The aircraft carrier fleet of the Russian Navy cannot certainly be compared with that of its main antagonist, the United States Navy. When the Russian Federation emerged from the "ashes" of the Soviet Union, its Navy had a few operative aircraft carriers, but the economical shortages associated to the change of political system, led to the decommission of most of them.

The first victims of this situation were the aging helicopter carriers of the Moskva class, retired in 1991 and scrapped some years later. Three of the four aircraft carriers of the Kiev class were sold in 1993 and the fourth one in 1995. As 2016, the Russian Navy only possesses one aircraft carrier, a modern unit commissioned in 1990 and eventually baptized as Admiral Kuznetsov, while her twin Varyag, owned by Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union, ended in Chinese hands.

The following illustration was made when the Admiral Kuznetsov was still in development (in that time she was called Tbilisi). This is the description given in a book from circa 1989: "The first unit of the new aircraft carriers of the Tbilisi class, of 65000 metric tonnes, marks a significant advance over the Kiev class. It is expected that this aircraft carrier will carry the new interceptor fighters Yak-41 V/STOL, now in test flights, as well as the Su-27 Flanker. The first aircraft carrier of the Tbilisi class can start this year her sea trials."

Tbilisi class aircraft carrier
Note: Soviet/Russian aircraft carriers have been classified not only as carriers, but also as cruisers, since they carry a complete dotation of defensive armament, not present in any other aircraft carrier operated by other navies.

Admiral Kuznetsov

A typical air wing on the Admiral Kuznetsov comprises twenty-four helicopters Kamov Ka-27 specially fitted for antisubmarine and rescue operations, five close air support aircraft Sukhoi Su-25 and twelve air superiority fighters Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 or Sukhoi Su-33. The specifications of the project demanded the capability to carry up to thirty-three fixed-wing aircraft and twelve helicopters. About 650 people is dedicated to the management of the air wing, while the rest of the complement is around 2000 people. The Admiral Kuznetsov displayed the numeral 113 in the 1990s, as seen below.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
Regarding "organic" armament, this aircraft carrier continued the phylosophy of her predecessors, including a set of weapons to support and defend the fleet as a cruiser would do. The armament comprises twelve antiship missiles SS-N-19 "Shipwreck", stored in vertical launchers that are placed in the flight deck just before the "ski-jump", 192 long-range antiaircraft missiles SA-N-9 "Gauntlet", which are fired from 24 vertical launchers placed in the "balconies" at prow and astern, eight Kashtan CIWS, placed next to the SA-N-9 launchers, and six AK-630 CIWS mountings, which form the most awesome concentration of antimissile close-in weapon systems ever seen in a warship, and finally two antisubmarine rocket launchers RBU-12000 placed astern.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
The Admiral Kuznetsov has an overall length of 305 meters, a beam of 72 meters and a draft of 11 meters. Her standard displacement is about 53000 tonnes, reaching a maximum of 67500 tonnes. The propulsion is provided by eight conventional steam boilers feeding two turbines that actuate in four shafts, giving a total output of 200000 shaft horsepower, which allows a maximum speed of up to 30 knots. Operational range is around 8500 nautical miles (15700 kilometers) at 18 knots and 3800 nautical miles (7000 kilometers) navigating at maximum speed.

The flight deck, of about 14500 square meters, leaves apart steam catapults and relies on a ski-jump to impulse the aircraft, even if the Su-27/33 is one of the largest carrier-borne aircraft ever seen. Finally, the two elevators that communicate the flight deck with the hangar are placed just before and after the large isle.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
The electronic dotation includes an air and surface target acquisition radar of scanned array type, operating in D/E bands, a surface search radar operating in F band, a flight control radar operating in G/H band, a navigation radar operating in I band and four fire-control radars for the Kashtan CIWS, operating in K band. For antisubmarine warfare there is a hull-mounted search and attack sonar, operating in low/medium frequencies, and the helicopters are equipped with surface search radar, dipping sonar, sonobuoys, and magnetic anomaly detectors.

Russia expected to build between three and six new Kuznetsov-class aircraft carriers over a period of ten years, with notable technical improvements and design changes. These include nuclear propulsion, a lesser dotation of organic armament, since the aircraft carriers shall be escorted by other ships, a less bulky isle with stealth properties on the structures and electronic emissions, and a new generation of aircraft, including lighter helicopters and fighters, thrust-vectoring aircraft and stealth drones for reconnaissance and related tasks.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
The air-superiority fighter Sukhoi Su-33 and the antisubmarine helicopter Kamov Ka-27 are the protagonists in the flight deck.

Su-33 fighter
Ka-27 helicopter
Note: blueprints of the Admiral Kuznetsov are available in the Illustration Gallery.

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