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Russia Can’t Afford New Carriers, Despite Plans for Naval Revamp

by John Reed on December 10, 2010

The Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov

The other day we showed you pictures of Russia’s prototype 5th gen fighter, the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA. We mentioned that it’s a nice concept, but it remains to be seen if Russia can produce them in a timely manner. The former superpower has had serious trouble getting its nearly 20 year-old Su-34 design into service.

Well, here’s another example of Russia’s military tech ambitions being checked by reality.

From AFP:

The Russian military admitted Dec. 10 that it lacked the funds to deploy a powerful new armada of aircraft carriers as promised and that no more would be built for at least another decade.

“The state armaments program for 2011–2020 does not envision the construction of aircraft carriers,” an unnamed senior official in Russia’s defense ministry told the Interfax news agency.

He said current funding plans allowed the military to come up with new designs but not proceed with actual construction.

“Only then — after completing the advanced designs — can we examine the expediency of building aircraft carriers,” the official said.

It goes on to say that despite president Dimitri Medvedev’s call to modernize the Russian navy, no new carriers will be built before 2020.

The former Soviet Union had five aircraft carriers at the height of its power but Russia currently only has one, Admiral Kuznetsov.

This compares to the United States’ 11 operational and six reserve aircraft carriers, and the U.S. has another three under construction, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Medvedev made his country’s re-emergence as a naval power one of the planks of a new military policy that he announced with much fanfare in October 2008.

“We are not going to spare our financial resources,” Medvedev said while attending exercises in the Barents Sea.

Navy Cmdr. Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said that same year that Russia intended to build six new aircraft carriers — three each for its Pacific and Northern Fleets.

Now, it appears those plans have been shelved, giving way to higher priority items such as the development of its new ICBM technology, according to the article.

These are the routine events that make one doubt any sweeping Russian pledge to modernize its military. They even make one skeptical as to whether Russia will be able to build and sell export versions of its most advanced new weapons like the PAK-FA in significant numbers, as some fear.

Remember, India, the only foreign buyer for that aircraft is designing a large portion of the jet. Maybe being able to co-produce the latest Russian designs is becoming a prerequisite to actually buying them.

If that’s the case, the number of foreign buyers could be pretty limited considering the resources it takes to develop in a 5th generation design skill set.

Then again, such a deals might do some serious good for the local economies and knowledge bases. We already see this around the world to some extent, when U.S. arms makers agree to have some portions of their products built in whichever nation is buying them.

Here’s the whole article on the carriers.

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