Mission Not Accomplished For Admiral Kuznetsov Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Missile Cruiser

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A critical look at the results of the Syrian operation of the Russian naval grouping.

Mission Not Accomplished For Admiral Kuznetsov Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Missile Cruiser

Written by Alexei Mikhailov; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Alice Decker exclusively for SouthFront

Pilot training for carrier-based aircraft remains a problem.

The Russian Navy’s heavy aircraft carrier, the “Admiral Kuznetsov,” has completed its first-ever combat campaign off the shores of Syria, using carrier-based aircraft against terrorist targets. There are at least two reasons to sum up the results.

On January 6, the Chief of Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, announced that Russia is starting to reduce its groups in Syria. The first to leave the conflict zone is the “Admiral Kuznetsov” with the battle ships and support vessels of the Northern Fleet. January 15, when the carrier was still in the Eastern Mediterranean, marked three months from the beginning of the campaign.

Nothing has been officially reported on the composition of cruiser’s air wing. However, the aircraft and helicopters on board could be counted in the videos taken by Russian journalists and Western (for the most part military) operators.

Light Air Wing

As predicted by “VPK” (in an article titled “MiG-plus”), the “Kuznetsov” came into the campaign with a very lightweight wing structure. It carried on board ten Su-33s from the “old” 279th Independent Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment (OKIAP) of the Northern Fleet (eight of them have been upgraded and are capable of striking targets on land and at sea) and only four aircraft from the newly created 100th OKIAP — three MiG-29KRs and one MiG-29KUBR fighter jet, as well as 18 different types of helicopters. According to unconfirmed official data, there were only three combat MiGs as the fourth one belonged to the “MiG” corporation and was undergoing tests. Thus, it was confirmed that the 100th OKIAP “sitting” in Yeisk actually turned out to be unprepared for the campaign.

This brings to mind the officials who promised the Minister of Defense that the aircraft testing and training complex being built in Yeisk would be ready by the end of 2016. It isn’t done even now. At the same time the similar complex in Saki, Crimea suffers a lack of attention. Did anyone bother to prepare the pilots of the 100th OKIAP, even while the carrier was on its way to Syria? After all, they could fly aboard later, via the tried and true route over the Caspian Sea, Iran and Iraq.

The 279th OKIAP jets arrived on the aircraft carrier in July, after training at the complex in Saki. There, according to official data, only seven pilots practiced the essential skills in the MiGs, including three from the 100th OKIAP. Evil tongues say that these were the regiment commander and two squadron leaders, and the rest were civilian test pilots from the “MiG” Corporation and naval aviation military personnel. The question is, why was the 100th OKIAP in Yeisk at this time?

On October 15, the ship strike group (IBM) comprised of the Northern Fleet’s aircraft carrier “Peter the Great,” the heavy aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov,” two large anti-submarine ships, and supply vessels went to sea. Logically, they should have been accompanied by one or two multi-purpose nuclear submarines, but those are never mentioned – a common practice.

According to the Norwegian Navy, Su-33 training flights from onboard the aircraft carrier already began on October 18 over the northeastern part of the Atlantic. The Russian side, in full compliance with international regulations, announced that flight exercises would be held over international waters of the Atlantic, near the southwest tip of Norway, on October 19–21. On October 21, the naval strike group entered the English Channel, during which time one of the two fighters was always on duty, on the deck of the aircraft carrier. By October 27, the Northern Fleet ships passed Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea. From October 27 to 29, the strike group replenished all their supplies from the support vessels.

On November 1, the Su-33 and MiG-29KR aircraft aboard the carrier resumed flights, this time over the Mediterranean Sea. All the Russian actions were carried out under the watchful eyes of maritime patrol aircraft from NATO bases and NATO ships.

