What Oddities Can You Spot In This Tour Of Russia’s Aging Aircraft Carrier?

As the Admiral Kuznetsov executes air strikes on Syria we can get a glimpse of what lies beneath her black smoke trail and dark gray skin in this amateur video.

byTyler Rogoway|
Amidral Kuznetsov photo


Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the aging and quirky Admiral Kuznetsov, means many different things to many different people. To some it is a symbol of Russian might, to others it is a dangerous relic of the Cold War, one that holds little real strategic value. Some have even used it as a metaphor for Russia’s military and extra-territorial aspirations. No matter how you see it, one thing is for certain, the ship and its mission are downright interesting. That’s why this tour of the vessel is so worth watching. 

The amateur video, which was posted in our comments section by Mister Bond, depicts a group of civilians being guided through the bowels of the ship. Exactly when it was shot is not clear, although it looks fairly recent, say within the last five years. It appears to have been taken while the carrier was docked in its home port of Severomorsk, which is also the headquarters for Russia’s Northern Fleet.

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As you can see, the ship appears to be very dated inside, with a sprinkling of computer technology, and even that is far from cutting edge. Much has been made of the carrier’s poor and evendeadly reliability and nasty living conditions. Yet maybe the most publicized disparagements against the vessel have to do with the signature black smoke that it trails around while underway. 

Russia's carrier spitting black smoke as it sails through the English Channel., AP

Russia admits that the ship’s propulsion system is based on old technology, but exactly how bad a condition its boilers are in remains unclear. The carrier isfollowed around by ocean-going tugs as breakdowns are seen as almost a certainty, something that also affects the ship’s ability to operate aircraft in “blue water” conditions far out to sea. 

Here is another video showing the inner workings of the ship:

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The tweet below has been circulating supposedly comparing the Kuznetsov’s dilapidated boilers to theIndian carrier INS Vikramaditya, which was built-out to a similar configuration as the Admiral Kuznetsov from an existing Kiev class aircraft carrying missile cruiser, the same type that the Kuznetsov class’s design originally evolved from. India’s acquisition of the ship from Russia took far more money and time to complete than originally planned, but Russia eventually delivered the ship in late 2013. 

The third picture in the tweet is of the same sort boiler setup, as seen on China’s only carrier the Liaoning. The vessel, which is Admiral Kuznetsov sister ship, was bought from Ukraine as a rusted hulk to be used as a hotel and casino, but that was just a cover story and China totally refurbished the ship and reverse engineered much of its design in the process. As you can see, the difference in quality of each engine room is stark.

The rusted hulk that was once the Kuznetsov's sister ship, the Varyag, seen dockside in China before its transformation into the Liaoning. , Globalsecurity.org

Admiral Kuznetsov was supposed to undergo a deep overhaul and refit after its last deployment but that was delayed till 2018, instead the ship got a light refresh before being sent out to sea. This delay was enacted largely so that the ship could participate in the Syrian air campaign and show off its new air wing capabilities in the form ofMiG-29KRs and KA-52Ks. One MiG has since crashed and it seems the bulk of the operations,including bombing sorties, are being executed by the slightly upgraded Su-33s at this time. 

Now the ship’s overhaul in imminent, and there has been some information on what it could entail, although nothing can be certain at this point. From my previous feature detailing the carrier’s history and design:

“Whether the P-700 missile tubes are still active and filled with live rounds is unknown. It’s possible, as the ship is slated to go through a much deeper refit when it returns from its Syrian deployment. On its return home this capability will most likely be removed, once and for all, with new hangar space making room for theKuznetsov’s modernized air wing that will increasingly be made up of MiG-29KR strike fighters and KA-52K attack helicopters. 

Other improvements slated for the ship during its deep refit are rumored to include new gas turbines, replacing the dated boiler system that has plagued the ship’s reliability for years. New missile defense systems, including medium-range surface-to-air missiles and a navalized version of the Pantsir point defense system would be added. New communications systems and sensors would also replace long-obsolete ones.”

In the meantime, the ship will continue operations off Syria’s coast, as this pretty sweet 360 degree video released by Russian media highlights:

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What interesting features can you spot in the Kuznetsov tour video, let us know in the comments section below. Screencap away! 

Contact the author Tyler@thedrive.com