The Soviet Union, and by extension Russia, never really had a proper aircraft carrier - a fact that seems surprising when one considers that they were, and to an extent still are, a major world naval power. On closer examination, though, it makes sense - the Russian Navy's mission has never been one of power projection. Rather, their mission is to keep their sea lanes open, and to prevent their enemy's forces from successfully executing their missions of power projection and sea control. Aircraft carriers, while helpful, aren't necessary for that mission. That's a mission for submarines, destroyers and cruisers, with only minor air support.

In the early days, the air support was to be provided by land-based planes. The realities of anti-submarine warfare made this impractical, though, and so the USSR responded by equipping their warships with helicopters, and building the dedicated, helo-carrying Moskva class antisubmarine cruisers. Soon after, though, planners realized that offensive ASW wasn't enough. To succeed, the Navy would need to not only seek and destroy American and British subs, but would also need to defend its own against marauding maritime patrol aircraft like the Nimrod and the P-3 Orion, advance scouting for groups of ASW warships. In response to this threat, the Kiev class aviation cruiser was developed. Unfortunately, the Yak-38 Forger proved to be a rather inadequate platform, and the follow-on Yak-141 Freestyle died in a state of perpetual beta. So, Russian designers began work on the ambitious Ulyanovsk class aircraft carrier, which was to be a massive, 90000-ton behemoth, similar in overall design to the American Kitty Hawk class. It would have CONAS, that is combined nuclear and steam, propulsion, just like that used on the Kirov class cruiser, vertical-launched SA-N-12 Grizzly medium-range antiaircraft missiles, and four steam catapults for launching aircraft. This design, good as it looked on paper, proved to be simply too expensive, and the first of the class was canceled when less than 30% complete.

So, the design bureaus went back to the drawing board, and revised their plans. The result was the Kuznetsov class. It is a large ship, around 67000 tons, with an angled flight deck, but features a 12-degree ski jump launch ramp instead of catapults. This is unusual for a ship this large, though it's typical on the smaller VTOL carriers used by the UK, Spain and Italy. The Kuznetsov class is tasked with many of the same missions as the Kievs were, plus a greater emphasis on air-to-air combat and support for troops ashore. She's armed with a significant anti-air point defense suite, consisting of 24 8-cell VLS for SA-N-9 Gauntlet missiles, 8 CADS-N-1 CIWS and 8 AK-630 gatling guns, and rather surprisingly for a carrier-type ship, a 12-cell VLS for SS-N-19 Shipwreck anti-ship cruise missiles. She also has an RBU-12000 ASW rocket launcher, primarily intended to launch both soft-kill and hard-kill torpedo countermeasures, though it's also capable of engaging subs at close range or firing at land targets.

Two units were constructed, though only one, the Admiral Kuznetsov was ever completed and commissioned. The second, initially named Riga, then later renamed to Varyag, was sold, still incomplete, to China. It is unclear if China intends to finish fitting the ship out, or if they intend only to use it as a template for a future, indigenously-produced carrier hull.

General Characteristics, Kuznetsov Class Aircraft Carrier (Project 1143.5 Orel)

  • Hull designator: CVG - aircraft carrier, guided missile (US/NATO). TAKR - tactical aviation cruiser (тактический авиации крейсер. USSR/Russia)
  • Number (Russian hulls): 1 active.
  • Number (Chinese hulls): 1 hulked.
  • Displacement: 67000 tons
  • Length: 302 m (991 ft)
  • Beam / flight deck width: 72 m (236 ft)
  • Draft: 11 m (36 ft ft)
  • Propulsion: 8 pressure-fired boilers, 4 geared steam turbines, 4 shafts. 200000 shp.
  • Speed: 29 knots (possibly higher)
  • Range: 85,000 nm at 19 kn
  • Armament note - Chinese hull believed to be unarmed.
  • Surface-to-surface missiles: 12x SS-N-19 Shipwreck (P-700 Granit).
  • Anti-air missiles: 24x octuple SA-N-9 Gauntlet VLS clusters, 192 rounds ready to fire. 8 SA-N-11 Grisom (64 ready 384 standby) as part of CADS-N-1.
  • ASW rocket launchers: 1x RBU-12000.
  • Guns: 8x AK-630, 16x GSh-6-30 (8 twin) as part of CADS-N-1.
  • Aircraft: 22-30 fixed wing aircraft, a mix of Su-27 Flanker, Su-34 Flanker B, MiG-29N Naval Fulcrum and Su-25 Frogfoot; 15-20 helicopters, mix of Ka-27 Helix missile targeting, Ka-27 antisubmarine, Ka-28 combat search and rescue and Ka-50 Black Shark attack.
  • Crew: 1900-2000 ship's company, 625-700 aviation, 40-60 flag staff.

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