jump to navigation

Late n’ Rare Flightline Friday: The World’s Worst Carrier, Kuznetsov October 24, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, asshatery, disaster, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, non squitur, pr stunts, silliness, Society, technology.

A lot of folks apparently got excited last week when, for the 7th time in its nearly 30 year history the broken down, way too small, horribly designed (and only) Russian carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov put to sea to ostensibly conduct combat operations off of Syria.  If the carrier makes it to the Eastern Med – which is by no means certain, given its deplorable history – Kuznetsov will take party in combat operations for the first time with its tiny fixed wing fleet of 16 Su-33 aircraft.

But first she (or, as the Russians say, he) has to get there.  And that’s been the problem in the past.  Even when Kuznetsov made it to Eastern Med, she was generally in too poor condition to actually do anything remotely military.  Her freshwater condensers constantly crap out, meaning they can’t run the turbines, meaning the ship has to be towed back to port.  Why else do you think the Russians never let Kuznetsov put to sea without the world’s largest tug as escort?  Does the US Navy do this, with their carriers?  The Japanese?  Italians?  Spanish? Even the Brazilians? No, no they do not.

Kuznetsov was a product of two disastrous characteristics: inexperienced, frankly incompetent design, and late-Soviet-era build standards.  Coupled together, and you have one of the most poorly designed and built ships ever to slide down the ways.  Her horrific design and shoddy workmanship are legendary.  The phased array antennas on the island? – they’re concrete ballast, as the real radar was never made functional.  The plumbing is worthlessly rusted out in half or more of the ship.  Basically half of the ship is unlivable.  The ship is only marginally large enough to handle the huge Su-33 tactical aircraft, and can only carry a handful of them, really barely enough to protect the carrier (if that), let alone project power anywhere. And her power plant…….a large steam unit……….has always been her most pronounced weak point.

It appears to have gotten even worse.  While passing through the English Channel, Kuznetsov belched forth such hideous, thick plumes of smoke from her oil fired engines that I seriously doubt she could conduct flight operations under such conditions.  See, carriers, when they do flight ops, always turn into the wind.  Pilots trying to land on Kuznetsov would be rendered almost totally blind by these clouds of incredibly dense smoke emanating from the ship and flowing straight into their approach path to land.  And this was while cruising at a leisurely 7-8 knots, not the 25+ generally required for flight operations.  I would wager she can’t come close to that speed with engines in such dire shape*.  If she can, her pilots will probably be splattered all over the round down trying to land.

Wow.  They are either using incredibly dirty, unrefined oil, or those engines have unbelievable problems.  Likely a bit of both.

This is not made up stuff.  How to deal with carrier smokestack emissions prior to the advent of gas turbines and nukes was a huge issue. That’s one reason US carriers wound up with their islands so far back, which generally prevented the gasses from spreading so much they seriously affected visibility.  On earlier Essex class carriers, with islands roughly midship, this was much more of a problem.  The Japanese, on their WWII carriers, actually vented the boiler gasses downward, below the level of the flight deck, to try to deal with this.

Of course, US and allied pilots go through the training hell of learning to make night traps using only mirror, ball, and the screams of the LSO.  Those landings are dang near blind, so it was generally less of a problem for US naval aviators even when we still had oil-fired carriers (which, we don’t.  The last were retired nearly 10 years ago).

So don’t get too worked up over Putin’s latest bluster.  This one is much more show than go.  That’s all any combat operations conducted from Kuznetsov will be, if there are any – show.  And it will be another hellish cruise for her crew, which despises the ship to the extent they mutinied a short while back.  This is a ship that has spent over 95% of her 30 year career tied up pierside or in drydock.  She’s a floating disaster, and the Chinese were probably suckers to gain most of their carrier knowledge, and their currently only operational carrier, from the incompleted hulk of Kuznetsov’s sister, now finished and called Laioning by the Red Chinese.  She has all the same engines and other design flaws of the original, and to date hasn’t put to sea very often at all, by Western standards.



I loved the jokes on Ace: the world’s first wood-, or possibly peat-, burning aircraft carrier.  I don’t think Lexington put out that much smoke after taking multiple Jap torpedoes at Coral Sea.

*- In fact, Kuznetsov has apparently never come close to her design speed of 29 kts



1. Camper - October 24, 2016

Nice article. The Russians are bullying and tyrannical, and it shows in things like this carrier. BTW, do all those countries you listed have carriers. Argh. My punctuation keys have changed. I meant that to be a question mark.

Richard Malcolm - October 24, 2016

Japan, Italy and Spain *do* operate amphibious assault ships that qualify as carriers in the very broad sense of the term (though none of them are as large or capable as an Iwo Jima or America class LHD/LHA). Brazil operates the old Clemenceau (now Sao Paolo) as a conventional carrier. It’s obviously nothing much to write home about, but at least it doesn’t produce as much air pollution as downtown Beijing.

Tantumblogo - October 24, 2016

Neither is Charles de Gaulle much to write home about.

Largely agree, most of the country’s carriers I mentioned are more helicopter carriers for assault than carriers in the conventional sense. With VSTOL aircraft, Cavour and the Izumos could be OK. There are others, the Aussies have the Canberra class which are really more true LHDs than anything else but do retain the ski-jump from their Spanish design.

In reality, though, the distinction between LHD/A and carrier can get blurry. During OIF, at least one of the gators was stripped of helos and troops and operated a full complement of AV-8Bs, about 30 or so, from what I read. So, sort of a mini-carrier.

