By Derek Bisaccio, @DerekBisaccio
Tass News Agency quoted Shoigu as saying at the meeting, "At the moment the Russian task force in the
The aircraft carrier's deployment to the Mediterranean Sea has long been rumored. Weeks into Russia's Syria campaign, which began in September 2015, the aircraft carrier was rumored to have been sent to support the campaign. At the time, the Northern Fleet spokesman denied the rumors, noting that the ship was headed to the
However, in March 2016, a source in the Russian Navy told Tass that
Ahead of Shoigu's announcement, Russia has been preparing Admiral Kuznetsov for the operation. Photos on social networks showed Russian military personnel operating MiG-29K/KUB fighter jets and Ka-52K naval helicopters from the aircraft carrier.
Su-33s, which are primarily air-superiority fighters, were photographed on the vessel as well. These have reportedly been upgraded with SVP-24 air-to-ground targeting systems, which will improve the aircraft's accuracy in conducting raids on ground targets.
Admiral Kuznetsov will bring about 15 fighter jets – a mix of MiG-29K/KUB jets and Su-33s – as well as more than ten helicopters, likely Ka-52Ks or similar models. Notably, the MiG-29s may test the new Kh-38 air-to-surface missiles in combat missions in
The aircraft carrier's involvement in the Syria campaign will mark the first time the vessel has seen combat. Admiral Kuznetsov was commissioned in December 1990, and since has seen various refit and modernization upgrades. The most recent servicing lasted from May to August 2015 and saw the vessel undergo repair work.
The announcement of the vessel's deployment comes amid a spike in tension between the United States and Russia over the conflict in Syria. On September 17, the U.S.-led coalition mistakenly bombed the Syrian Army in Deir ez-Zor, killing 62 soldiers and wounding many more. Two days later, a humanitarian aid convoy was targeted and destroyed in an attack that the United States asserts was conducted by Russia, which Moscow denies.
Admiral Kuznetsov's presence in the Russian military campaign will not be a strategic game changer in the Syrian conflict. However, its deployment will significantly benefit the aircraft carrier's crew, providing needed combat experience, while further demonstrating Russia's growing influence in the Middle East.
Shoigu did not specify precisely when the aircraft carrier will arrive in the Mediterranean or how long it will be there. It is likely that the ship will be deployed in either October or November, and remain in the Mediterranean through January.
After serving in the Mediterranean, Admiral Kuznetsov is due to receive upgrades, likely at Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk. These will extend the aircraft carrier's service life.