December 5, 2016

Russia's Kuznetsov aircraft carrier strike fighters crashing unsustainably

Admiral Kuznetsov's strike jets have been crashing into the sea so often over the last 3 weeks that pilots are seeking safety on land (at Russia's Syrian Air Base at Latakia - see map below). This Airbus/IHS photo is a satellite's view of Kuznetsov's 6 remaining Su-33 fighters (upper centre).

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is now rarely launching and recovering its fighters - partly due to arrester wire failures which have contributed to an unsustainable strike jet crash rate over only 3 weeks.


Wikipedia records two loses of aircraft (out of 10 to 12) in only three weeks of operations:

-  “On 14 November a MiG-29K crashed into the sea after taking off from the carrier.

-  “On 3 December, a Su-33 crashed into the sea after attempting to land on the carrier.”

With only 6 to 8 Su-33 fighters  and 4 x MiG-29KR multi-role aircraft this represents an unsustainable attrition rate of between 15 and 20%. It appears Kuznetsov's jets are shifting between the carrier and the air base depending on whether the arrester wires are working that day. 

In addition to arrester wire problems frequent relocation of Kuznetsov’s strike fighter airwing to the land base may be due to:

-  Russia's first carrier jet operations in combat may always have been only intended as a temporary
   international-public relations opportunity by Putin

-  the jets can only carry relatively light, tactically insufficient, loads of fuel and weapons when 
   launched from Kuznetsov's ski-jump. 

   :  China and India's ski-jump carriers do (or will) suffer from the same fuel and weapon's load

-  appreciation of the standard increased danger of fighters operating from a carrier
   compared to longer, non-shifting runways on air bases

-  Russia's Khmeimim Latakia Air Base is closer to Russia's main current target (Aleppo - see map
   below) than Kuznetsov can get. 

-  attempts to move Kuznetsov too far north up the Syrian coast may cause political-legal-sea zone
   problems with Turkey. 

-  Turkish Type 209 and future (Piri Reis?) 214TNs? submarines are a remote but still significant
    threat to Kuznetsov 

-  the strategically and legally surer "permanent Russian" treaty status of Khmeimim Air Base
   (since October 2016) makes this air base option increasingly attractive compared to a carrier

-  carrier operations cause wear and tear on the landing gear, and increased salt rust and corrosion,
   for Su-33s and MiG-29Ks. These are downsides not present at a land air base.

-  Kuznetsov's well known ship propulsion problems may prevent this carrier from regularly
   attaining sufficient speed (20 knots?) over the bow, to guarantee safe ski-jump launch of jets and to
   assist in effective arrested landing of jets. Maybe "old smokey" Kuznetsov needs good windy days
   to be sure there is sufficient natural wind over the bow.


Arthur Dominic Villasanta on Chinese-American website China Topix December 3, 2016 reports “Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov no Longer Launching Air Strikes after Complete Failure of Landing System”.

Russia has called off naval air strikes against anti-Assad rebels in Syria launched from the dilapidated RFS Admiral Kuznetsov (063), apparently after a complete failure of the carrier's arrester landing system that couldn't be fixed.

Western intelligence sources reveal the Kuznetsov embarked at least eight Sukhoi Su-33s carrier based air superiority fighters and four of the new MiG-29KR [in English K can mean carrier, R can mean Russian (carrier) variant]  multirole fighters for its deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean.

On Nov. 14, one of the carrier's Cold War-era Mikoyan MiG-29KR naval multirole fighters crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after take-off in the aging carrier's first bombing mission against anti-Assad rebels.

[see longer explanation in articleOn 3 December, one of its Su-33s also crashed into the sea]

The failure of Kuznetsov's arresting gear system has forced the Russian Navy to remove all its fighters from the carrier and station them at the [Russia's Khmeimim/Hmeimim/Humaymim) Air Base in Latakia province], Russia's largest air base in Syria a few days later.

Western reconnaissance photos show the carrier's Sukhoi and MiG jets parked alongside other jets belonging to the Russian Air Force. The carrier's jets have been launching air strikes from Humaymin for the past two weeks.

