After two years of refurbishment,
Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov, is back in service. Originally
conceived of as class of four 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to
American carriers (complete with steam catapults), the Russians were forced to
reconsider. Instead, because of the cost and
complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced
to scale back their goals. They ended up with the 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 thousand foot long carrier 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 can carry up to 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters.
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
Only two ships of this class exist; the original
Kuznetsov, which is in Russian service, and the Varyag, which was sold to
China, by Ukraine, which inherited the unfinished ship then building in a
Ukrainian shipyard when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The Varyag is still
uncompleted, but the Kuznetsov entered service in 1995, after a decade of
construction. In effect, the Kuznetsov is an experiment to see if Russia can
operate a large carrier. For the past decade, while there was no money to send
the carrier to sea much, a mock up of the flight deck was built on land, so the
Kuznetsov's air group could practice carrier landings.