USS Nimitz vs Heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov

Over the years, I have seen people compare Nimitz and Kuznetsov two surface combatants without proper information on the actual roles for which these vessels were designed for. One is designed to lead a flotilla of vessels or operate solo while keeping enemy fleet at bay using its nuclear tipped 700km heavy AShMs and enemy aircraft away using its air superiority aircraft. The second vessel is permanently mated with a battle group to maintain air superiority and strike a variety of strategic and tactical targets using its air wing. The roles look pretty different here itself, lets look at the ideologies that went behind these vessels to sort out the roles even further and show that these vessels are essentially incomparable.

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Ideology 

Heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov

As the name suggests, this vessel isnt a pure aircraft carrier but is called a cruiser due to its massive AShMs payload and extensive command and control facilities along with sensors present on this vessel. Lets have a look into the Soviet naval ideology before moving onto the role of this cruiser. Soviets essentially took up the best lessons learned during the world war 2, from both the allied and axis powers to build their armed forces during the almost 50 year long Cold War to counter the western powers. Soviets placed more emphasis on submarines and ASW to protect their own vessels and destroy those of the enemy in case of an armed conflict.

wolfpack-attack3U-Boat crew watching their kill sink

Soviets learned this from the havoc Germans wreaked on allied shipping during what U-Boat arm of their navy called as the “Happy times”. Submarines which might not be as costly as surface vessels could be mass produced and standardized for different roles.  It was also observed that without proper surface support and air cover, the submarines would be taken out too soon to leave a mark. Again, this lesson was learned during the world war 2 when the allies changed tactics, employed aircraft carriers and sensors like Sonar and Radars to detect and sink submarines either on the surface or in the depths.

udaloyHere is an Udaloy, primary ASW destroyer of the Soviet navy showcasing its impressive payload of Silex ASuMs (Anti-Submarine Missile)

Soviets thus started building an impressive fleet of anti sub and anti surface warfare vessels which during the later part of the cold war enter service as the Krivak class ASW frigates, Udaloy class ASW destroyers and the Sovremenny class anti surface warfare destroyers. These were supposed to be lead by vessels which could provide air cover for these vessels while doing anti sub and anti surface warfare on its own. Thus the design of Admiral Kuznetsov was developed (she was named Leonid Brezhnev at that time). They gave onboard offensive capability independent from the fighters which the aviation cruisers could use while taking on a flotilla. From the Kievs to the unfinished Ulyanovsk all of these aviation cruisers had heavy anti ship missile armament for offense.

1Admiral Gorshkov showing her impressive array of weapons placed on the bow

USS Nimitz CVN-68

For the allies, which fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the second world war, carriers became single most important type of vessel used by their navies. Air power had sunk the once unsinkable battleship which were costly and used just twice in their entire history against each other. These massive and complex vessels were costly and had loads of problems throughout their service lives. It was also realised that no amount of armor and anti-aircraft guns could stop waves of enemy aircraft armed with torpedoes and bombs. Ironically two of the biggest and the most famous class of battleships ie Bismark and her sister Tirptiz and Yamato and her sister Musashi were all either sunk or crippled by aircraft, except Tirptiz, almost all the aircraft which attacked the other three were operating from aircraft carriers. Even during the war, battleships were used for second grade jobs like shore bombardment and escorting aircraft carriers, whereas carriers formed the nucleus of a battle fleet.

us fleet at majuro atollTypical world war 2 era USN flotilla with several carriers and battleships providing escort to the carriers

From the Essex to Nimitz, size of carriers grew exponentially. They were not given any onboard offensive weapons as they had escorting battleships replaced by heavily armed destroyers and frigates in 21st century to attack surface targets if needed. The only offensive capability western carriers had were the air wings they carried. The Americans started using nuclear propulsion which allowed the carriers to sail non-stop for 20 years, and its operational readiness only limited by food, fuel for its jets and spare parts.

3Yamato didnt go down quietly, the battleship went down with a bang after being heavily damaged by USN’s carrier borne aircraft

Capabilities

Heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov

She was given 12 P-700 Granit AShMs which can be nuclear tipped and are one of the few smart weapons of its generation. Air defense for the vessel was provided by her air wing and naval Tor along side 8 Kashtan CIWS. She also has 4 Ak-630 as CIWS which can also be used for attacking smaller vessels.

3Two of the 8 Kashtan CIWS on Kuznetsov seen beside the ski jump (Credits-On the pic)

Admiral Kuznetsov has a massive flight deck with a 12 degree ski jump to allow Su-33 air superiority fighters to operate off its deck in STOBAR configuration. This flight deck has flush covers for the 12 P-700s thus making it uniform and ideal for air ops. It has 3 launch positions, two short and one long.

