The modernization of the flagship of the Russian Navy, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, will commence before July 2017 at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk in Northern Russia and will take two and a half years, according to a Russian defense industry source.
“The decision to start Admiral Kuznetsov’s modernization at Zvezdochka in the first six months of 2017 has been made. The project plan specifying the costs and the amount of work to be performed will be completed within a couple of months,” the source told TASS news agency on March 6. “All works onboard the ship must be finished by 2020,” the source added.
Russia’s sole aircraft carrier was commissioned in 1990 and has not undergone any major overhauls following a two-year refit between 1996 and 1998. The Russian Navy’s 55,000-ton flagship has never been deployed for longer than six months and spent most of its service life in port.
In October 2016, the Admiral Kuznetsov deployed for three months to the Mediterranean Sea, accompanied by seven other vessels, to support Russian combat operations in Syria. While deployed, the carrier lost two aircraft — a Sukhoi Su-33 air superiority fighter and a MiG-29K/KUB multirole fighter. The Su-33 fighter jet crashed into the sea following a botched landing attempt, whereas the MiG-29 crashed into the sea after the aircraft had run out of fuel.
The air wing of the Admiral Kuznetsov consists of approximately 41 aircraft, including Su-33 air superiority fighters, MiG-29K/KUB fighter aircraft, and Kamov Ka-27, Ka-31, and Ka-52K helicopters. The ship’s 19 Su-33 aircraft are expected to be slowly phased out in the years ahead and will be replaced by the MiG-29K/KUB fighter jets, of which up to 20 can be stationed aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov.
As of now, no contract between the Russian government and the shipyard has been concluded. According to the source, repairs on the ship will include replacing four out of the ship’s eight turbo-pressurized boilers and overhauling the remaining four. In addition, the aircraft carrier’s flight deck will undergo major modernization including replacement of the deck covering, tail hooks, aircraft arresting gear, and other aspects of the take-off system.
“The ship will be equipped with modern systems of electronic warfare, communication, intelligence, navigation, and combat control. Aside from this, new control systems for safe carrier-based aircraft landing will be installed. The composite airwing personnel will remain unchanged,” the source said. As I explained elsewhere:
It remains to be seen whether aircraft carrier’s modernization will occur within the announced timeframe. All Soviet carriers were constructed in Ukraine and Russia has lost valuable expertise and technology — particularly surface ship propulsion technology — due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Russia, however, has recently overhauled and modernized a Kiev-class carrier-cruiser for the Indian Navy and gained valuable insights into carrier building techniques through that process. This expertise will prove helpful in overhauling the Admiral Kuznetsov.
The upgrade is expected to extend the ship’s service life by 25 years. Total modernization costs for the Admiral Kuznetsov are currently estimated at over $340 million.