The countries concerned were informed in advance that training flights were planned for November 9, southeast of the island of Rhodes. The notice stated that the flights of the Russian Naval aircraft would take place within the stated coordinates in the Greek air traffic control zone (ATC), over international waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, and in connection with this, six civil aviation routes would be changed. The combat aircraft were to be in constant contact with the Greek ATC centers and were to fly with their transponders enabled, the document specifies. Similar warnings were issued for the periods from 10 to 15 and from 17 to 22 November.

On November 9, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that a Dutch diesel-electric submarine, presumably “Walrus” class, had tried to follow the strike group. On November 10, according to the Pentagon, the Russian carrier-based aircraft began to make familiarization flights over Syrian territory, which meant that in the future they would be used in combat against terrorist organization targets. By this time the battle for East Aleppo was in full swing.

Losses Fom Ineptitude

On November 14, the Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledged the loss of the MiG-29KR. According to official data, it crashed into the sea a few miles from the aircraft carrier while preparing to land. The pilot ejected and was picked up by a helicopter search and rescue service. According to one unofficial version, the fighter simply ran out of fuel while they were deciding where it should land; at the time, it could have been sent to the “Hmeymim” air base. In the end, a fully functional plane was sunk.

Mission Not Accomplished For Admiral Kuznetsov Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Missile Cruiser

Photo: vl.ru

On November 15, the Minister of Defense announced that the carrier-based Su-33 had begun flying combat missions. True, he did not specify on which day it began. Then the War Department distributed a video with shots of planes taking off from the deck of the aircraft carrier with combat loads and returning minus the ammunition. At the same time, the frigate “Admiral Grigorovich” from the Black Sea Fleet launched “Caliber-NK” cruise missiles to strike terrorist targets. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Su-33s destroyed large groups of “Dzhebhat Fatah al-Sham” fighters (formerly “Dzhebhat en-Nusra,” banned in Russia) in the province of Idlib.

On November 26, Western media reported that eight Su-33s and two MiG-29KR were located at the “Hmeymim” air base. The fact that only two of the MiGs were there makes one think that something must have been wrong with the plane that was still onboard the ship. According to VPK’s source, it may have been disabled while landing on the deck — before the incident on 14 November.

On December 4, the latest reconnaissance and attack helicopters, the Ka-52K “Katran” (previously destined for the “Mistral”) were shown working from the aircraft carrier. According to media estimates, there were four of them on board.

The next day, the Ministry of Defense reported that one of the Su-33s had crashed in the sea while landing on the aircraft carrier. The reason, according to the agency, was a broken cable. It is known, however, that for some time now the ship has had a sort of “black box” that controls the brake mechanisms — the “Topaz-M” system. The state commission will have to examine its recordings. In addition, there are video recordings of each takeoff and landing. Because there is another version: the pilot simply did not get on the right course. The “Topaz-M” and the objective video recording will decide who is right.

In any case, the loss of two types of aircraft during practice meant no more flights until they can determine the causes of what happened.

All these points will be examined by the relevant Commission of the Defense Ministry.

Tripped Up During Training

The “Admiral Kuznetsov” has not quite lived up to its mission. Despite official reports, the 100th OKIAP was not ready to accomplish its assigned task, and that’s not the fault of the regimental command. It’s legitimate to ask, will anyone be held responsible?

According to official information from the Ministry of Defense, in two months of fighting in this campaign, the Admiral Kuznetsov’s naval aviation pilots carried out 420 sorties, 117 of them at night. This means (based on the approximate composition of the air wing), that each MiG and Sukhoi (if we’re opnly talking about those) made 30 to 40 sorties. It has not been specified how many times they took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier and how many times from the “Hmeymim” airbase where they also worked.

It is unclear whether the helicopters are included in these slippery statistics or only the planes. Most likely the latter, since 1252 terrorist targets were destroyed, which roughly corresponds to the amount of ammunition these types of aircraft carry that can work on ground targets. Were the Americans right when they reported (only) 152 sorties operated from the deck?

