Leadership: The Kuznetsov Kapers

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April 23, 2012: A Russian military prosecutor has accused a military procurement official of stealing $100,000 by obtaining a cheap second-hand anchor instead of the new one needed for the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The corrupt official obtained forged documents for the defective anchor, although the substitute anchor was the wrong size and obviously not new. Sometimes this sort of thing, along with a few bribes, works. But this time it didn't. The Kuznetsov has been sent back to the shipyard several times during the last decade to fix problems and update equipment. Much was wrong with the ship, due to poor design, workmanship, or corruption and lackadaisical sailors are threatened with being sent to serve on the Kuznetsov as a way of motivating them.

Military prosecutors learned to pay attention to the Kuznetsov when it was being worked on because someone was usually trying to run a scam, and several of the corrupt officials or contractors have been prosecuted. Many have not, and the Kuznetsov continues to have problems with missing or malfunctioning equipment. This not only degrades the combat capabilities of the ship but also its habitability. At times there was no heat in the living quarters and many of the toilets didn't work.

The Kuznetsov class carriers began building in the 1980s and the lead ship was finally launched in 1995 and entered service in 1995. Originally the Kuznetsovs were to be 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the high cost and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their plans and ended up with 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design. The 323 meter (thousand foot) long ship normally carries a dozen navalized Su-27s (called Su-33s), 14 Ka-27PL anti-submarine helicopters, two electronic warfare helicopters, and two search and rescue helicopters. But the ship was meant to regularly carry 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters, and a lack of money and facilities on the ship limits the number of aircraft that can be brought along. Other weapons include a dozen SS-N-19 anti-ship missiles and 18 vertical launch tubes for 192 anti-aircraft missiles. There are also 16 auto-cannon for anti-missile work plus some depth charges.

Officially called an "aircraft carrying cruiser", the ship carries 2,500 tons of aviation fuel, allowing it to generate 500-1,000 aircraft and helicopter sorties. Crew size is 2,500 (or 3,000 with a full aircraft load). Only two ships of this class exist, the original Kuznetsov, which is in Russian service, and the Varyag, which China bought unfinished from Ukraine and has rebuilt as a training carrier.

 


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