A few months ago the Western media was filled with ridicule of Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, as it steamed into battle off the Syrian coast.
The Admiral Kuznetsov’s well known engine problems – which never affected its mission – were wildly overplayed, with the ship presented as an archaic and obsolete left over from the Cold War. As I discussed at the time, the ship’s engine problems were not such as to compromise its mission, and have well known and understandable causes.
Since then we have learnt that the Admiral Kuznetsov’s engines never suffered a breakdown throughout its Syrian mission, and that it is now safely back in its home port.
Meanwhile, we have learnt
(1) that the HMS Duncan, an example of Britain’s most modern Type 45 destroyers, broke down in November and had to be towed back to port, and that all of Britain’s Type 45 destroyers suffer from unreliable and badly designed engines;
(2) that USS Zumwalt, the US navy’s latest and most advanced destroyer, also broke down in November whilst trying to transit the Panama canal;
(3) that the entirety of the US navy’s mighty force of 10 nuclear powered carriers was at the beginning of January in dock undergoing repair, with not a single unit deployed operationally;
(4) that Britain’s entire fleet of nuclear attack submarines is out of action and under repair, with only one submarine capable of deployment but that one also in port, and with the new Astute class beset with engine and other problems. Royal Navy chiefs are apparently so embarrassed by the debacle that they could not bring themselves to report on it to British Prime Minister Theresa May. (In fairness the Royal Navy has “categorically denied” this story. However the Daily Telegraph article which published this denial instantly undermined it by reporting a Whitehall source saying that “no one is being honest about the scandal.”)
(5) that two thirds of the US Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft are grounded, with Defense News reporting that
Overall, more than half the Navy’s aircraft are grounded, most because there isn’t enough money to fix them.
Additionally, there isn’t enough money to fix the fleet’s ships, and the backlog of ships needing work continues to grow. Overhauls — “availabilities” in Navy parlance — are being canceled or deferred, and when ships do come in they need longer to refit. Every carrier overall for at least three years has run long, and some submarines are out of service for prolonged periods, as much as four years or more. One submarine, the Boise, has lost its diving certification and can’t operate pending shipyard work.
Leaders claim that if more money doesn’t become available, five more submarines will be in the same state by the end of this year.
The Navy can’t get money to move around service members and their families to change assignments, and about $440 million is needed to pay sailors. And the service claims 15 percent of its shore facilities are in failed condition — awaiting repair, replacement or demolition.
A measure of proportion is in order. The fact that both the US Navy and the Royal Navy are experiencing cost overruns and that many of their ships are in port under repair does not mean that either is a spent force or a paper tiger. Warships – especially carriers and nuclear submarines – are some of the most complicated machines ever built, and it is understandable that they require constant and intense maintenance. Beyond that the operating costs of putting these ships to sea is phenomenal, making it far more cost effective to keep them in port when there is no need to deploy them.
However if it is right to show a measure of proportion and understanding to the travails of the US Navy and the Royal Navy, one should equally do the same to the Russian military, including the Russian navy, not harp on constantly about its occasional problems, which as the Admiral Kuznetsov affair shows do not actually impact on its operational capability.
On the contrary the rolling series of combat readiness checks the Russian military is repeatedly subjected to, many of which are launched with little or no notice to the military units involved, suggests that the Russian military is at present in better operational shape than many Western militaries are.