In any case, the campaign from the aircraft carrier has had a positive effect. The carrier-based pilots received a baptism by fire. For the first time, they performed the operation of loading ammunition at sea.

It is expected that on its return to Severomorsk, the aircraft carrier will be sent in for repairs and upgrades. But when and where? The first bidder to carry out the works was the United Shipbuilding Corporation. The “Admiral Kuznetsov” was preparing for a long stay at her 35th Shipyard (an affiliate of the “Zvezdochka” Shipyard). By May, Murmansk promises to fit out a dock capable of taking the aircraft carrier. But a “market” competitor to USC suddenly appeared — the 82nd Shipyard. Their distinct advantage is the presence of a PD-50 floating dock (one of the largest floating docks in the world), designed just for the “Admiral Kuznetsov” class ships. So the competition for the contract is serious.

Let’s hope that the terms of the Defense Ministry’s tender call for competitive bids. In any case, the bureaucratic procedures take time, and anyway the work itself is expected to take two years. This means that the carrier will not be sailing again soon and the pilots of the 100th OKIAP will not “take wing”. Although they should still have been, and could have been, in the skies over Syria.

There are several issues. Was the promise fulfilled, to put into operation a land-based training program in Yeisk? If not — where are the carrier-based pilots to train? And how long will the training ground in Saki be on hold, which the Russian Navy Aviation command plans to modernize in 2017–2018? 2017 has already begun, and no committee has shown up at the site to define the scope of work, and no executors have been appointed to spell out where the funding is going to come from.

But the United Shipbuilding Corporation could be a responsible contractor; it is quite capable of this task. And what can be said, if Russia has had the training complex in Crimea for nearly three years and has not invested a dime 9according to Alexander Sannikov, a veteran of the complex)? As long as the training area was in Ukrainian hands, this situation was understandable. But now? Is this what we were waiting for?

Alexei Mikhailov,

Published in issue number 3 (667) of 25 January 2017

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  • John Whitehot

    This article seems kind of biased against the Russian side. The Kuznetsov was never meant to be employed as a power projection asset, it was designed to protect SSBN bastions from US ASW forces in the Arctic sea and elsewhere.

    Its embarked air wing is basically made of interceptors, not fighter bombers. In the Air to Air mission, the embarked SU-33 can take off with a full load of weapons and reduced fuel. The fighters are able to refuel in-flight to extend the duration of their mission. On the other side, take off with Air to ground munitions is complicated and hazardous without a catapult. The weather conditions are a vital factor in determining the safety and effectiveness of deck operations in such cases. For example, if the wind is too weak, planes would be unable to exploit those 15-20 knots in airspeed that could make a takeoff successful of not.

    The carrier also, normally has a large helicopter component onboard, but in its original mission it is composed mostly by ASW and AEW ones.

    The Soviet Union (and Russia) has always had a very defensive naval doctrine, the country does not need to defend “vital” naval commerce lanes like the United States to survive so its navy has been organized and armed to defend its territory from possible naval invasions. In the 70ies / 80ies, the navy also received the task to protect the nuclear ballistic submarines.
    99% of the people writing on the subject are totally unaware of these principles, and limit themselves to compare the Kuznetsov to US and French carriers.
    From what has been published, the Russian carrier and its air component have performed inside the expected operational parameters.

    It is very likely that the deployment has been decided to test how this kind of carrier would perform in a low intensity combat theatre. The reason for this, may be the annulment of the purchase of the two Mistral class ships from France. So imho the Russian military and political leadership thought that it had a unique chance to gather some important operational data in a combat environment; probably to have some hard facts on deciding over the design and production of future naval aviation units. For example, if a Kuznetsov type carrier is effective in such mission, there would not be the need of producing “Mistral” type units.

    • Brad Isherwood

      Be interesting to learn what Future Russian Navy assets will be built or upgraded
      To link** With Their A2/AD Programs.

      Agree that Russia’s doctrine is defence focused,
      Yet A2/AD does involve offensive counter to Eliminate Threats.
      China had stated this same doctrine vs the USN pushing on South China Sea.

