Russia's Aircraft Carrier Mistakes Just Won't Go Away

Russia Minsk Kiev-Class Aircraft Carrier
February 26, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: MilitaryDefenseHistoryRussiaSoviet UnionAircraft Carriers

Russia's Aircraft Carrier Mistakes Just Won't Go Away

Russia's absence of an aircraft carrier fleet, while surprising to some given its military stature, aligns with the global norm rather than the exception. Most countries, including Russia with the world's third-largest military budget, do not possess aircraft carriers due to the immense cost and complexity associated with these "floating cities."

Summary: Russia's absence of an aircraft carrier fleet, while surprising to some given its military stature, aligns with the global norm rather than the exception. Most countries, including Russia with the world's third-largest military budget, do not possess aircraft carriers due to the immense cost and complexity associated with these "floating cities." Carriers, capable of hosting thousands of crew and numerous aircraft, represent a significant multi-billion dollar investment that extends beyond the financial reach and strategic needs of many nations. Contrary to the perception of Russia's military might, often exaggerated by Western media, the reality is a force reliant on outdated equipment and limited by budget constraints. Russia's military strategy is regionally focused, unlike the United States, which maintains a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers to project its power globally

Why doesn’t Russia have a carrier fleet? People are often surprised to see that Russia, feared adversary of the United States, does not have a carrier fleet. Rather, Russia possesses just one carrier, the lowly Admiral Kuznetsov, which has been undergoing repairs for years, without sailing.

But the truth is, despite Russia’s contemporary prominence and past prestige, the vast majority of country’s do not have a carrier fleet. And although Russia has the world’s third highest military budget, they do not spend sufficiently (not have a pressing need) to possess a carrier fleet.

Aircraft Carriers Around the World

That Russia has no carrier fleet is not unusual but rather the overriding norm. Most of the world’s nations do not possess a single aircraft carrier. For an aircraft carrier is not a simple machine; an aircraft carrier is not a tank, or an ICBM, or even a fifth-generation fighter.

An aircraft carrier is essentially a floating city, and a floating airbase, capable of projecting a nation’s air power from any sea, at any time. A modern supercarrier, for example, can host upwards of five thousand crew, and one hundred aircraft. Nuclear-powered, a modern supercarrier can operate indefinitely, staying at sea for years if necessary.

An aircraft is a sophisticated machine and, in the case of modern supercarriers, a multi-billion dollar investment. So, for a nation not to have an aircraft carrier is not unusual but rather the norm.

Now, one might expect Russia to have a fleet of aircraft carriers because the magnitude of Russia’s military might have been distorted. Westerners harbor notions that the Russian military machine is mighty and menacing. But as Cold War soldier turned academic Andrew Bacevich will tell you, the idea of the Soviet/Russian military being formidable is a Cold War myth. The reality, which has been evidenced on the battlefields of Ukraine, is a modern Russian army that relies heavily on outdated equipment and poorly trained troops.

Russia is a paper tiger, with an annual military budget just one-tenth that of the United States. So, while one may have perceived, thanks to CNN or MSNBC, that Russia poses a dire military threat to the United States and the world, the fact is that Russia is a hollowed-out country in possession of a military machine that has struggled to gain and maintain territory from an immediate, and impoverished, neighbor.

Regional Ambitions

Russia’s military is more modest than generally perceived – and so are Russia’s military ambitions. Russia is a regional power with one of the world’s biggest nuclear stockpiles.

However, Russia does not have designs on global hegemony. The US, rather, who maintains a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers, has designs on a more global presence.

And since aircraft carriers are built to project power offshore, around the world, the aircraft carrier is more vital to American global strategy.

The US aircraft carrier is so robust because the US wants to be able to influence multiple regions – Europe, the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific – simultaneously; while simultaneously being able to defend the homeland (which happens to have some of the longest coastlines in the world). Russia does not have the capacity, or the need, to physically, directly influence multiple regions simultaneously, with multi-billion dollar vessels.

For Russia, it would be a win if they could just get the petro-fueled Admiral Kuznetsov to be able to sail around the Mediterranean without the need for a tugboat escort.

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.