The Kuznetsov isn't a true aircraft carrier in the same category as U.S. Navy carriers but is classified by the Russian Navy as a heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser.

She's the largest ship ever built by Russia and is the flagship of the navy's Northern Fleet. She will be retired by the 2020s after being commissioned in the 1990s.

Western military analysts doubt her seaworthiness since this aircraft carrier's history has been marred by an unending series of engine failures and other technical mishaps. During her fourth deployment to the Mediterranean in 2011, she was shadowed by the United States Sixth Fleet that anticipated she would sink along the way given her poor condition.

The Admiral Kuznetsov caught fire during a previous deployment to the Mediterranean in 2009, an incident that killed one sailor. Her condition was so pitiful, Russian tugboats had to escort her in case her engines broke down.”

Russia's Khmeimim Air Base (aka Hmeimim or Latakia Air Base) is at Latakia, north coastal Syria (see map above). This Air Base is only accessible to Russian personnel. In October 2016 Russia ratified a treaty with Syria making Khmeimin Russia's permanent air base abroad.



MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

the Admiral Kuznetsov is an aircraft carrier compared to ships with similar tasks. Just the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier will be bigger than the Admiral Kuznetsov except the US carriers.

The point about not being a "real" carrier is the place where the ship was build: Ukraine
A "real" carrier is not allowed to pass through the Turkish Straits.


P.S.: Nice quote from SNAFU "mare nostrum vs. Admiral Kuznetsov 2:0". The Russian Navy lost 2 aircraft due to landing misshapes.

Anonymous said...

Looks like they're still attempting air ops:

Unfortunately, it's not working out so well for them.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Yes it looks like another of Kuznetsov's jets has been destroyed - when a carrier landing was again attempted.

Kuznetsov's jet losses (2 of 12 or 13?) are on thw way to 15-20%. This is after less than a month of combat operations.

Putin and his Admirals would not be happy with Russia's only (and perhaps last) carrier.


Peter Coates said...

Thanks MHalblaub

Re: Russian and Japanese carriers.

There is even more description of Kuznetsov's tricky political-legal label of "heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser" at where it is labelled a

I suppose Kuznetsov's large gun and missile armament would be similar to an actual destroyer or cruiser - see "Armament' at right sidebar.

Thanks - I'll note unlucky ship Kuznetsov's loss of (now) 2 jets later today in the text.


Interesting how Japan also uses curious political-legal labelling of its helicopter destroyers (eg. ) Although there are no ski-jumps, so Tthe ability to launch jets (other than F-35Bs) will be/is limited.



Anonymous said...

From close up photos, the Kuznetsov is rusting inside out. There is no need to hunt that ship with sonar or radar. Just leyeball the smoke trail from OTH.

Peter Coates said...


Carrier operations are always higher risk. But "old smokey" Kuznetsov probably cannot attain the 20 knots? needed to launch and help wire arrest its hapless jets.

The poor pilots would feel safer at the land air base.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete,

the Kuznetsov was supposed to go into a three/four year long deep upgrade/MLU around 2015, but Russia's engagement in Syria cut it out. So she only received a rushed standard maintaince. Same for the Su-33, which received a very rushed basic upgrade.

On some Russian forums it was stated the Kuznetsov would de-facto undergo a similar rebuilding like the INS Vikramaditya and would comeout "like" the Liaoning.


Team Eurowussies

Josh said...

It seems likely this will be his last deployment before a major refit, which if it actually is performed, I suspect will take several years. I don't expect a successor to be forthcoming; it seems far more likely that Russia will get out of the fixed wing business rather than build an entire new CV with their limited industrial base. I can't think of a ship bigger than a frigate that they've completed since the 80's, with the notable exception of very large and complicated nuclear submarines. I suspect a CV, particularly a 'real' CATOBAR CV, is outside their price range and experience to build and operate.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, maybe so. But Aleppo is still about to surrender to Russian backed forces.

We can laugh all we want, but in terms of achieving national objectives....policy vision and execution will beat a faculty lounge administration, no matter how competent the flat-tops are, almost every time.