      The deployment of the Status 6 Strategic Torpedo
      http://thesaker.is/how-russia-is-preparing-for-wwiii/comment-page-2/

      https://southfront.org/russian-navy-to-recieve-advanced-torpedoes/

      • John Whitehot

        “Yet A2/AD does involve offensive counter to Eliminate Threats”
        It’s right, offensive counter in this respect is constituted by the ASuW triad : long range bombers, SSGNs and ASM armed surface combatants.
        Defensive doctrine of own country must take into account the operation of enemy carrier task forces in support of amphibious operations. Those task forces, usually screened by one or more Aegis class cruisers, need specialized weapon systems and tactics to be dealt with, specifically, saturation attacks with different anti surface missiles from different directions. That’s why the Soviet Union developed missiles like the AS-4, AS-6, SS-N-19 and platform like TU-22s, Oscar class SSGNs and Kirov / Slava class cruisers. Also, in the same contest one can place the RORSAT constellation, and the large technical resources devoted to maritime patrol (The TU-142 is still unsurpassed in terms of mission endurance and sensor range)

        • Brad Isherwood

          http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/russia-to-upgrade-12-nuclear-powered-subs/

          Had been viewing a registry of Russian Navy assets undergoing upgrade programs.
          The above article had Info I was interested in .

          They USN are kidding themselves if they think they will sail up to strike
          Point and have some kind of security dominion that they are not flanked or
          Encircled by Ballistic coverage.

          It requires only a few SSGN fitted out Subs to encircle a battleground,
          As per Ballistic range reach.

          Not sure Iran has considered this doctrine,…IE. ..having Subs with ballistic or
          Torpedo. …stationed outside the Persian Gulf or loitering on the Saudi side of the Gulf.

          China has in the past surfaced subs in the middle of USN task groups,
          Wander down to San Diego and light an SLBM off : )

          Doubtfull USN can form up a strike force for a real attack vs just sortie
          And Russia China intelligence not know the real thing is about to go live.

    • Solomon Krupacek

      biased against the Russian side

      NO! This is very realistic article with positove critics.

      You are like bloody communists!!!

      • John Whitehot

        lmao.

    • Kenw6

      I agree with you John. Actually, I always felt that its mission in Syria was not mainly the war. That was about the time of the US elections and Hillary Clinton was talking NO FLY ZONE if she won which the Russian govt. was taking very seriously. When I saw that the Kuznetsov (who has a very impressive anti air arsenal along with offensive Granit (7 ton) anti ship missiles (Oh yeah, it also carries aircraft)) was being accompanied by the “Peter the Great” (The largest and most heavily armed surface combatant in the world), I felt this is not as much about Syria as it was about Hillary Clinton winning the election and the SHTF. The Russians have a decent amount of firepower in Syria but not near enough to withstand a full NATO attack. Those two ships change the balance of that equation sternly. If that is true than it worked because shortly after they got there Hillary changed her tone and started calling for a “Negotiated NO FLY ZONE. (Whatever the hell that is). I don’t think it was ever totally about the war.
      When I was growing up we had a saying, “I may not win the fight but everybody is going to know that you been in a fight”

      • John Whitehot

        thx, we had a similar saying too : )

    • Arthur Smith

      >This article seems kind of biased against the Russian side.
      Check the author’s name and site that published the original article -_-

      • John Whitehot

        so what? Names can be forged. Take me, my name ain’t John Whitehot nor Donald Duck. I bet some cookies that you ain’t no Arthur Smith either. And anyway, it doesn’ t matter if the author is a Russian, that does not change that the article is heavily biased against Russia.

        • Arthur Smith

          Author is a regular publicist with 49 articles at VPK and his criticism is constructive. To call him representing some side antagonistic towards
          Russia is paranoid.

          >I bet some cookies that you ain’t no Arthur Smith either.
          Should I take another photo of my passport?