Richard Malcolm - October 24, 2016

The truth is that*no* navy out there really operates a CATOBAR carrier that’s worth writing home about – save the United States. To the extent that anyone does…France’s Charles de Gaulle is the least bad of the bunch. Not a well designed ship, but at least she doesn’t require escort by a tug…

Otherwise, as you say, the situation is basically the United States with its vast armada of CVNs and LHDs, and then a dozen or so navies operating one or two small amphibious assault ships each, some of which operate STOBAR/STOVL aircraft in addition to helicopters – and none of them really in the class of an USN Iwo Jima or America…though a handful of them, like the Mistral and Juan/Carlos/Adelaide class ships, are quite capable (and, uh, non-smoke producing) for what they are. When India commissions the Vikrant and Britain the two Queen Elizabeths, of course, there will be a new gold standard in this category – though neither would be any match for a Nimitz or Ford in terms of power projection or even just raw combat power. The U.S. remains, for now, in a class by itself.

This is why it was a significant blow to the Russian Navy when France cancelled the sale of the two Mistral class ships to Russia last year. Those would have been a major upgrade to anything the Russians had on hand, in terms of naval aviation platforms.

It is an old debate as to whether amphibious assault ships qualify as “carriers,” or at least as a subspecies. I tend to think they do, but they really are, as you say, “mini-carriers.” No one would dream of trying to tackle a Nimitz-class with one of them, or likely even the de Gaulle. They have a different mission.

Tantumblogo - October 24, 2016

You mean the old LPD Iwo Jima from the 60s? Those were really small. You mean Wasp class? Both Wasp and Americas are the same size, Iwos were much smaller.

Richard Malcolm - October 24, 2016

My bad – I meant WASP class. The Iwo Jimas are all retired, obviously. It’s been a long day.

Tantumblogo - October 25, 2016

There was an offer to loan Iwo to Britain during the Falklands if Invincible or Hermes were sunk or knocked out of action. At 19 kts top speed, I don’t think she would have fit in the task force very well. Better than nothing? I think the Brits politely turned the offer down.

Richard Malcolm - October 25, 2016

Yeah, I read that about Weinberger’s offer to Thatcher as well.

I really don’t know if the RN would would taken him up on it, had they lost a deck. I think they were hoping to never have to make the decision. Getting it worked up and integrated into the task force would have been a doozy, and would have required crewing it in part with private contract American workers, too.

Tantumblogo - October 24, 2016

Yes, but they are all way, way smaller than US carriers and are either only marginally effective or are really more helicopter carriers for assault landings across beaches than anything else. France has a single carrier that is not very well designed. So does Thailand, but it’s nothing but a shiny royal yacht, far too small to be good for anything.

Britain is building two, which are good sized and should be effective ships, but the Royal Navy had to basically sell its soul to get them. They won’t have planes to put on them for some time, and allowed the escort fleet to be decimated to pay for them.

Richard Malcolm - October 24, 2016

Worse, the RN opted to make the QE’s STOVL carriers rather than CATOBAR once the costs surged. So now they’ll be stuck with two 70,000 ton top of the line….STOVL carriers. Not, as you say, that they’ll have much in the way of assets to operate from them, or to escort them anyway….but even so, not the best use of all that tonnage.

Not the first time Britain has tried to field a first class navy with a second class budget, but that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing to see.

Tantumblogo - October 24, 2016

Cancelling CVA-01 was one of the worst of many British defense policy disasters of the 60s and 70s. I agree, the Queen Elizabeths were sort of designed as kludges, as the RN wavered between which variant of the F-35 to operate. They are big enough for CATOBAR but the money was only there for STOVL, so………

When is the first supposed to commission? Isn’t QE pretty much complete now?

Richard Malcolm - October 24, 2016

QE commissions officially next spring, and Prince of Wales a couple years after that. The problem, as you noted, is that the RN has no aircraft (beyond helicopters) to operate off either of them, since they have not taken delivery on the requisite F-35B’s yet, thanks to all the production delays. In fact, I read last month that the U.S. Marine Corps will be operating some of *their* F-35B’s off the QE on her first deployment (I kid you not). Useful experience for the Brits, if nothing else, I guess…


It really is a shame they went pound foolish-penny wise on ditching CATOBAR for those monsters. The only saving grace is that the F-35B is pretty arguably the most balanced version of the F-35, at least for what its mission is. Which is why the Marines are going to be the branch of service least disappointed with their Lightnings – and not just because they’re such a massive upgrade on their old Harriers.

2. Richard Malcolm - October 24, 2016

Obviously. the smoke is a defensive tactic, just like destroyers used to do back in the day. And who knows? The fumes might be severe enough to disable any incoming anti-ship missiles.

3. Blaine - October 24, 2016

Ha. If only all the sailors I was stationed onboard Kennedy with (CV-67) in ’02 could read this article. They’d have a lot less to complain about, not knowing how good they had it.

I loved that ship, and that summer was awesome. Cat shot and trap in a prowler. Turkey, Spain after the Suez Canal and crossed the Atlantic.

Tantumblogo - October 24, 2016

You shellback, bro?

Blaine - October 25, 2016

Alas I did not, caught the ship via a C-2 just before the canal, so never crossed the equator.

I’ve never been in the Southern Hemisphere.

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: