Today, shortly after the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov’s return to base, and on the occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day (the day that Russian commemorates its armed forces) President Putin met in the Kremlin with some of the officers of the Admiral Kuznetsov and of the naval ships which accompanied her in her mission off the Syrian coast.
Most of the media has singled out for attention President Putin’s claim the decision to send the Admiral Kuznetsov to join the fight in Syria originated with him.
Whilst that is no doubt true, Putin does not say that he took this decision entirely unprompted; nor does he say that he did not consult widely before making the decision, or that the naval staff opposed it.
What is actually more interesting is what President Putin had to say about the reasons why the Admiral Kuznetsov was sent to the coast of Syria
When I was formulating this task to the Minister and the Chief of the General Staff, I proceeded from several considerations. First, the aircraft carrier has been in the Armed Forces since 1991, and has always pursued, it seems, tasks related to training and demonstration. For this reason, the industry was instructed with the task to properly prepare it and to create a corresponding aviation wing. That is how the final version of the MiG-29 appeared.
You spoke about the difficulties you encountered as you carried out the combat mission. I thought that those difficulties would arise, and that you would have to overcome them. And you have done all that.
The task was difficult and complex. I am glad that you coped with all of its elements, and this is undoubtedly a good step towards the development of the Russian Navy in all its parts.
In other words it was essentially a training mission, exactly as I said when I discussed its mission on 24th October 2016
….the intention is to gain experience operating aircraft against ground targets from an offshore carrier. This is not something the Russians have ever done before. Even if Kuznetsov’s capability to do it by comparison with a US navy supercarrier is marginal, the fighting in Syria does at least give the Russians an opportunity to try it out to find out how it is done and what it involves.
In other words the deployment of the Kuznetsov to the eastern Mediterranean is essentially a training exercise. It does not merit either the derision or the hype that has been created around it.
As it happens – and as Putin hints in his comments to the carrier’s officers – the Admiral Kuznetsov did experience multiple teething problems during its deployment. Two aircraft – a MiG-29 and an SU-33 – were both lost because of problems with arrestor cables, and it seems that during the deployment some of the carrier’s aircraft had to be redeployed to Khmeimim air base and actually carried out many of their sorties against the Jihadis fighters from there.
The point is that by deploying the carrier for the first time operationally the Russians have now identified these problems, and can put them right.