A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 7, 2016

Maybe the Admiral Kuznetzov is Not the Russian Ship We Should Be Watching

The European and Russian media have been tracking Russia's only carrier, the Admiral Kuznetzov, from the Baltic, through the English Channel and the Strait of Gibraltar, and currently steaming eastward across the Mediterranean. The theme is generally presented as Russia's dispatching its flagship, its only true aircraft carrier, to reinforce its forces prior to the final assault on eastern Aleppo. In terms of timing, it is obviously meant to signal increased Russia's military profile off Syria. But its propaganda influence is likely to be far more effective than its military impact.

Admiral Kuznetzov
In the first place, the Kuznetzov has had a checkered history. Originally named the Riga, it was renamed the Leonid Brezhnev as the Soviet Union began to come apart, then the Tbilisi, and finally the Admiral Kuznetzov. Its sister ship, unfinished when the USSR collapsed, was taken over by the Ukraine and eventually sold to China. So the Kuznetzov is the only true carrier in the Russian fleet (though officially classed as an heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser) and its flagship, but it must travel with a repair tender because it breaks down so frequently.

But those making the assumption that the carrier will contribute to a final bombing campaign to retake East Aleppo, are likely to be disappointed. The carrier's air complement is only about half that of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also on station off Syria, and its Su-33s are air superiority fighters, of no use for bombing. It's MiG-29s are multi-role, but mainly intended for combat air patrol.

The Kuznetzov and its accompanying cruiser Peter the Great may merely be showing the flag, but the frigate Admiral Grigorovich, which exited the Black Sea quietly while the Kuznetzov battle group was getting all the attention. Only commissioned in March, Admiral Grigorovich is the lead ship of a new class of heavy cruise-missile frigates.

Admiral Grigorovich
It is equipped with vertically-launched Kalibr cruise missiles, which have a supersonic terminal velocity. The Kalibr has been extensively used in Syria, launched from vessels in the Caspian and Black Seas, or a submarine in the Mediterranean, but positioning a Kalibr-equipped frigate directly off the Syrian coast will greatly intensify Russian firepower around Aleppo. There also reports that three Russian cruise missile submarines have recently joined at least one already in the Med.

Cruise missiles of course avoid risk to Russian (or Syrian) pilots, but can deliver considerable destruction on the ground


Tom Melbourne said...

You seem to know a bit about military equipment.

Would this ship and its missiles be a way around a non-fly zone?

Michael Collins Dunn said...

It could. Cruise missiles can be shot down, but it would berius than losing pilots.

David Mack said...

Not speaking as a military expert, but "berius" probably lost a few characters. You probably mean "...but it would be less serious than losing pilots."

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Quite right, David. Bu while Blogger lets me edit my posts, I can't fix comments except to delete them entirely.