According to a report by the UK Daily Mail, Russia has just about given up on launching missions into Syria from its aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, following a “calamitous voyage from Russia to the Mediterranean.” Fighters and bombers from the carrier have reportedly been moved to the Syrian air base at Hmeymim.
A fighter jet slid off the deck of the carrier and was lost at sea earlier this week, the second aircraft to be lost during Admiral Kutzentsov’s deployment to the Mediterranean. Less than three weeks before that, a pilot was forced to eject from his MiG-29 fighter when he could not land, reportedly because of a malfunction of the arresting wire.
The pilot of the MiG-29, Igor Matkovsky, was born in Crimea long before the Russians annexed it, so a cheeky Ukrainian volunteer organization called The Peacemaker gave him an award for “the destruction of the fourth-generation MiG-29K carrier-based multi-role fighter in the Mediterranean Sea, which abruptly halted using it for war crimes related to the mass killings of peaceful Syrian citizens.”
“We believe that our Medal of Honor will be a pleasant surprise for Igor Matkovsky in the twilight of his military career,” the Peacemakers declared.
It was the latest ignominy for the Admiral Kutznetsov, which Popular Mechanics dubbed “Russia’s sad, smokey carrier,” which “doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything.”
Popular Mechanics reviewed a Russian TV news report shot on the deck of the carrier and noticed that “many of the airplanes are completely unarmed, their wings devoid of missiles and bombs.” Also, the carrier’s anti-submarine helicopters — of little use for its current mission against Syrian rebels and Islamic State militants — were tied down in the middle of the flight deck, which would make launching fixed-wing aircraft impossible.
The carrier’s nine Su-33 Flanker air-superiority fighters were armed, but with air-to-air missiles that would be useless against ground targets. At one point, the Russian TV crew filmed sailors wheeling some air-to-ground bombs across the flight deck, but they were not shown actually loading the bombs onto any planes.
“Contrary to what the news report meant to show, there’s very little evidence the carrier is actually involved in a bombing campaign. Late last month, the bulk of the carrier’s air wing was sighted at Humaymim Air Base in Syria. As one senior military officer told Jane’s, ‘We don’t think the Russians are flying as many sorties off their carrier as they would want the world to think.’ This video makes that seem all the more likely,” Popular Mechanics concluded.
The Jane’s 360 article referenced by Popular Mechanics noted that satellite imagery showed most of the warplanes from the carrier were moved to an airbase on shore in Syria before the last week of November.
The Washington Times reported last week that Russia’s parliamentary defense committee talked about using airbases “if Admiral Kuznetsov carries out another operation and we will not be able to use it for airstrikes against terrorists in Syria.” This was taken as a tacit admission that the cranky carrier might be sidelined for maintenance.