The Russian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has begun its journey back to its base at Severomorsk having concluded air operations over Syria in support President Assad’s government forces. Between November and December 2016 the carrier’s air group conducted over 400 sorties over Syria alongside Russian Air Force aircraft flying from land bases but lost two aircraft in accidents. As well as air strikes, the accompanying warships that made up the carrier group also conducted powerful cruise missile strikes in November in the form of Kalibr missiles launched from the frigate Admiral Grigorovich.
Speaking to Russian news service RT.com the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, Col. Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, praised the involvement of the carrier stating,
All combat tasks assigned to the aircraft carrier group have been accomplished
The carrier group’s return journey to its base in Severomorsk will likely mirror its journey to the war zone in October which will see the Russian ships transiting through the English Channel as they head toward the northerly base from the Mediterranean. During its journey south the carrier was the focus of intense NATO activity with the Royal Navy assigning two warships – the Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan (right) and Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond – to escort the group through the UK’s area of interest. The RAF also conducted an intelligence gathering effort aimed at the battle group involving the RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic intelligence gathering aircraft. It is likely that a similar operation will be mounted on the group’s return journey.
The deployment of the carrier to Syria has given observers a chance to assess its combat effectiveness which despite the fanfare by Russian media has been judged as being of minimal importance in the conflict by western analysts. The carrier’s air wing conducted only a small fraction of the estimated 19,000 sorties Russian aircraft have made over Syria and the Sukhoi Su-33s and Mikoyan MiG-29Ks it carries did not offer any advantage over the Russian Air Force’s aircraft deployed in-theatre. Additionally, the loss of an Su-33 during a landing accident in December saw the air wing flown to land bases in order to continue their operations while repairs were conducted to the arresting gear used to recover the fast jets.
On the other hand, despite the carrier’s reputation for mechanical breakdowns and being unsuited to real combat operations, the Russians have proven – to their credit – that the Admiral Kuznetsov can deploy far from its home port and project Russian air power. Having done it once they can certainly do so again.