The First Combat Operation
of Admiral Kuznetsov-Led Carrier Group
The most powerful vessel of the Russian Navy and the largest ship in Russia, Admiral Kuznetsov is often referred to as "the one and only aircraft carrier of the Russian military." And the ship's combat deployment to the Mediterranean in 2016 was described as a momentous event by the Russian Defense Ministry.
The most powerful naval taskforce in Russia's history set off for the shores of Syria from the port city of Severomorsk on October 15, 2016.
The Pyotr Velikiy battlecruiser along with the Severomorsk and the Admiral Kulakov anti-submarine warfare destroyers and a number of support vessels were already a force to be reckoned with, but it was the addition of the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier that turned them into a super-squadron.
To say that the Admiral Kuznetsov is a huge ship would be an understatement. The vessel carries nearly 30 combat aircraft and 25 military helicopters, and is armed with the most sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-submarine weapons in existence, along with Granit anti-ship missiles that can make short work of any enemy carrier group; the ship's crew numbers nearly 2,000.
The Admiral Kuznetsov ranks second in the world in terms of size, surpassed only by the US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. It is bigger than the France's Charles de Gaulle or Italy's Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carriers, but just as fast as the aforementioned ships.
The 115-meters long ski-jump – a curved ramp at the end of the carrier's runway - is Admiral Kuznetsov's unique feature. While aircraft catapults employed by the US carriers do have their merits, it is the ski-jump that makes Admiral Kuznetsov the only vessel in the world capable of carrying and deploying heavy fighter aircraft.
The NATO forces kept a close watch on the carrier ever since the naval taskforce began its lengthy journey to Syria's coast. For example, when Russian warships were traversing the English Channel they were simultaneously shadowed by the HMS Duncan air-defense destroyer and the HMS Richmond frigate of the British Royal Navy, the HNLMS Eversten frigate of the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Leopold I frigate of the Marine Component of the Belgian Armed Forces. The NATO airborne assets tracking the Russian ships' movements included a Dassault-Breguet BR.115 Atlantic patrol aircraft, a Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft, a Lockheed P-3 Orion reconnaissance plane, F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft and a Westland Lynx multi-purpose military helicopter.
Admiral Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier Begins Combat Operations in Syria
Of course, it drew attention, first of all, of the NATO countries. Up to eight warships accompanied us since we arrived into the UK's area, but there was no violation of international maritime law, it is a common practice when we accompany those groups that put to sea.
Admiral Vladimir Korolev
Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy
A ship like the Admiral Kuznetsov cannot be deployed solo. Its escort group typically includes at least one cruiser and at least 3-4 frigates, along with a submarine and a support ship.
The latter is expected to act as a decoy during a military engagement, drawing the enemy's attention away from the carrier.
Nevertheless, the Admiral Kuznetsov's armaments allow the ship to hold its own during battle. Its most powerful weapons are 12 P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missiles; each weighs 7 tonnes and has a range of up to 700 kilometers. The carrier's anti-aircraft defense array is comprised of AK-630 and Kortik close-in weapon systems, along with Kinzhal surface-to-air missile systems.
The carrier also has substantial anti-submarine defenses that include depth-charge throwers and jamming systems capable of scrambling the enemy torpedoes' guidance mechanisms.
The naval taskforce headed to Syria at top speed. The ships reached the Strait of Gibraltar in record time - just 11 days, making a brief stop to refuel after entering the Mediterranean.
The ships were carrying enough supplies, fuel and water to last them during the entire deployment.
The taskforce can operate autonomously for at least 45 days. After crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, the Admiral Kuznetsov was resupplied by Dubna oiler. On the 15th day of the mission, the carrier continued its journey to the east. The ship's aircraft wing would fly its first combat sorties in ten days.
For carrier aviation, every sortie is a special operation in its own right as great precautions must be taken to ensure the safety of each and every pilot.
As firefighter and ground crews remain on standby, at least one Ka-27 rescue helicopter and one Ka-29 anti-submarine warfare helicopter patrol nearby, ready to swoop in to aid a pilot if the disaster strikes.
On November 8, 2016 a Ka-31 reconnaissance helicopter was the first to take off from the carrier – the military operation
has finally begun.

The Admiral Kuznetsov's appearance in the Mediterranean has obviously rattled the US naval assents that were milling around there. But the most important thing is that our vessel tackles real problems there; its presence there is a momentous occasion.
Viktor Baranets
Military analyst
During a meeting with Russian top military commanders and chiefs of the military-industrial complex held by President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said
that Russia launched a major military operation against the forces of Daesh (ISIL/ISIS)
and al-Nusra Front in the Syrian provinces of Idlib and Homs.
The primary targets of these airstrikes were the militants' munition dumps and factories. Each target was chosen after an extensive reconnaissance effort aimed at determining the full extent of the militants' munition production capacity.
The Russian Aerospace Forces eliminate 30 al-Nusra Front terrorists in Syria
The carrier crew's professionalism however wasn't always enough to prevent some accidents from happening. Accidents are most often caused by complex machinery, the issues arising from operating aircraft in limited space and chance.

Landing an aircraft on a carrier is an extremely complex and difficult task that requires the pilot to operate with great skill and precision. On November 14, 2016 a MiG-29 fighter crashed when attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov due to a malfunction. The plane crashed several kilometers away from the ship while the pilot managed to eject and was safely recovered by a rescue team.

On December 5, another plane, a Su-33 fighter aircraft also crashed during landing; the plane skidded off the carrier's deck after the arresting gear malfunctioned; the pilot too managed to eject and was swiftly picked up by a recovery crew.
It is hard, complex and heroic work. What matters is the fact that the pilot survived.
Dmitry Peskov
Spokesman for the Russian president
Meanwhile, the Admiral Kulakov anti-submarine warfare destroyer managed to rescue a Ukrainian fishing vessel which suffered an engine malfunction on November 21 and was drifting for two days until the Russian warship towed it to a nearest port.
On board of the Admiral Kulakov anti-submarine warfare destroyer
Over the course of two months Russian carrier pilots conducted 420 sorties in Syria, 117 of which were flown during night; a total of 1,252 terrorist targets were destroyed.
Airstrikes were carried out against the terrorists' infrastructure, strongpoints, troop and vehicle formations. Also, the Admiral Grigorovich frigate deployed in the Mediterranean launched a salvo of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles against Daesh assets in Syria.
All of the missiles successfully hit their designated targets.
Admiral Kuznetsov in action
On January 6, 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier will withdraw from the Mediterranean as per President Putin's decision to scale down the military taskforce deployed to Syria.
On December 29, Putin agreed to the Defense Minister's proposal to reduce the number of Russian troops deployed to Syria. At the same time he pointed out that Russia will continue to support Damascus in its struggle against international terrorism, and will continue to abide by its commitments.
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