Streetwise Professor

January 13, 2012

The Hardware Ain’t So Hot Either

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 3:29 pm

The Russian “aircraft carrier”–and crucially, its trusty tugboat–reached Syria, where the flotilla received a warm welcome from the besieged Assad regime.  Pavel Felgenhauer’s description makes it plain that scare quotes I routinely use in reference to the Kuznetsov are more than warranted:

The Kuznetsov is a 60,000 ton ship that may carry an air wing of up to 50, including some 26 jets and 24 helicopters. On its present voyage the Kuznetsov’s majestic flight deck is almost empty – only eight Su-33 fighters and two Ka-27S helicopters for search and rescue missions, if any Su-33s are lost (Interfax, November 30). Not only is the present Kuznetsov air wing minuscule, it entirely lacks anti-submarine Ka-27 PLO helicopters and even more importantly – Ka-27RLD (Ka-31) early warning flying radars. Without any long-range radar capability, the Kuznetsov is not a combat ship, but a sitting duck – a large, uncomfortable and rusty tourist ship. The Su-33 fighters are not produced any more, so the Kuznetsov is now carrying the last flight worthy Su-33s and they will soon be mothballed after the carrier returns to port within two weeks.

The Kuznetsov’s main steam turbine engine has been breaking down constantly during the ship’s service, which began in 1992. The Kuznetsov has been a largely immobile and useless ship with three major shipyard repair periods lasting over six years since 1996. The sea salvage tug Nikolai Chiker is shadowing the Kuznetsov during its present tour to tow the hapless carrier back home if the main engine breaks down again. After completing its last voyage the Kuznetsov will be disarmed and go to the Severodvinsk shipyard for a major refitting that is officially planned to last until 2017 or end later – if ever (NVO, April 22, 2011). Su-33 production has been terminated, so the Kuznetsov must be refitted to carry MiG-29K fighter jets being developed for India. The Kuznetsov’s main anti-ship weapon, the supersonic Granit cruise missile, is also out of production and must be replaced. The main engine must be replaced – the carrier will be virtually gutted to the bare hull and rebuilt from scratch. When it ever sails again, al-Assad will be long forgotten history.

Meaning that the Kuznetsov’s little tugboat that could, the Nikolai Chiker, is arguably the most important vessel in the Russian fleet.

I doubt that the refit mentioned in the above quotewill go any better than the overhaul of another Russian “carrier”, the Gorshkov.  It was sold to the Indians, but the overhaul in a Russian yard went billions (dollars, not rubles rupees) over budget, and years over schedule.

Speaking of refits with hazy timelines, some news is leaking out about the fate of the Yekaterinburg, with emphasis on the “leaking.”  Whereas Rogozin had initially said the vessel would be repaired in a year, even he is now pushing that date into 2014, and other estimates say 2016 .   That’s because the damage was far more severe than Rogozin let on.  The sonar system is a total loss, and the torpedo section heavily damaged.  These both give lie to the initial claims that damage was limited to the rubber coating on the hull.  Neither is surprising given the pictures that came out last week.

The boat must be towed to a shipyard in Severodvinsk, and that can’t happen until the ice clears–and that big hole in the side of the boat is patched up  This will likely be May at the earliest.

I’ve frequently argued that the software in the Russian military is in deplorable shape.  The hardware isn’t that great either, especially afloat.

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  1. To be fair to Rogozin, the one year estimate was before the decision to combine the repair with the overhaul. The time to repair the actual damage from the fire is still likely to be in the 6-12 month range. But completing the rest of the overhaul in 12-18 months is just not going to happen.

    On the Kuznetsov, I think the plan is to turn it into essentially a completely new ship, just with the same hull. There’s even talk of a nuclear power plant replacing the current disaster of a steam turbine. I don’t think it’ll make it back into the fleet until 2020 or so.

    Comment by Dmitry Gorenburg — January 13, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

  2. @Dmitry. Point taken re Rogozin–but he should have kept a lid on it until he actually knew something.