          >that does not change that the article is heavily biased against Russia
          What faults mentioned in the article aren’t present in reality or exaggerated and what convinced you it’s out of malicious intent? Also, the article has been published in VPK’s issue (approved by editors), so your opinion also applies to the newspaper itself, which is affiliated with russian government.

          • John Whitehot

            “Author is a regular publicist with 49 articles at VPK and his criticism is constructive”
            An author that references “bad tongues” is someone who’s literally desperate to write something bad on a given subject. The exact opposite of “constructive”

            “Should I take another photo of my passport?”
            last time you posted a pic of a russian passport. I thought Russians had surnames like “Lavrov” or “Ivanov”, not “Smith”.

            “What faults mentioned in the article aren’t present in reality..”
            Again, anybody born more than two days ago will notice the preposterous tone of the article. An author interested in an objective analysis would have started from the unrefutable fact that the Kuz has not been designed for this kind of mission – yet he basically points out that ship and crew has not performed.
            Is the author aware on the expectations the leadership put on this mission? Very unlikely. Read my previous comment on this issue.

            You say it’s an informed writer on military subjects: again, if that’s the case then it’s clear he’s maligning: if I am aware on certain facts about the Kuz and her design, he should be even more. Not taking into account those facts only means a malicious intent.

  • More

    There have been too many lessons learnt regarding the participation of the Admiral Kuznetsov in the Syrian Campaign.

    The news article mentions and poses questions::
    “….Russia has had the training complex in Crimea for nearly three years and has not invested a dime according to Alexander Sannikov, a veteran of the complex)?…”
    “….As long as the training area was in Ukrainian hands, this situation was understandable.
    “….But now?…”
    “… Is this what we were waiting for?…”

    Everyone has to wait before they can run, first one must learn to crawl, then walk, then run.

    Russia is operating a multi pronged development for Crimea which had become dilapidated under Ukraine’s unlawful stewardship with an annual budget of US$120 Million that has now been beefed up to a civilian budget of US$3.5 Billion per year plus an additional US$1.5 Billion in one off Infrastructure costs. (Total US$5 Billion budget for the first year of Crimea in the Russian federation).

    The one off US$1.5 Billion in one off Infrastructure costs are for the Kerch Causeway to link Crimea to mainland Russia (Road, Rail, etc) and oil, gas, water, electricity, etc grid and pipelines from Russia.

    The Military budget is separate from the above mentioned civilian budget.

    The following Military development of Crimea is underway:

    Missile and Radar System Complex to monitor threats from the Black Sea, NATO, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, etc.

    Military Bases refurbishment.

    Military Personnel Housing, Schools, Kindergarten, Swimming Pools, Leisure and Orchestra facilities, etc.

    Regarding the Northern Fleet pilots training on Crimea, this is not a priority, however in 2016, airplanes from the Admiral Kuznetsov arrived in Crimea for training on the Nitka training range at the Novofedorivka airbase, Russia’s only training facility for aircraft carrier pilots.

    https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2016/04/northern-fleet-pilots-training-crimea

  • Solomon Krupacek

    Good article!

    Dreamer Jesus, also you read it carefully! :))

    • Jesus

      You are a dreamer removed from reality, Baltic and Black seas are Russian lakes.
      A2/AD defenses in Kaliningrad and Crimea render NATO presence in the area useless.
      Keep,listening to fake propaganda.
      In 2010 Russia had over 800 tanks in Kaliningrad along with 1100 APC/IFV and 400 artilery and MLR units, along with the Baltic fleet and the aviation associated with the fleet.

      If you go back and check the tank inventory for Poland, Poland does not have 800 operational tanks.

      And Germany has 400 operational tanks. Why not comment on these realities, instead of dreaming some Sobietzky grandeur that does not exist?

      • Solomon Krupacek

        Baltic and Black seas are Russian lakes.

        You are not only dreamer, but also idiot.

