Russia's Last Aircraft Carrier Is in Such Bad Shape It Can't Sail Anywhere

Aircraft Carrier Russian Navy Admiral Kuznetsov

Russia's Last Aircraft Carrier Is in Such Bad Shape It Can't Sail Anywhere

In 2018, it was announced that the Russian Navy had begun to explore options for a new aircraft carrier to replace Admiral Kuznetsov. But nothing ever was done. 


Summary: Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, has been undergoing a refit since July 2018 and is expected to conduct sea trials at somepoint.

Russia Aircraft Carrier


Designed as a symbol of Russian naval pride, the Kuznetsov has faced numerous mechanical and construction problems, resulting in extended repairs.

Historically, Russia has been a land-based power, with limited success in developing a carrier fleet compared to the U.S. Despite past efforts to build carriers, including the troubled Kuznetsov and the unfulfilled Project Shtorm, Russia's naval ambitions remain constrained by financial costs, geographical limitations, and advancements in anti-ship weapons.

The future of Russian carrier capabilities remains uncertain.

Russia’s Aircraft Carrier Woes: Can Admiral Kuznetsov Overcome Its Troubles?

The Russian Navy's sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, has been undergoing a refit since July 2018. The Kremlin has announced that the warship could finally conduct sea trials sometime in the future – but whether that actually happens has yet to be seen.

The problem-plagued warship was meant to be a symbol of pride for Moscow, but it has often been the butt of numerous jokes – often with good reason. At one point, the Kremlin did consider a replacement, yet likely, the warship will never sail.

And also for many good reasons.

Russia Has Been a Land Power

It is true that throughout the Cold War, the United States Navy's aircraft carriers were used for force projection throughout the world. Nearly a dozen and half aircraft carriers played a role during the Korean War, and naval aircraft provided much-needed air support – especially in the early stages of the conflict. The carrier air wings were instrumental in destroying enemy supply depots, bridges, roads, and railways. When the tide turned in November 1950, as Chinese forces pushed Allied units south, U.S. Navy aviators covered the retreat.

More than 250,000 sorties were flown by the U.S. Navy, contributing one-third of the total air effort in the war. The case for Cold War carriers was made, especially as the U.S. Navy began the war with 15 active carriers and ended it with 38 in service.

Russia Aircraft Carrier

After the war, even as the United States developed strategic aircraft, concealed intercontinental missiles throughout the Midwest, and launched a fleet of ballistic missile submarines, aircraft carriers played a crucial role in providing a defensive parameter around the United States.

"Control of the seas means security; control of the seas means peace; control of the seas can mean victory," stated President John F. Kennedy.

In the years that followed, U.S. Navy carrier strike groups have been deployed dozens of times to launch sorties around the globe. Today, the warships continue to allow the U.S. military to maintain force projection that is simply unrivaled.

The question then can be asked why didn't the Soviet Union – with its goal of spreading communism across the world – build true aircraft carriers? The short answer is that the Soviet Union, like Imperial Russia before it, was always a land-based power.

The Soviet's Failed Aircraft Carrier Ambitions

Despite it being a land-based power, there were numerous efforts to develop aircraft cruisers. Yet, the Soviet Union instead underwent a rapid modernization in the 1960s and 1970s that focused on submarines, as well as guided-missile cruisers and destroyers. Moscow saw the threat that the carriers presented, but Soviet military planners had to face the reality of its limited resources and the high cost to build and maintain carriers.

One factor was that, unlike the United States, the Soviets lacked the overseas bases to support the warships. Without foreign port facilities or the ability to resupply a carrier strike group at sea, Moscow could have truly employed the warships as effectively as the United States Navy.

It was only after Leonid Brezhnev came to power that the Soviet Union finally began to consider aircraft carriers once more. It eventually launched a total of two Moskva -class helicopter carriers, one in 1965 followed by another in 1968. The first Soviet aircraft carrier to support fighter jets, the Kiev-class, was only launched in 1975. It was a race that was already long lost, as the United States Navy's carrier efforts dated back to 1910.

Russia Aircraft Carrier

The one serious attempt to build a carrier comparable to the American standards began as "Project Orel" in the 1970s, but it was scuttled over costs and disagreements within the Kremlin over the Soviet military's strategic priorities. Only in the 1980s did Moscow finally move forward with a new class of "aircraft cruisers."

In the end, just a single flattop was completed. Launched as the Leonid Brezhnev, and later as the Tbilsi, she was renamed Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As of July 2022 that aircraft cruiser is currently undergoing a refit, during which time she has suffered a number of misfortunes. Her sister vessel Varyag was sold to China by cash-strapped Ukraine and refurbished as the Type 001 Liaoning.

The Modern Russian Carrier

In 2018, it was announced that the Russian Navy had begun to explore options for a new aircraft carrier. According to, one option was focused on a conventionally powered vessel with a displacement of around 70,000 tons – slightly larger than the 58,600-67,500 tons full load Project 1143.5 Admiral Kuznetsov. Another option called for a nuclear-powered carrier, with a larger displacement. That would be bigger than the 42,000-ton French Navy flagship Charles de Gaulle – the only non-U.S. Navy nuclear-powered carrier – yet not likely as large as the 100,000-ton American supercarriers.

The new "Shtorm" aircraft carrier – a.k.a. Project 23000E – was to be included in Russia's armament program for the 2019 to 2025 period.

As the trade magazine SP's Naval Force also reported in 2018, "Project Shtorm was shrouded in mystery for several years until an initial concept was unveiled by the Krylovsky State Research Center (KRSC) back in 2015. The new super-carrier would displace close to 100,000 tonnes, 330 m long, 40 m wide and could launch 80-90 aircraft with an EMALS system."

Russian officials had suggested the carrier could be laid down between 2025 and 2030 – while a model was presented at a past Army Technical Forum. Yet, as of 2020, the project hadn't been approved and given its financial costs would likely impact other Russian naval modernization efforts.

Admiral Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier

"Considering the estimated program cost of $9 billion, it seems quite unlikely that economically weakened Russia will move beyond the design stage," SP's Naval Force added.

That assessment was made before Russia's Ukrainian folly, and notably before vast sums of money were thrown into modernizing the Admiral Kuznetsov. Given the current situation – not to mention the advancements in anti-ship weapons – it would seem unlikely the Shtorm will ever be more than a concept that failed to sail off the drawing board.

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

All images are Creative Commons.