    Re Kuznetsov, given the experience with the Gorshkov, such a radical overhaul is unlikely to go well.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 13, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

  3. They should refit it and sell it to India. ACs without a large support group are just targets for submarines anyway.

    Comment by So? — January 13, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

  4. As a land based power, Russia has very little need of a navy other than coastal defense. The Kuznetsov is a legacy of an era when the USSR had desires for power projection and had the resources to do so. Russia would do better by dismantling most of the fleet and putting its resources into more crucial military areas. By wasting resources on these “prestige” assets, Russia is only helping those whom it considers its rivals or enemies.

    Considering that Russia is currently not in any danger because neither NATO nor China has any interest in invading, now is the time for a thorough reform of the military. It needs to cashier a lot and rebuild from scratch. By putting it off, it risks not having a good military in the unknown future when it may have real need. Of course, that would prevent it from mounting any expeditonary force into the Caucasus or Central Asia, so it probably won’t. That is very short term thinking however. It should take better advantage of the favorable geopolitical conditions. At what other time in two hundred years has Russia been in least danger by the major powers near its borders?

    Everything I’ve read indicates the Russian military is in its most decrepit state since Tsuhshima.

    Comment by Chris Durnell — January 13, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  5. So?–After the Gorshkov fiasco I doubt the Indians are all that keen about buying another Russian rustbucket.

    Chris–exactly. Russian needs to have a major strategic rethink, and build its military accordingly. Maintaining things like the Kuznetsov for the purpose of prestige is counterproductive. It doesn’t generate prestige–only ridicule. It makes Russia seem like the Brando character in On the Waterfront: a pathetic has-been, muttering “I coulda been a contendah.” Militaries are loath to change, and the pull of memories of glories past (often dramatically exaggerated) is keeping Russia from scrapping the old and creating something new and different.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 13, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

  6. The original Gorshkov sale price was ridiculous. Even with all the cost rises it’s a bargain. The Kuznetsov has a proper flight deck to begin with.

    Comment by So? — January 13, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

  7. Clearly Russia needs to make a huge arms order from Israel. It would be a two-fer of vastly improving the quality of their hardware and making neocons either pretend the deal doesn’t exist or go absolutely ape$%^% in response.

    Comment by Mr. X — January 15, 2012 @ 1:26 am

  8. Of course I realize such a public deal will actually never go through. Israel will continue to just sell the technology it’s developed in cooperation with the U.S. taxpayer to Russia while Washington sees nothing and hears nothing. It suits both sides well. It saves the Frank Gaffneys of this world the monumental head exploding experience of having to explain how America’s best friend in the whole wide world could be so cozy with Gasputin’s Evil Empire.

    Comment by Mr. X — January 15, 2012 @ 1:41 am

  9. Ahem, what technology (aside from surveillance drones at least a generation or 2 behind those the US produces) are being sold to Russia Mr.X?

    And interesting to note that was pretty much the first and last sale by Israel to Russia, as the Russians then decided to sell P-800 Cruise Missiles to Syria the Israelis not only refused to sell anything to Russia, but are actively wanting to sell weapons to Russia’s enemies.

    Comment by Andrew — January 15, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  10. […] […]

    Pingback by Russian task group - Page 7 - PPRuNe Forums — January 16, 2012 @ 7:02 am

  11. NIKOLAY CHIKER Orig. built by Hollming OY Rauma / Finland 1988

    Kuznetsov’s little tugboat will make the job of bringing the junk-ship back to the Norwegian coast ?

    The mafias rebellious servant Vladimir do it the cheap way

    Comment by Anders — January 16, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

  12. The chairman of Russia’s central bank is, well, a liar or an idiot. Perhaps both.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 17, 2012 @ 2:54 am

  13. USA won nearly half of all Nobel Prizes awarded this year, six of nine awarded for science. Russia? Zero.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 17, 2012 @ 7:25 am

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