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SEPTEMBER 2020

Fire On the Deck of The Admiral Kuznetsov: Sabotage, Criminal Negligence Or Corruption?

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Fire On the Deck of The Admiral Kuznetsov: Sabotage, Criminal Negligence Or Corruption?

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A fire began on the deck of the Russian navy’s only heavy aircraft carrying missile cruiser – the Admiral Kuznetsov. So far, six people (UPDATE 13:00 CET: ten people) have been injured, a spokesman for the emergency services told RIA.

“The fate of the two workers remains unknown,” the source said.

According to the head of the press service of the Zvyozdochka Shiprepair Center, Evgeny Gladyshev, the fire started at 10:16 local time in the first energy compartment during welding.

Initially it was reported that the fire reached an area 120 square meters, the employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations are involved in the extinguishing. The governor of the region Andrey Chibis arrived at the location of the emergency.

Russian media reported that the area of the fire reached 600 square meters. In the fight against fire, the forces and means of two departments of the Russian Emergencies Ministry are involved. At the moment, there is a search for the missing workers. Firefighters are preparing to attempt and extinguish the fire with foam.

The press service of the Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center confirmed that the fire occurred during hot works at the first energy compartment of the Admiral Kuznetsov.

“We confirm that indeed in the hold of the first energy compartment there was a fire during the execution of hot work. The workers who performed the work were evacuated. At the moment, firefighters are engaged in the elimination of this fire,” the press service said.

Since September 2018, the only Russian heavy aircraft carrying missile cruiser has been undergoing scheduled repairs in a floating dock (PD-50) at the 82nd plant in the village of Roslyakovo, Murmansk. At the end of October last year, there was a failure in the electrical supply, the PD-50 tanks filled up and the dock abruptly went under water.

In addition, a fallen crane damaged part of the deck of the warship, leaving a hole four by five meters in size. The hull itself was not damaged.

The plan was to replace and repair the elements of the main power plant on the ship, to modernize the electric power system, radio-technical weapons and air defense systems, to install and modernize “means ensuring the operation of the aircraft wing.” The repairs and modernizations were estimated to cost 70 million rubles ($1.1 million).

The Admiral Kuznetsov was delivered to the 35th shipyard near Murmansk in June 2019 and was supposed to remain there for approximately a year. The warship is expected to be delivered, ready for combat duty in 2021, the head of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) Alexei Rakhmanov told RIA in June.

The heavy aircraft carrying missile cruiser’s delivery deadlines risked a shift due to the above-mentioned accidents, and this fire will surely delay it even further.

“Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov” was commissioned in 1991, back in the USSR. After the upgrade, it will reportedly be used by the Russian fleet for another 20 years.

The Russian heavy aircraft carrying missile cruiser is has a length of 306 meters, a width of 75 meters, the displacement of the ship is 60 thousand tons, the maximum cruising range is 8417 miles (more than 15 thousand kilometers). Crew – 1,960, including 518 officers and 210 warrant officers. The regular wing of the Admiral Kuznetsov consists of carrier-based Su-33 and Su-25 aircraft, as well as Ka-27 / Ka29 helicopters. A new air group consisting of MiG-29K fighters and Ka-52K helicopters was tested on the ship.

In addition, the Admiral Kuznetsov has Granit missile system loaded with anti-ship cruise missiles (12 below-deck launchers are located at the base of the springboard), a Kinzhal anti-aircraft missile system (4 modules – 192 missiles) and Kortik missile launchers (8 modules – 256 missiles and 48 thousand shells).

In an analysis of Russia’s Maritime Doctrine in late 2018, SouthFront noted that “in order to defend its interests, the navy requires a minimum of two full-fledged aircraft carriers – one in the Arctic and the second in the Mediterranean. This says nothing of the large number of surface vessels which could be needed for other sea zones. The deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific would only be possible in the distant future. So far, it appears that surface groups deployed in distant sea zones are being folded back into existing groups closer to home.”

Right now, Russia does have a signle aircraft carrier (heavy aircraft carrying missile cruiser). The Admiral Kuznetsov is a symbol of the Russian presence in the world ocean and the Russian Navy.

In these conditions, remarks that the fire on the Admiral Kuznetsov is just an unfortunate accident do not hold up against criticism. There are three logical explanations of this situation:

  • Sabotage – the goal of such actions is to deliver a devastating PR blow to the Russian Navy and Russia itself, and to delay the plans to put the Admiral Kuznetsov back into service.
  • Criminal Negligence – in this case, one of the main reasons is a poor production behavior that has become common for the modern Russia. Not so many representatives of the powerful Soviet engineering school remain in the defense industry. The Soviet system of engineering education was destroyed. The new one is not so effective .The Russian defense industry suffers from a lack of young skilled and motivated specialists.
  • Corruption – the fire occurred at the first energy compartment. This is one of the most complex and expensive parts of the warship. Millions of dollars have already been spent on the maintenance of it and other equipment of the warship. The fire accident may allow to spend even more money on the maintenance of the warship.

In any case, the December 12 incident revealed a lack of control from the government and poor management practices in the one of the key Russian defense projects. The positive side of such developments is that they do not allow to hide the real state of the events and set conditions for actions needed to start employing more effective approaches.

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