3A pic showing the deck layout and the launch positions

Estimated payload for short take off point is around 2 tonnes and full load is more than 6 tonnes. Although criticized for less payload compared to western fighters which use catapults to haul larger payloads off the deck, Su-33 with a payload of 4 R-77s and 6 R-73s could easily operate off the deck while using the shorter take off positions as this will payload will weigh around 1.5 tonnes. It is an impressive payload for air superiority mission.  It can also carry 4 Kh-31s and 2 R-73s, yet weigh close to 2.5 tonnes for a surface attack role. Given Flanker’s impressive range, further boosted by buddy refueling, this vessel can control a wide area. She can also deploy Ka-28 ASW helos and Ka-31 AEW helos. It was designed to carry an air wing of 58 aircraft although post Soviet collapse economic problems meant that it never had any where close to that number. This clearly shows that she was never a pure carrier but a cruiser+carrier. She was supposed to get an extensive upgrade post cold war which has been time and again due to lack of funds.

admiral kuznetsovHatches for 12 Granit AShMs in open position

kuznetsov firing granitExtremely rare image of Admiral Kuznetsov firing a Granit AShM

USS Nimitz CVN-68

Nimitz class is essentially a floating airfield+city for its crew of over 5000 men and women. This 100,000 tonne behemoth can support close to 100 jets during combat if needed, but generally carries around 70. These aircraft are launched using 4 steam catapults, 2 on the bow 2 on the angled deck and recovered using 4 arrestor wires.

060628-N-7526R-055The crew enjoys a steel deck picnic once in a while using the massive deck for recreational activities

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This pic shows the layout of Nimitz’s flight deck, its catapults and deck edge elevators for jets.

The air wing consists of a squadron of fleet defense fighters, another squadron of strike aircraft supported by some refueling aircraft. Presently all these 3 roles are played by F/A-18E/F or the F/A-18C. During the cold war, F-14 squadrons provided fleet defense, A-6 and A-7 squadrons looked after the strike role and KA-6 and A-3 were used as tankers. At times S-3s were used as tankers as well. S-3 were primarily used for ASW along side variants of the Sea Hawk, presently only Sea Hawks are used for ASW. A Nimitz class carrier generally controls an area of 1000km radius with the carrier at its center, this area can be further boosted by buddy refueling.

070820-N-0455L-002Phalanx on a Nimitz class carrier

3RIM-7 which was the primary AD system on the Nimitz class carriers during most of the cold war

Nimitz lacks any offensive weapons and relies entirely on aircraft for destroying targets both in the surface and the air. Onboard defense was usually provided by RIM-7 Sea Sparrow  and Phalanx CIWS during the cold war. Thus during the cold war both the Nimitz and Kuznetsov had similar air defense capability although Nimitz has a larger air wing but Kuznetsov can destroy targets even if its aviation facilities are disabled. Presently onboard air defense is provided by RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow MR-SAM and RIM-116 RAM SR-SAM. As western carriers are permanently mated with a battle group, Aegis cruisers and destroyers also provide air defense using large quantities of LR and MR SAMs.

Conclusion

As intended, we can obviously see that both these vessels cannot do what the other one can, while Kuznetsov can venture alone at times Nimitz cannot due to lack of onboard offensive capabilities. These vessels, although similar but are designed for totally different roles and ideologies essentially making them incomparable. I hope this helps in clearing the often biased comparison of these two vessels.

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15 thoughts on “USS Nimitz vs Heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov

  1. the Nimitz has a lack of onboard offensive power is that what you are trying to pass off as the truth -boy you really are blind about 64 or 65 F/A-18 E/F/G SUPER HORNETS AND GROWLERS as its air group is lacking in offensive firepower – -now if you meant the lack of guns or missiles -yes there is a lack ,and you need to specific in what you mean. A CVBG IS OFFENSIVE POWER IN A TOTAL PACKAGE – it can wipe out any other task group or force you care to throw at it -a lot of sunken ships will happen

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    1. “Nimitz lacks any offensive weapons and relies entirely on aircraft for destroying targets both in the surface and the air” clearly specifies it, OTOH the comparison revolves around the vessels only to show the different ways in which they are operated. USN relies on a very capable CVBG to protect the carrier while adding offensive capability whereas the Russians have designed a ship capable of operating alone if needed, although it rarely operates alone.

