A long story with an unknown ending
In June, the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov, the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser (TAVKR), again made himself talk about. Back in 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense and the United Shipbuilding Corporation entered into an agreement for medium repair and limited modernization of the ship. According to a recent statement by Vladimir Korolev, vice president for military shipbuilding at USC, the completion of the work was postponed to 2023.
“The renovation and modernization of Admiral Kuznetsov will be completed in the first half of 2023. Avionics, a flight deck with a springboard, power equipment, and a power plant will be completely replaced. The ship will receive a new aircraft take-off and landing control system entirely of domestic design. The composition of the carrier-based aviation will remain the same, there will be no strike weapons on the cruiser, it will be equipped with the Pantsir-M anti-aircraft missile and cannon system, "Korolev said.
In general, this is a completely expected phenomenon. Recall that in recent years, the ship has become involved in several high-profile emergencies at once. On October 30, 2018, the floating dock PD-50 sank, the aircraft carrier was damaged by the fall of the dock crane, but remained afloat. And on December 12, 2019, a fire broke out on the ship: according to official data, the damage was not critical. The United Shipbuilding Corporation estimated the damage from the fire at 500 million rubles.
You can also recall the "strange" trip of the ship to the shores of Syria, when, as a result of flight accidents, two fighters were lost: the old Su-33 and the newer MiG-29K, but this does not directly relate to the essence of the issue.
The aircraft carrier was launched back in 1985. That is, it is a conditional peer of the American USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) of the Nimitz type, which in the foreseeable future will be replaced by a new ship of the Gerald R. Ford type. The aircraft carrier, whose name is still unknown, will enter service around 2034. So far, we recall that the Americans have only one ship of this type - the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78).
It is logical that the ship, which was called "problematic" in the West, was decided to be modernized "insofar as". We can say that we are talking about a stripped-down version of modernization. Recall that in 2017, a source in the military-industrial complex said that during the repair and modernization of the aircraft-carrying cruiser, the Granit missile system will be replaced with the Caliber-NK missile system.
To launch these missiles, the 3S14 universal vertical launchers are used, a notable feature of which is the ability to use the new Zircon hypersonic missile (vertical launchers also allow the use of Onyx anti-ship missiles).
In general, the P-700 Granit is what distinguishes the Russian ship from other aircraft carriers. The giant missile has a mass of 7000 kilograms and can hit targets at a range of approximately 600 kilometers. We cannot judge for sure about its capabilities, since the missile has never been used in battle. However, we repeat, other countries have chosen a different path for the development of their aircraft carriers, turning them into large floating airfields, devoid of strike weapons. This applies not only to the United States, but also, for example, the PRC, which previously received a twinned TAVKR "Admiral Kuznetsov" in the person of "Varyag" (now "Liaoning").
As follows from the text of Vladimir Korolev's statement, Russia has decided not to reinvent the wheel and follow in the footsteps of other countries of the world.Combat aviation is the main (in fact) the only real weapon. The solution of other tasks, including the use of cruise missiles, can be provided by other ships that are part of an aircraft carrier strike group, but they cannot carry fighter-bombers on board purely physically (I must say, the TAVKR concept itself was initially at least strange).
As for the aviation group, the statement of the USC representative should not surprise anyone either. "Admiral Kuznetsov", unlike American aircraft carriers, does not have a launch catapult. This initially imposes restrictions on both the combat load of the aircraft and the types of aircraft that can be used.
Russia has two carrier-based fighters: the Su-33 and the MiG-29K. According to data from open sources, the ship carries 14 Su-33 aircraft and 10 MiG-29K fighters. There are no alternatives to them and there will never be. The Su-33UB project has long gone into oblivion, and the creation of a carrier-based version of the Su-57 fighter in the realities of austerity looks frankly fantastic.
At the same time, the Su-33 aircraft is very outdated: both morally and physically. The last car was produced in the late 90s. From the point of view of combat characteristics, it is approximately at the level of the non-modernized Su-27, which is clearly not enough in our time.
In fact, the MiG-29K will remain the only carrier-based fighter in Russia. A fourth-generation fighter with a combat radius of 850 kilometers (without the use of PTB) and a combat load of 4500 kilograms at 9 hardpoints.
What is and what will be?
The question of what to do with the aircraft carrier "Admiral Kuznetsov" is debatable, but the answer, as it seems, lies on the surface. Ideally, it would be generally better to send the ship to rest in the foreseeable future, but this is ideal. The fact is that the TAVKR is not just the only "full-fledged" Russian aircraft carrier, but will remain so in the future. There is nothing to replace it with corny, and it is difficult for such a large country as Russia (which has its own interests in different parts of the world) to remain completely without such a class of ships, at least from a moral point of view.
If you look at the projects of Russian aircraft carriers in recent years, it becomes clear that they have not yet decided what kind of ship is needed. The giant aircraft carrier of project 23000 "Storm", presented in 2013, replaced (added?) A more modest, similar to "Admiral Kuznetsov" ship of the project 11430E "Manatee". And after him, in 2021, Russia presented "Varan", on board which a limited air group can be based, including two dozen manned combat aircraft.
For comparison: the alleged aviation group of the aforementioned "Storm" - up to 90 aircraft, including the carrier-based version of the fifth generation Su-57 fighter. Now such a project seems almost unrealistic, but even taking into account the "miniaturization" the new aircraft carrier may be too expensive for Russia.
It goes without saying that it will never be possible to modernize Kuznetsov endlessly, but in the current realities, the average modernization of a ship looks like the only more or less rational approach. He will still be able to solve some problems: even without strike weapons and with the limited capabilities of the air group.