Russian aircraft carrier unimpressive


Michael Raffety

Russia has one aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. It is not nuclear powered. The aircraft carrier I spent eight months on in 1966 wasn’t nuclear powered either. The USS Saratoga was parked by Naval Station Newport, R.I. the last time I saw it.

CVA 60, the Saratoga, was a Forrestal-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1956 and decommissioned in 1994. In May 2014 a dismantling firm was hired for the ship named after the Revolutionary Battle of Saratoga which led to the surrender of British General John Burgoyne.

The first Saratoga, CV-3, was originally ordered in 1917 as a battle cruiser, but changed to an aircraft carrier in 1922 and commissioned in 1927. It was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine while defending Wake Island. It was repaired and participated in the Guadalcanal Campaign, with its aircraft sinking a Japanese carrier in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942. A month later it was torpedoed again and repaired again to participate in a bunch more battles, including Iwo Jima in 1945 where it did night operations. Several days later it was it by a kamikaze and had to return to the U.S. for repairs.

In 1946 it became a target for nuclear weapons tests.

The bottom line here is that the U.S. Navy has had been refining carrier operations, technology, and aircraft launching and landing since the 1920s. Navy pilots can land on a pitching deck at night. That is an incredible skill set.

The Russian aircraft carrier, by contrast, according to the Nov. 28 Wall Street Journal “lacks the U.S. carrier’s powerful catapult system” that is used to launch planes from a carrier. To compensate, the planes have carry lighter payloads and less fuel.

Russia has very few pilots trained for carrier operations, so it carried fewer planes than it was designed for. A MiG 29K crashed Nov. 16 trying to land. When the Admiral Kuzenesov neared Syria all its planes flew off to the Russians’ air base. Apparently the Russians didn’t want to take any more chances on its sketchy carrier pilots.

The U.S. has 10 nuclear powered Aircraft carriers, each hosting 90 jets.

The Kutznetsov holds a maximum of 12 Su-33 fighters, 20 MiG-29K fighters and four Sukhoi Su-25UT trainers and 24 helicopters.

All 10 U.S. carriers are Nimitz class supercarriers. Ten was the number of carriers mostly built during the President Ronald Reagan era when he came within six ships of reaching a goal of a 600-ship Navy. The new George H.W. Bush was built in 2009 and the news class of Gerald Ford Class carriers is under construction. The Navy has 430 ships now.

In World War II the U.S. had 27 carriers and eight battleships.

During part of the Vietnam War era 1964-1968 there were 23 U.S. carriers, including the Saratoga, which was part of the Forrestal class. Older carriers were those in the Midway class. Even older were part of the Essex class, including the Intrepid.

When our squadron of A-4 attack jets left the Saratoga in Mayport, Fla. they landed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. There the squadron began training for deployment to the South China Sea on the Intrepid, a carrier without air-conditioning. Instead of an avionics workshop, our workshop would be a post on the hangar deck to chain our toolboxes to. I never made it to the Intrepid. I received orders assigning me to Antarctic Development Squadron 6.

More modern carriers in the 1960s were those of the Kitty Hawk class and the sole nuclear carrier at the time, the USS Enterprise, CVN-65.

For me the real astonishing thing is the photo of the 25-year-old Admiral Kuzenetsov steaming through the English Channel. Steaming is an understatement. It was smoking like a coal-fired 19th century heavy cruiser or a battleship from President Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet of 16 battleships that toured the world in 1907-09. The Russian carrier was smoking so much anybody tracking didn’t even need radar on a clear day.


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