The two hulls were constructed at Nikolayev South Shipyard on the Black Sea in the Ukraine. Admiral Kuznetsov was launched in 1985. Varyag was launched in 1988 but was never commissioned and was given to the Ukraine who eventually sold it to the Chinese. Admiral Kuznetsov became the only aircraft carrier in the Russian Navy.
While designated an aircraft carrier, Kuznetsov's design implies a mission different from that of either the United States Navy's carriers or those of the Royal Navy's. The Russian ship is actually a tyazholiy avionosnyy kreyser -- a "heavy aviation cruiser" -- intended to support and defend strategic missile carrying submarines, surface ships, and maritime missile-carrying aircraft of the Russian fleet. Her lack of catapults precludes launching aircraft with heavy strike loads, and the air superiority orientation of the air wing is apparent.
The hull design is based on the earlier Admiral Gorshkov, launched in 1982, but is larger. The flight deck area is 14,700m² and aircraft take-off is assisted by a bow ski-jump angled at 12º. The flight deck is equipped with arrester wires but has no catapults. Two starboard lifts carry aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck.
The ship has the capacity to support 16 Yakovlev Yak-41M (NATO reporting name "Freestyle"), twelve Sukhoi Su-27K fixed-wing aircraft and a range of helicopters including four Kamov Ka-27-LD (NATO reporting name "Helix"), 18 Ka-27 PLO, and two Ka-27-S.
The ship has a Granit (NATO reporting name SS-N-19 "Shipwreck) anti-ship missile system equipped with twelve surface-to-surface missile launchers. The Klinok air defence missile system, with 24 vertical launchers and 192 missiles, defends the ship against anti-ship missiles, aircraft and surface ships.
The Kashstan Air Defence Gun and Missile System, supplied by the Instrument Design Bureau and Tulamashzavod JSC in Tula, provides defence against precision weapons including anti-ship and anti-radar missiles, aircraft and small sea targets. Eight systems are fitted, combining missile launcher, 30mm twin gun and radar/optronic director. The range of the laser beam-riding missiles is from 1.5 to 8km. The gun can fire up to 1,000 rounds per minute in the range 0.5 to 1.5km. Six AK630 30mm air defence guns are also fitted.
The ship is equipped with an Udav-1 anti-submarine system with 60 anti-submarine rockets. Udav-1, supplied by the Splav Research and Production Association in Moscow, protects surface ships by diverting and destroying incoming torpedoes. The system also provides defence against submarines and saboteur systems such as underwater vehicles. The system has ten barrels and is capable of firing 111SG depth charge projectiles, 111SZ mine laying projectiles and 111SO diverting projectiles. The range of the system is 3000m and the submarine engagement depth is to 600m.
The ship's radars include a D/E band air and surface target acquisition radar, an F-band surface search radar, G/H band flight control radar, I-band navigation radar, and four K-band fire control radars for the Kashstan Air Defence System. The ship's hull-mounted search and attack sonar, operating in the medium- and low-frequency bands, is capable of detecting torpedoes and submarines. The anti-submarine warfare aircraft are equipped with surface search radar, dipping sonar, sonobuoys and magnetic anomaly detectors.
Initially Western analysts anticipated that Kuznetsov would have a Combined Nuclear And Steam (CONAS) propulsion plant similar to the battlecruiser Kirov and the SSV-33 command ship. However, Kuznetsov is conventionally powered by eight boilers and four steam turbines, each producing 50,000hp, driving four shafts with fixed-pitch propellers. The maximum speed is 29 knots, and the range at maximum speed is 3,800 miles. At 18 knots, the maximum range is 8,500 miles.
Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov returned from a brief Mediterranean training cruise early in 1996. At the end of 1997 she remained immoblized in a Northern Fleet shipyard, awaiting funding for major repairs that were halted when only 20% complete. In July 1998 the Kuznetsov emerged from a two-year overhaul and was declared active in the Northern Fleet on November 3, 1998.