A slumping Russian economy is likely due to Moscow’s decision to cut funding for its sole fixed-wing aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, from about $800 million to $400 million, not nearly enough to fully upgrade the carrier in a way that will make it more survivable outside of a low-risk, low-intensity conflict.
The ship returned late last winter from a cruise in which its warplanes provided air support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces with plans for a multi-year refit and upgrade that would keep the ship viable and protected for many more years. However, the planned upgrades to onboard systems, weapons, propulsion and other infrastructure — which had been regularly postponed for a number of years — are now being dramatically scaled back, and it seems likely the cutbacks are due to fiscal constraints.
Analysts believe the Kremlin will opt to fix the ship’s notoriously unreliable propulsion system and other crumbling infrastructure such as crew quarters. Anything less than a full-fledged upgrade, however, especially to combat systems, will make it extremely vulnerable under any conditions other than extremely low-risk operations environments.
While the Kuznetsov, even after upgrades, was never going to match the capacity or capabilities of U.S. Navy super-carriers, Russia’s bigger problems come closer to home: Both China and India have begun upgrading their carrier fleets, and while they began with Russian Kiev-class designs like the Kuznetsov, they are now producing their own versions.