Putin is schooling the Ivy league set. I hope Trump can inspire some good old fashioned American competence.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Team Eurowussies

Also, as Russia has no (rule of) three carriers - so one can always be operational - there is no useful learning curve. All the carrier inefficiencies and aircraft accidents ensue.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

Yes, more likely Russia might rely on helicopter carriers. With no Mistrals , Russia may develop its own attack helicopter carriers solution.

Also Russia is refining its sea launched cruise missiles, taking over many of the jobs of carrier jets.

Russia has toyed with nuclear propelled super carrier replacements for Kuznetsov - but this hasn't got far past chest beating .

Still. The increased world price of oil and Trump's possible affinity to Putin (leading to fewer Ukraine sanctions) may boost Russian ability to fund more ships.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [at 7/12/16 12:45 PM]

True that Russia has made more military progress in Syria in a year than Obama's West (ineffectual "Free Syrian Army" and all) has made in 5 years, since 2011. If Trump teams up with Putin that may see the quick demise of IS and al Nusra etc.

It is indeed difficult to demonstrate that the West's carrier and land base launched air war has made much difference in Syria and Iraq. Mosul?



Josh said...

Oil won't rise above $60 even if the KSA is successful at limiting production, which seems unlikely in the long term. Even now the markets hover just above $50 and US shale drillers are sharpening their knives. And the Russians are about to eat a population inversion that will first deprive it of a large reserve of young for the armed forces and then ultimately economically ruin it. The prospects of Russia completing a brand new CV that wouldn't be ready for at least five years, even at Chinese rates of building, are effectively nil. Quite honestly I give the refit of Kuz only a 50/50 chance of being carried out to full completion.

As to the Syrian operations: no one wants to say it, but right now Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia are fighting a bunch of team Sunni jihadis (and Kurds). Outside of the Kurds and the civilians, what is not to love about this situation? The real reason the US does nothing is because it sees absolutely no disadvantage to all of these people killing themselves for years. If Hez wants to take those loses and Russia wants to burn out what's left of its major surface combatants supporting an action that can't ever achieve final victory and gives the Russians nothing but bragging rights (for Iran this *is* strategic, for Hez its existential), who is the US to get in the way? It's a human tragedy to be sure, but from a US point of view a completely useful one in which practically everyone involved is an atongonist. The current administration whines because that gives the window dressing that the US cares without investing anything significant; Trump will merely take away the pretense that the US cares at all.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

If I were so sure of future oil prices I'd be a $Billionaire .

I'm of 2 or more minds about Russia:

- it is heartening Russia has these demographic realities that will hopefully hobble its military.

- though a shame Russia will likely need to leave the Middle East theatre due to: lack of money: exhausted men and worn out equipment.

- Trump is canny enough (like Reagan of old) to see benefit in Russia/Russian forces grinding themselves down in the usually West-only past-time of foreign miltary ad-ventures.



MHalblaub said...

Dear folks,

here some major US carrier mishaps:
“Every line in the NATOPS manual is written in blood.”
(NATOPS - Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization )


Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub [11/12/16 10:57 PM]

A very relevant article. The kinetic risks, flammable fluid/gases and jet engines all operating on crowded carrier flighdecks are risky. The US publises its disasters/mistakes. India would to.

I'd say Russia and China are culturally less likely to tell the world when they have carrier deaths and fires.

So the article starts with
"U.S. Navy Supercarriers Dominate Because of Lessons Paid for With Blood" America learned from painful mistakes

"Naval aviation is an inherently dangerous business, but over the course of more than 75 years, through robust procedures, rigorous training and continuous practice, the U.S. Navy has honed its carrier flight deck operations into a well-oiled machine.

Accidents do happen, but the Navy is continually working on improving flight deck safety. Every time there is a mishap, the accident is investigated so that procedures can be refined to prevent a recurrence.

But those lessons have often come at price in lives lost, injuries and monetary costs. Hundreds of men have been killed or injured during accidents at sea on board a carrier.

As one now-retired naval aviator told me — with only slight hyperbole: “Every line in the NATOPS manual is written in blood.”...