Starting next year, Russia’s only aircraft carrier will start a modernization maintenance period to upgrade its arresting gear and launching systems, according to a report this week from the Russian TASS news wire.
The 55,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov will enter the two to three-year upgrade availability at an unknown Russian yard sometime next year to undergo upgrades to allow the carrier to improve launching and recovering aircraft, the source told TASS.
“The works on the vessel will begin after she returns from a long-distance voyage in the Mediterranean in the first quarter of 2017 and will last for two-three years,” the source said.
“The modernization will focus on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck, including replacement of the deck covering, tailhooks, aircraft arresting gear and other elements of the take-off system.”
Kuznetsov, commissioned in 1990, is the sole carrier of the Russian Navy and has deployed intermittently following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The carrier is set to conduct a fall deployment to the Mediterranean later this year with a composite air wing composed of Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker and Mikoyan MiG-29K/KUB Fulcrum fighters as well as Kamov Ka-27, Ka-31 and Ka-52K helicopters.
The refit comes as Russia has been on a two-year long campaign to increase the efficacy of their surface forces since the seizure of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the icing of relations with the West.
Eric Wertheim, the author of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World, told USNI News on Friday that Russia has the desire to have an active carrier force.
“It shows whether or not they can sustain the carrier program going forward they really want to [maintain a carrier capability],” he said.
“They have to make sure that it stays operational and workable. It’s the only game there is for them… The big question mark is if this is sustainable.”
News of Kuznetsov’s refit comes as Russia’s Ministry of Defense is considering starting construction of a new carrier around 2025.
“It will most likely happen by the end of 2025. We have three projects that have been proposed by the Krylov [research] center. Overall, they are not bad,” Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters at the ongoing HeliRussia-2016 helicopter exhibition in Moscow, according to state-controlled news service Sputnik.
That would mean for the better part of a decade Kuznetsov will be Russia’s only carrier – if they can meet the expected timeline.
“The Russians are not famous for completing shipbuilding program ahead of schedule,” Wertheim said.