Small Wars Journal

Can Putin's Aircraft Carrier Stay Afloat on Its Syria Mission?

Can Putin's Aircraft Carrier Stay Afloat on Its Syria Mission? By Paul McLeary, Foreign Policy

The last time Russia’s sole aircraft carrier sailed into the Mediterranean Sea, five years ago, the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet kept a close eye on its progress. The concern among American officers wasn’t the ship’s contingent of fighter planes; instead, it was the very real worry it would sink and necessitate a potentially risky rescue operation.

The 26-year-old Admiral Kuznetsov made it through that 2011 deployment without sinking and is now headed back to the eastern Mediterranean this fall as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to use Syria as a showcase for his new model military. But the earlier worries were plenty valid: On a 2009 Mediterranean transit, one sailor died when the vessel caught fire, and the ship accidentally dumped tons of fuel into the sea in a refueling mishap. And those accidents aren’t outliers. The problems with the ship are so widespread, and so expected, that the flattop has to be shadowed by tugs to tow it to port when it predictably breaks down.

But now the Kuznetsov has a slate of different objectives in mind. The ship will begin launching airstrikes on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally. It will be the carrier’s first-ever combat deployment and the first combat test of its MiG-29K fighter jets. It will also offer the first and perhaps best chance to showcase the carrier-based fighters’ capabilities to potential clients such as India, which already operates a Russian-built carrier and which has purchased dozens of MiG-29s over the last decade…

Read on.