At the beginning of December, Russian News Agency Tass reported on the possible return to service of the Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. The infamous flattop, commissioned in 1991, most recently undertook several operations in the Mediterranean Sea, conducting airstrikes in Syria. In early 2018, the ship arrived at the 35th Ship Repair Plant, in Murmansk, in order to be refitted and modernized. Sadly, on the 30th October 2018, a PD-50 floating dry dock sunk and its falling crane severely damaged Kuznetsov. Then in December 2019, a fire aboard further damaged the carrier.
Tass reported that “next summer, the Admiral Kuznetsov will be docked again and will be then set for sea trials, in 2022” The Russian Ministry of Defense clearly see the huge cost of the repairs to the vessel as worth the investment. The one initial estimate for the modernization refit put the cost at roughly 50 billion RUB or $800 million. Budget cuts in 2017, however, reduced spending on the refit by half. Since then Russia has instituted further cuts as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted spending. The damage caused by the fire is believed to have caused 500 million RUB worth of damage on top of the modernization costs.
At one point it seemed that it was possible that the Kuznetsov would simply be decommissioned and scrapped. At the beginning of 2020 President Putin was presented with proposals for a new aircraft carrier project, but it seems that the Kuznetsov has been spared and the slow process of renovation is continuing.
Kuznetsov has reportedly received new domestically produced supercharged KVG-4 boilers. Which means the aircraft carrier should no longer be seen smoking while underway. Additionally the obsolete Kortik and AK-630 CWIS will be replaced with the Pantsir-M missile system.
The struggle to retain the Kuznetsov shows Russia’s determination to retain its limited naval power projection capabilities. Although an aircraft carrier is an expensive asset, Moscow does not want to loose a key tool which can project their international aspirations. For the international community the Kuznetsov represents a manifestation of Russia’s aspirations. Provided their are no further accidents during her refit we will likely see Kuznetsov in service until Russia is able to commission a new aircraft carrier.