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‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ in dry dock in July 2015. | usage worldwide Christophe Michel / Photo Flickr

The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is the largest ship in the Russian Navy and the most visible symbol of the Kremlin’s military might. In October, it will travel to the Mediterranean and carry out airstrikes in Syria, according to a report by the Moscow-based Tass news agency.

There is a general rule for information on Russian warships. Like most things in life, don’t believe it until you see it. The first problem is that the Tass report, which resonated throughout the Russian and Western press, relied on a single anonymous “military-diplomatic source”.

This is also not the first time that rumors have circulated about the Admiral Kuznetsovgo to war in Syria. The Russian Navy denied a 2015 report that claimed so.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t totally believe it, either. Recent activity around the Admiral Kuznetsov may indicate an upcoming combat deployment.

First of all, here are several reasons to doubt it.

Admiral Kuznetsov never saw combat, nor would it be of much military use. The 55,000-ton aircraft carrier has a bow ramp, not steam catapults, forcing its aircraft to lose weight before taking off. This means that its planes will go into combat with less fuel or bombs than the fighters on the ground that Russia has. already deployed in Syria.

It’s on purpose. The Soviet Union designed Admiral Kuznetsov as a “heavy-aircraft missile cruiser” to support a surface combatant fleet, said foreign policy writer Taylor Marvin.

This makes it less flexible than US super carriers, and is the reason it packs anti-ship missiles to sink other ships, but cannot launch fully gassed attack planes with heavy bomb loads. adapted to attack targets on land.

Worse, the conventional engine Admiral Kuznetsov has problems. Poor maintenance, faulty steam turbines and shoddy boilers mean she’s unreliable – which is why Russia is sending an ocean-going tug with her wherever she goes.

A video of one of those tugs pulling the aircraft carrier in bad weather on a trip in 2012 appeared last year. It has a very impressive and perfectly Russian soundtrack.

“Aircraft carrier operations, particularly high-rate strike missions, are an extremely complex logistical and operational dance, with lethal consequences for errors,” wrote Marvin. “Since the USSR and Russia had few opportunities to develop these skills, and none to test them in combat, no strike mission on the part of the Kuznetsov would be limited and especially for the show.

Russia would take a big risk … for little gain. This does not means the Kremlin would not take the risk. There is circumstantial evidence suggesting – albeit in a speculative way – that the Russians may be preparing to do just that.

This Bronze Star hero found the children he nearly killed in WWII
British destroyer HMS ‘York’ overshadowed Admiral Kuznetsov in 2011. | usage worldwide UK Ministry of Defense photo

For a, Admiral Kuznetsov is planning a trip to the Mediterranean this fall. “It is true. There is such a plan,” Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee, told Tass on June 28.

The Su-33 and Su-25 jets recently landed on the flattop, the last seen sailing in the Barents Sea. The MiG-29K – a carrier-launched version of the muscular, multi-role Fulcrum – will arrive “in the next few days,” according to a July 4 report released by Interfax.

The news agency reported that the arrivals are in preparation for a “long hike” scheduled “around mid-October”.

The MiG-29K and its two-seater KUB variant are Soviet-era models relaunched for the Indian Navy after the purchase of the Kiev-flat class Admiral Gorchkov – renamed INS Vikramaditya– in 2004. However, the planes themselves are brand new, pack advanced avionics, and can drop precision-guided bombs.

The Su-33 is an air superiority fighter and the Su-25 is a close air support aircraft. The Tass source said the aircraft carrier would travel to Syria with “around 15 Su-33 and MiG-29K / KUB fighters and more than 10 Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopters.”

But it gets stranger.

Russia entered the war in Syria in September 2015. That month, Admiral Kuznetsov was doing three-month maintenance work near Murmansk.

Then in October, she appeared in the Barents Sea… for combat training.

This is unusual, because the Russian aircraft carrier is a snowbird; it heads south at the end of the year. Specifically, he sails in the Mediterranean, which he has done in his four previous deployments, all in winter.

October is not winter. But the Barents Sea and the carrier’s home port at Severomorsk lie beyond the Arctic Circle, where air operations are particularly dangerous from mid-October due to the polar night, when there is little light.

Sergei Ishchenko, a military commentator and former naval captain, found this confusing. “Only extraordinary circumstances could have forced the carrier to conduct training flights during the least suitable time of year,” he wrote for the website. Svobodnaya Pressa .

“It is obvious that the war in Syria is that circumstance.”

Russia might not have the option of deploying its aircraft carrier to combat again for some time. Beginning of 2017, Admiral Kuznetsov will head to dry dock for a two-year overhaul shortly after returning from the Mediterranean. The war may be over by the time its repairs are complete, giving the Kremlin a small window to signal military prowess with its flat roof.

More curious is what happens with the MiG-29K.

These fighter jets train on a runway with a ski slope in Yeysk, Russia, along the Sea of ​​Azov. The Kremlin built this facility in 2012 as an alternative to a similar track in Nitka, Crimea – then part of Ukraine – that Russia had leased. Russia captured Nitka during its February 2014 invasion, but the facility is apparently not suitable for MiG-29Ks.

And according to Ishchenko, the MiG-29K unit – the 100th Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment – was not fully trained as of January 2016.Admiral Kuznetsov is useless without these versatile fighters and their pilots. “Victory in this war requires real power, not potential power,” Ischenko wrote. “And the Admiral Kuznetsovstill lacks its full fighting power.

Hence the reason why the carrier is backin the Barents Sea for the second time since last October, now with MiG-29Ks en route… underway accelerated for an upcoming combat mission.

At least that’s the theory. We will find out in a few months.


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