The flagship of the Russian Navy, the heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov will undergo upgrades that will allow it to carry deck-based generation 4++ MiG-29/MiG-29KUB fighter jets, TASS cited the Head of the Nevskoye Design Bureau Sergei Orlov on August 6th.
“MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB, Su-33 planes and some types of helicopters will be based on the warship. Some adjustments will be made precisely to accommodate MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB aircraft. Pilots want something new, something better and more reliable. Actually, the entire aircraft and technical compound of shipborne systems will be modernized,” Orlov said.
The warship is a Project 11435 heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser entered service in 1991. It has a length of 306 meters and displaces approximately 59,000 tonnes. It can also travel with a speed of up to 30 knots. The warship has not undergone any major overhauls, following a two-year refit between 1996 and 1998.
Admiral Kuznetsov has an air task force of 24-26 fighter jets, 12 helicopters, anti-ship and air defense missile systems, artillery guns and carries anti-submarine weapons. The warship’s crew numbers 1,300, whereas the aircraft personnel are 660.
The trials of new generation 4++ MiG-29/MiG-29KUB fighter jets started in the summer of 2016, while the warship was on its voyage to Syria in 2016-2017.
The Contract for the upgrades was signed in April 2018 with the Nevskoye Design Bureau, which is Russia’s sole institute for the design of aircraft-carrying and amphibious assault ships of various classes.
Sergei Orlov also said that the repairs and upgrades of the flagship will take two and a half years. The following delivery/acceptance is expected to happen after “an impressive set of trials likely to last seven months.”
Russian Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief Viktor Bursuk was cited by TASS as saying that the repairs on the Admiral Kuznetsov began in May 2018. The Navy is expecting to get its warship back, repaired and upgraded, in 2021.
TASS also reported that the upgrade is expected to also include the new seaborne Pantsyr air defense systems.
The upgrades and repair to the warship were confirmed as early as March 2017, by Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Vice Adm. Viktor Bursuk. He announced that repairs would start in 2017, however delays pushed that back to when it actually started in May 2018.
In April 2017, Navy Veterans’ Union co-chairman Viktor Blytov said in an interview that repairing and upgrading the cruiser would cost much less than building a new one. “The addition of modern systems of electronic warfare, communication and replacing the warship’s aviation network could cost an estimated 40 billion rubles ($715 million). I guess this is not too much,” Blytov said, cited by Sputnik News.
Admiral Kuznetsov has been plagued by problems ever since its initial voyage. As Business Insider reported, in the 1990s it was so unreliable that it was accompanied by a cargo warship that had extra pipes for repairs. Ever since then it has always been accompanied by a special tugboat in case of likely breakdowns.
The warship’s major problem, and most likely the biggest reason for the repair and upgrade – the powerplant. Admiral Kuznetsov is powered by steam turbines and turbo-pressurized boilers, which are defective.
Kommersant, citing anonymous defense sources reported that the power plant will remain a boiler turbine. “In Russia, no gas turbine power plants are needed for the power required for such a ship. It would be possible to purchase and instal an American product, but the political situation does not allow this. In addition, the funds for the acquisition is clearly not enough, ” said the anonymous source. The boilers will be changed instead of changing the entire power plant.
In its 27 years of service it has been deployed once – in Syria in October 2016. Telegraph reported that it was spotted releasing thick clouds of black smoke throughout its entire journey through the English Channel.
Regarding the operation in Syria, the Russian Navy announced that it had been successful. Admiral Kuznetsov’s aircraft conducted 420 sorties, 117 of which at night, destroying more than 1,000 targets. However, there were losses. A MiG-29K was lost on the first day of flight operations and an SU-33 two weeks later, due to arresting cables problems.
Defense World reported in 2016, that the arrested cables issues were so severe that Admiral Kuznetsov’s entire aircraft fleet was moved and operation from a Syrian airbase.
On April 25th, Navyrecongition, cited an anonymous defense source of Kommersant newspaper claiming the refit work will be limited and in accelerated mode. Murmansk 35th Shipyard, a subsidiary of the Severodvinsk Zvezdochka is contracted to work for two years. According to Kommersant, the cost of the overhaul will only be about 55 billion rubles (approximately $870 million), which would reportedly not be enough for a radical modernization of the warship. According to the anonymous source, due to the limited budget the defense department will only repair the boiler turbine plant and will replace some electronic warfare system.