Russia's Aircraft Carrier Woes Hinder Naval Capabilities in Ukraine Conflict

Russia's sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, remains sidelined due to maintenance problems, compromising Russia's naval capabilities in Ukraine. Ukraine is struggling to counter Russia's use of glide bombs, with its air defense supplies running low, and is requesting additional Patriot air defenses.

author-image
Nitish Verma
New Update
Russia's Aircraft Carrier Woes Hinder Naval Capabilities in Ukraine Conflict

Russia's Aircraft Carrier Woes Hinder Naval Capabilities in Ukraine Conflict

Russia's sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, remains sidelined due to persistent maintenance problems, including mechanical failures, fires, and construction defects. This has compromised Russia's naval capabilities in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where the country is struggling to adapt to Russia's use of glide bombs that allow Russian forces to hit Ukrainian targets from safer distances.

Why this matters: The absence of a fully operational aircraft carrier significantly hampers Russia's ability to project power in the region, which could have far-reaching implications for the balance of power in Eastern Europe. Moreover, Ukraine's inability to counter Russia's glide bombs could lead to devastating consequences for its civilian population and infrastructure.

In a six-day period from March 18 to 24, Russia dropped 700 glide bombs on Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba. These bombs have seen heavy use in the war, with Russia employing mass glide bomb strikes to tactical effect in their seizure of Avdiivka in mid-February. Russia has a variety of glide bombs in its arsenal, some weighing more than 6,000 pounds.

"Russia's main advantage on the battlefield is now the widespread use of these bombs," stated Kuleba. "The only way to counter this barbaric tactic is to shoot down aircraft that drop these bombs, which requires a sufficient number of modern air defense systems at the front."

Ukraine has been sounding the alarm on the dire state of its ammunition and air defense supplies for months. The country is running low on key air defenses like advanced Patriot systems, which it needs to defend its front lines and protect its civilian centers from attack. The Institute for the Study of War notes that if Ukraine's air defense umbrella is allowed to degrade, it would allow Russian forces to significantly increase glide bomb strikes at scale and possibly even conduct routine large-scale aviation operations against near-rear Ukrainian logistics and cities to devastating effect.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, commissioned in the mid-1980s, was designed to protect the USSR's missile-lugging submarines and other warships. It is equipped with a Granit anti-ship missile system and can carry nearly 200 3K95 Kinzhal surface-to-air missiles. Unlike Western warships, the Kuznetsov is conventionally powered by a unique fuel source called mazut, which emits thick black smoke and makes it easily detectable.

Throughout its service history, the carrier has been plagued by incidents and accidents. In 2016, two airframes were lost due to faulty arresting wiring on deck during a deployment to Syria. In 2018, a fire ignited by a welding incident in the ship's engine room resulted in the death of two workers and sent 14 others to the hospital. The same year, a floating crane crashed into the Kuznetsov's deck, killing one worker and injuring four others. In 2022, a fire reportedly broke out onboard the carrier, sparking an evacuation of roughly 20 people.

With the Kuznetsov sidelined, Moscow is forced to rely on its essentially defunct carrier. The Kremlin is working to develop two Ivan Rogov-class amphibious assault ships, which could potentially function as light aircraft carriers for the Russian Air Force. However, production and manufacturing issues caused by economic sanctions indicate that this project will not come to fruition anytime soon. According to Russian state-run news outlet TASS, "According to the adjusted plan, factory sea trials of the aircraft carrier should begin in the spring of 2024... If the tests pass without glitches, then the ship can be handed over to the fleet at the end of 2024. If something goes wrong during the tests, then a shift to 2025 is inevitable."

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, Russia's naval capabilities remain hindered by the absence of a fully operational aircraft carrier. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested an additional five to seven Patriot air defenses to bolster Ukraine's air defense capabilities and counter the threat posed by Russia's glide bombs.

Key Takeaways

  • Russia's sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, remains sidelined due to maintenance issues.
  • Ukraine is struggling to counter Russia's use of glide bombs, which allow attacks from safer distances.
  • Russia dropped 700 glide bombs on Ukraine in 6 days, causing devastating consequences.
  • Ukraine needs modern air defense systems, like Patriot systems, to counter glide bomb strikes.
  • Russia's naval capabilities are hindered by the absence of a fully operational aircraft carrier.