The Russian Navy’s 60-year off and on again effort to develop a credible carrier force is apparently off again. On January 23 Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev said that Russia would not build any more aircraft carriers in the near future. These ships, he said, did not have "the efficiency we expected." (Russian media, January 23)
The Navy has but one real aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which first went to sea in November, 1989. A sister ship, the Varyag, lies incomplete in a Ukrainian shipyard and has been offered to foreign bidders for scrap. The larger, nuclear-powered Ulyanovsk, was also never finished. In the Kuznetsov, the Russians tried a unique approach to seaborne aviation. They adapted Air Force aircraft for shipboard operations, using arresting wires to recover the planes aboard the ship but foregoing the catapult systems used by the Americans to launch carrier aircraft. Instead, the Russian planes relied on their own power and a sloped "ski jump" bow on the ship to get airborne. These experiments were not entirely successful. In nearly a decade of service, Kuznetsov has made but one operational deployment. This was to the Mediterranean Sea in December 1995-January 1996. The cruise was not a complete success.
Sergeev’s decision comes as no surprise. While some blue-water admirals in the Russian Navy still call for a force of some 10 to 12 aircraft carriers, all realize that there is no money available for a major ship-building program of this magnitude. For at least the next few decades the Russian Navy — aside from its strategic nuclear submarine component — will concentrate on coastal defense rather than open ocean power projection.
Postmortems on Customs Union Summit.