" after the Kuznetsov task force returned to Russia.
"Each subsequent voyage of a warship means an analysis and we'll analyze not only the warship's operation at sea but also the issues of timely preparing for a voyage, as well as the process of the warship's employment," said Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Vladimir Korolyov.
"This also applies to deck-based aircraft, warships and vessels of the aircraft carrier naval task force."
He also said the Russian Navy will also adjust "some plans of the employment of forces, including the tactical level of specific warships and groups."