Streetwise Professor

November 8, 2018

To Bad the Drydock Sank, Instead of the Carrier It Was Lifting

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 5:17 pm

A week ago Russia lost its largest drydock, while it was towing the country’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.   This is amusing, though not surprising: “The cause of the accident was reportedly an electrical malfunction that left the pumps in the dry dock’s ballast tanks stuck on, causing it to sink rapidly.”

The Kuznetsov was itself damaged, when a crane from the drydock toppled onto the carrier’s deck.

All things considered, the Russians would have been much better off had the Kusnetsov plunged to the bottom, rather than the drydock.  The drydock is actually potentially useful.  The carrier is a near hulk that is more trouble than justified by its military value, which to a first order approximation is zero.

I will take credit for being one of the first to point out the comical fact that the Kusnetsov always sailed with a salvage craft–a towboat–bobbing along in its wake.  Prudent precaution, you say? Never leave home without one?  Well, no other aircraft carrier in the world needs to take this precaution.

The Russians will reportedly attempt to raise the drydock, although as the linked article points out it may have been damaged by the sinking.   And if the electronics were dodgy before, think what months/years under frigid seawater will do to them.  The Russians will also apparently continue with refurbishing the Kuznetsov, although this is already running over time and over budget.

Hey, if they want to burn money, who am I to stop them?  Better for the US that they waste resources on this rather pathetic vessel than put it into something actually useful.

It’s not August, but Russia has been suffering an August-like autumn.  And no, I don’t mean the weather: I mean the fact that for years August was regularly marked by major accidents in Russia.  In addition to the Kuznetsov/drydock fiasco, recent weeks have seen the failure of the manned Soyuz launch.  The failure has been blamed on a sensor damaged during installation:

“The reason for the abnormal separation … was due to a deformation of the stem of the contact separation sensor…,” Skorobogatov told reporters.

“It has been proven, fully confirmed that this happened specifically because of this sensor, and that could only have happened during the package’s assembly at the Baikonur cosmodrome,” he said.

I can imagine the conversation: “What do you mean it doesn’t fit, Boris?  Get a bigger hammer!”

Further, four bridges have collapsed in Russia since September.

In brief, Russia remains a shambolic place.   The gap between Putin’s chest-thumping and reality is as wide as ever.  The hamster wheel keeps spinning.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Britain has two new but all-but-uselss aircraft carriers. We should sell them to the highest bidder … Russia, India, China, whoever. After all it’s very likely that they already know all the details of the vessels.

    (When people describe the wonders of diversity, mass immigration, and foreign students in the universities they never discuss the extent of the espionage risk which that will impose. I wonder why.)

    Comment by dearieme — November 9, 2018 @ 4:44 am

  2. You do wonder what the point is of Russia’s having one aircraft carrier (even if it were a good one).

    Russia’s putative enemy at sea is the USA, and the USA has, what, twelve fleet carriers? – Each of which individually is more capable than Russia’s. And they could easily start operating in pairs. So in a war against the USA, ‘Kuznetzov’ would in effect be Russia’s ‘Bismarck’.

    In May 1941 Germany had one operational battleship and two others laid up in Brest with various bomb damage and machinery issues. The one operational battleship sortied and sank a 25-year-old British battlecruiser. So it was 1-0 to Germany, except that Britain had waiting for her fourteen more battleships and two more battlecruisers (one of which latter had, embarrassingly, single-handedly shot up and sent packing the other two German battleships off Norway). ‘Bismarck’ was going to have to pull off the same trick over and over and over again. It was always likeliest that Germany would instead have to trade her one for one of ours, especially as ‘Bismarck’ was a knife in a gunfight (the key damage to her was done by aircraft carriers).

    History is full of examples of potentially powerful adversaries whose best use in actual war turned out to be to skulk in port. ‘Goeben’ (and in fact the rest of the High Seas Fleet); ‘Tirpitz’; ‘Gneisenau’; ’25 de Mayo’. Likewise Kuznetzov would in any war have either to stay in port or get sunk. Even in the former case, the latter would still likely eventuate, as ‘Tirpitz’ and ‘Gneisenau’ attest.

    The only role this seems to leave for Russia’s aircraft carrier is bombing from afar countries that it can’t reach from land bases, and a bit of peacetime posing.

    Comment by Green as Grass — November 12, 2018 @ 4:58 am

  3. @Green–one aircraft carrier, or even two or three, is a waste. You need 2 or 3 in order to have one deployed continuously. And one aircraft carrier might give you at most some ability to project power in a limited area, but certainly not globally. So 1 CV=power projected over limited space for limited time. Even 2 or 3=power projection over limited space for limited time.

    This has implications not just for Russia, but the UK and France. (UK, as dearieme recently noted, is spending lavishly on a couple of carriers–to what end?) Carriers make no sense for these countries. There are huge economies of scale, and they just don’t have that scale.

    For China, it might make sense to have a few, as long as their strategic horizon is the South China Sea or even the Western Pacific. For everyone other than China and the US, it is an extravagant waste.

    I don’t mind the Russians pissing away their resources–in fact, be my guest! I’d much prefer that the British and French spend that money more wisely.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 12, 2018 @ 8:13 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress