Russian news agency RIA Novosti yesterday published an article outlining major mid-life upgrades of the Russian Navy STOBAR CV Admiral Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov (ex-Leonid Brezhnev, ex-Tblisi) is one of two of the Varyag-class, the namesake having been sold to China incomplete and a source of speculation in its own right.

Interesting that such extensive modification and modernization is being performed on a vessel that Western observers had been all but certain would be scrapped. And the announcement earlier this year of a plan for three additional CVNs of roughly the same size as Admiral Kuznetsov.

Of note is that the modifications to Admiral Kuznetsov include increasing the size of the hangar deck, and hence, aircraft carrying capacity, as well as the installation of steam catapults. In effect, if the Russian plans come to pass, “Project 1143.5” will yield a STOBAR/CATOBAR-capable CV.

It would appear that Russia is eyeing more than her coastal waters with these latest projects. Whether dire economic straits severely curtail plans remains to be seen, but we should take heed that, should Russia have the economic means to do so, they are intent on building a modern blue-water Navy.

There may be another concept useful to the US Navy in observing Russia’s naval expansion. Perhaps we should consider modernization of existing hulls before disposing of vessels at the mid-service life point?

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Aviation, Foreign Policy, Maritime Security, Navy

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  • I think the title of this post applied from her first day underway ……

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Yep. But her always-troublesome turbines are being replaced, and much of her other shortcomings are being remedied. She should be a far more capable ship from what she was in 1991.

  • Jay

    Aren’t the Russians getting a French design (built, too?) for an Amphib? Is a planned upgrade to a single carrier (and an idea that they can/might/will build 3 more) a serious indicator of Blue Water intentions?

    Perhaps if they get their act together with subs…that might be something to heed — as it is, too many “ifs” in this.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    You are right, ‘lotta “ifs”. But sure shows intent for a credible blue water force. That is something to heed.

    With the overhauls of the Delta IVs and the building of the Lada-class diesel boats (with an eye toward export of some, replacement of the Kilos with others), the Russians are keeping their hands in the subsurface biz.

    Time will tell.


    Given the Russian shipbuilding performance since the Cold War and the performance exhibited on the Indian Carrier, 2017 or even 2020 is probably horribly optimistic, especially if they are replacing the entire engineering plant and combat systems and adding steam catapults where there were no steam catapults before. It would be easier, faster and cheaper to build an entirely new ship. I am predicting 2025 or so as the earliest date but I would bet they will finally just give up and scrap it if someone would give me 4:1 odds. New powerplant (nuclear or gas turbine), new combat systems and electronics, Russian quality control, and adding steam catapults on a ship not designed for them. Naw, don’t see any issues there.


    It will be interesting to see how they incorporate steam cats into a ship with a ski jump. Will the catapult shoot the plane onto the jump? I would think a curved track on the jump itself would be a tricksy thing to make and maintain. Or will it just be one catapult on the angled deck?

    Poor TICONDEROGA, she looks like the sea mice have been nibbleing at her.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Your comments about Russian shipbuilding efforts may be spot-on. But perhaps poor workmanship is not something an adversary can rely on to counter capabilities.

    Just as a comparison, what might foreign naval analysts, friendly and threat, say about US shipbuilding efforts regarding LPD-17, LCS, and CVN-78?

  • Surfcaster

    Not too far from possible truth but at what level of cooperation have the Russians have worked with PLAN regarding refurbish to Varyag? How much potential is there for cross-pollenization of those projects?


    Your point is well taken but. However, even with problems, the LPD-17 class is at least being delivered and, at least now, somewhat to schedule. I think CVN-78 is more a factor of pushing the envelope in every direction but again, it is under construction and has the benefit of being built in a yard with an experienced work force in similiar projects. EMALS is obviously a concern. LCS is just LCS and I don’t think you can fault the shipyards for the Navy not knowing what it needs. Of course, world wide virtually no country has a good track record of delivery on time or budget.

    There are possibly two upgrade projects of similiar complexity anywhere in the World and both are simple by comparison.
    China’s CV, who knows how long it will take or how much money it is costing and Russia’s Indian CV Conversion which has been an unmitigated disaster. Both are extremely complex conversions but are relatively simple by comparision to that contemplated for the Kuznetsov. The Russians would be better served by simply replacing the main engines with similiar, but hopefully more reliable, steam turbines and boilers and doing hanger deck expansion and combat systems upgrade. Save any big changes for a follow on. Changing to nuclear or gas turbine power would be unprecedented.
    If you want a gas turbine powerplant you need significantly increased uptakes and ventilation requirements as well as virtually replacing all the auxillary equipment. Weights and locations of things will totally change, you will need new reduction gears, new shafting and propellors, etc. Really unlikely that they would do that. Nuclear power is somewhat simpler as you can probably retain shafting, reduction gears, generator locations, and similiar sized main engine turbines, but fitting a nuclear plant into the space designed for a steam plant will not be easy either.

  • Chuck Hill

    There is also the possibility they may try to do a mixed power plant, small nuc for cruise, housekeeping, and catapult steam, and gas turbine for boost. They already have one mixed plant out there on the Kirov class that has both nuclear and conventional boilers.

  • Mike M.

    It will be interesting to watch…because I would bet that the Russians will strip out the 12 SS-N-19 missile tubes.

    They didn’t quite get the idea that if you are building a carrier, aviation capacity comes first. BTW, I’ll bet that the PLAN does NOT make that mistake with Varyag.

  • Chuck Hill

    Mike M. We already know you are correct on both counts.