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  2. US cause it’s a difference between CATOBAR and STOBAR. The advantage of STOBAR is Compared to catapult-assisted take-off but with arrested recovery (CATOBAR), STOBAR is less expensive to develop. It is easier to operate than a CATOBAR configuration which requires large number of operators to launch the aircraft. Lack of any moving parts in ski-jump makes it less expensive to maintain the launch system. It does not require any additional system to generate force required to launch the aircraft unlike CATOBAR where an external force is needed to be generated either from steam catapult or Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System(EMALS) to launch the aircraft. The limitations to STOBAR is that it only works with aircraft that have a high thrust to weight ratio such as Su-33 or MiG-29K and thus limits the kind of aircraft that can be operated from the carrier. In order to be airborne aircraft may require to limit the weaponry and size of the aircraft to reduce the weight of the aircraft. Short take off using ski-jump leads to more stress on the airframes of the aircraft, thus limiting the ability to conduct sorties faster on STOBAR aircraft carrier. STOBAR carriers must maintain a speed of 20k-30k in order to generate wind speed required on deck which is essential for conducting aircraft launch operations.

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    1. The last part is what I dun agree with mate, I remember reading about Kuznetsov during trials while standing still and very low forward speeds. Ski jump allows higher flexibility in speeds as the angle of attack compensates for the lack of speed.

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      1. The problem is, that the Kuznetsov and STOBAR carriers can do do High sustained Launch and Traps that US carriers can do. Also the Kuznetsov & STOBAR carriers are limited to Aircraft that have a High Thrust to Weight Ratio like the SU-33 and the MIG-29K

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  3. The US certainly has the advantage in Carrier warfare, but the Russian’s cannot be beat in Cruiser warfare, especially if instead of modernizing their navy they were to say, start selling off ships or dismantling them and build a small sized but effective fleet centered around say two or three Kuznetsov-Class ships, half a dozen to a dozen Kiev-Class, and a couple Kirov’s, plus some Sovremenny’s for escort. Now even a US Carrier Group would have trouble encountering a Russian force of Kuznetsov’s, Kiev’s, and Kirov’s. The trouble is, the Russian’s build their ships to jump right into the fight and survive the journey to the fight, America builds it ships to attack the enemy before the enemy arrives at their location.

    Also keep in mind, the Kuznetsov carries warheads that can be Nuclear-tipped, and yes missiles can be intercepted, but a barrage of these warheads, Nuclear-tipped, and the famed Nimitz plus its large battlegroup, go up in a mushroom cloud.

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    1. A Nimitz battle group, customarily has a minimum of 2 Nuclear Attack submarines as escort. Armed with long range cruise missiles (Nuclear tipped). Not to mention nuclear armed strike aircraft. With airborne radar added. Its more a case of mushroom clouds obliterating both. In a conventional battle, the Russians are simply outgunned. Too few aircraft, limited airborne coverage etc.

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  4. The main advantage the Nimitz has over the Kuznetsov is longevity. A US carrier doesn’t need refueling for decades. All it needs is fuel and suplies for the crew and aircraft. The Kuznetsov struggles being out by itself for prolonged periods because of her conventional method of propulsion (something the US has not adopted since CV-63 USS Kityhawk). It always needs constant refueling to keep going, not to mention the engine issues it suffers from.
    Plus, in the next few years, US battlegroups will have Zumwalt destroyers with railguns escorting these carriers. The railgun has the capability to shoot at aircraft, ships and missiles at ranges up to 100 nautical miles with muzzle speeds in excess of 3000 m/s, which would counter Kuznetsov’s missiles and aircraft, along with Nimitz’s 70+ aircraft capacity. In order for Kuznetsov to actually use her missiles is to get into range, and Nimitz’s aircraft can strike past 200 miles, and with the insane numbers advantage US carriers have with aircraft, will not be very easy to defend against. A solid hit near the engines of that ship and she likely grinds to a halt. With 65 F/A 18’s, that would not be too unlikely. A close battle, to say the least, but the Nimitz wins, I think. (Plus Kuznetsov only has one sister, in the Chinese Navy. Nimitz has 9)
    Nimitz is the 68’th iteration of American Capital Carriers, almost all of which since the Lexington CV-2 had been built and deployed with the intention of killing other ships with aircraft, especially enemy carriers. Nimitz is pretty much bred to kill any ship in the world without them ever getting a shot off. Kuznetsov, one of only nine active non-american carriers in the world (19 including US), is not anywhere near the caliber of ship the Nimitz is. The Nimitz is still the creme of the crop, even though she is considered a bit old in the Navy. If personal ship-to-ship weaponry is all this ship has over the Nimitz, we may as well be comparing the IJN Ise to the CV-6 Enterprise. Same concept. Ise is a ship killer with good offensive capability, but Enterprise had superior airpower, and in the end, Ise was sunk by US air attack in WW2. I see no reason why that philosophy wouldn’t apply to the Kuznetsov and Nimitz.

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