        A2/AD was never tested in war conditions. Do not tell, howw good is.

        • Jesus

          Lol, what do you need to test? If you see a brick wall in front of you, are you going to bang your head trying to see how solid it is?
          Americans did not want to find out how capable the A2/AD defense was in Syria.
          That should tell you something.

          The Aegis technology has not proved itself against Russian EW, Aegis technology proved it can shoot an Iranian airline down.
          When a swarm of Oniks missiles approach Aegis destroyers in Baltic and Black Sea, the crew will find out how well their system works.

          • Solomon Krupacek

            Americans did not want to find out how capable the A2/AD defense was in Syria

            How do you know, liar??? As i know, american planes do in syria what they want. Also bomb assads army. The izraelis, too. Your system is in phase “hope”. Hepe, it will be really good.

            How many times destroyed onyx aeigs, ha? liar, liar, liar. :))))

            young man, i heared similar propaganda about sovietunion and soviet army and weapons. and finally you lost everything :P

          • John Whitehot

            yeah we’ve seen how much the Syrian Army has been set back by american and israeli air strikes. If it wasn’t for those americans. Assad would still be sitting in the president’s chair. lololol

          • Jesus

            American planes do not do what they want in Syria. They did bomb Assad’s army once in Deir Ezzor, that is when the Russians brought the S300 in Syria. At that time the neocons in the US were screeming for a no fly zone over Syria, the US militatry stated they were not sure how their equipment would perform against the Russians, so they did nothing.
            Maybe NATO propaganda machine does not inform you of these details, so I will inform you. Look up the stories in Sept- Nov news events involving Syria and the US.

            How many times did the Oniks destroy an aegis destroyer? Russia and US did not fight a war against each other. US fought wars against 3rd world countries, hence their equipment is deemed superb. Read how aegis destroyer Donald Cook has blinded by a Russian S-24 EW aircraft.

            Why does Poland care about Oniks and Aegis destroyers? Why does not Poland mind its own business and quit making trouble? You are between two major powers, try to get along with them, you are a mere pawn for the US, they are not going to endanger themselves into a nuclear destruction because of your paranoia about the Russians invading you.

          • Solomon Krupacek

            At that time the neocons in the US were screeming for a no fly zone
            over Syria, the US militatry stated they were not sure how their
            equipment would perform against the Russians, so they did nothing.

            This is your subjective meaning, not objective reality. Uf US will, they are suere able to create no fly zoen.

            Otherwise bombing of deir ez zor happened some weeks ago. and s300, s400 … only cried and stood still. th sam situatin with israelis.

            Also in SF regularly write about american activities in Syria. 3x more soldiers, dobled amount of air strikes. why do you lie???

            Poles does not care abot onyx, becouse the do not have aegis:P and check the august decision of NATO: poland will attack kaliningrad with borrowed nuclear weapons. if they signed this concept, i do not think, they have fear from russia.

            ronald cook story is fake.

          • Jesus

            Actions speak louder than words. Get your facts straight, the Americans bombed Deir Ezzor killing some Russians, and Russia moved S300 deeper into Syria. After that the Russian high command told Americans that if any Syrian or Russian installations will be attacked, their planes would be shot down. After that warning US did not do anything.

            Who is going to give Poland nuclear weapons? If nuclear weapons were used on Kaliningrad, Poland and all Europe will be in the Stone Age, maybe some parts of the US as well.

            Prove to me that Donald Cooke story is fake.
            For your information Jesus does not lie.
            Do you believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ?
            You think I am using His name and speaking lies?

            The ones feeding you lies is Tusk, Breedlove and Stoltenberg, marrionates
            handled by European globalist.

          • Solomon Krupacek

            Amricans give them. This is NATO decision. Also SF wrote about this.

          • Jesus

            2 F16 and 2 A10 manned by American pilots bombed Syrian positions in Deir Ezzor.
            US is the head dog in NATO.