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Modernization of Russia’s Sole Aircraft Carrier Still Facing Delays

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Modernization of Russia’s Sole Aircraft Carrier Still Facing Delays

A contract for the retrofitting and upgrading of the carrier is expected to be concluded by the end of the month.

Modernization of Russia’s Sole Aircraft Carrier Still Facing Delays
Credit: wikimedia commons/

A contract between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) for the modernization and overhaul of the flagship of the Russian Navy, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, is finally expected to be signed by the end of the month, a Russian defense industry source said on April 1.

“All the necessary instructions have been given,” the source noted, according to TASS news agency. “But, as the process of signing the contract has quite a significant financial component, we expect to have a concrete document in April. The work was started last year, in October. It involved detecting faults, specifying the work volume and carrying out preparatory works.”

Additionally, the source claims that the aircraft carrier will return to active duty “much earlier than it was planned.” Work on the warship is expected to take 2 to three years.

The carrier will be retrofitted and upgraded at USC’s Zvezdochka shipyard, located in Severodvinsk in Northern Russia. The carrier, commissioned in 1990, has not undergone a major retrofitting since then, except for a two-year refit between 1996 and 1998.

Last year, it was expected that the Russian MoD would cut the funds allocated for the carrier repairs and upgrades by 50 percent reducing the overall scope of the modernization the warship will undergo. As of now, the detailed budget for the refit has not been revealed but is estimated to be around $400-600 million.

As a result of the budget cuts, the carrier’s electronic warfare, communication, intelligence, navigation, and combat control systems will likely not be undergoing modernization. Most work will be confined to the Kuznetsov’s flight deck and its propulsion systems including replacing four out of the carrier’s eight turbo-pressurized boilers while refitting the remaining four.

As I reported previously, even if a repair contract will be inked by the end of the month, the three-year timeframe may be not realistic for multiple reasons:

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.

Nonetheless, it is unclear how much of that expertise can filter into the work on the Kuznetsov.

The carrier, capable of carrying of up to 41 aircraft — including Su-33 air superiority fighters, MiG-29K/KUB fighter aircraft, and Kamov Ka-27, Ka-31, and Ka-52K helicopters — has never been deployed for longer than six months and has a history of breaking down. Consequently, the Russian Navy’s flagship on its deployments is always followed by a powerful tug boat.