Aircraft carriers are the centerpiece of America’s Naval forces. In times of crisis, the first question leaders ask is: “Where are the carriers?” Often the presence of an aircraft carrier has deterred potential adversaries from striking against US interests.
Currently the US Navy fields 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers (and the Gerald R. Ford, the first sample of the next generation of aircraft carrier): these vessels are the largest warships in the world, each designed for an approximately 50-year service life with just a single mid-life refueling.
The embarked carrier air wing supports and operates aircraft that engage in attacks on airborne, afloat, and ashore targets that threaten free use of the sea and engage in sustained power projection operations in support of US and coalition forces.
By contrast Russia has only one carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Admiral Kuznetsov was originally commissioned in the Soviet Navy, and was intended to be the lead ship of the two-ship Kuznetsov class. However, its sister ship Varyag was still incomplete when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The second hull was eventually sold by Ukraine to the People’s Republic of China, completed in Dalian and commissioned as Liaoning.
Assuming both ships are without escort what flattop would win in 1v1, the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier or the Admiral Kuznetsov?
‘Well currently and for the foreseeable future the Kuznetov cannot go to sea [the carrier was in fact badly damaged by a huge fire on Dec. 12, 2019]. But let’s just say some miracle happens and the Russians can get her underway,’ says James Shannon, Senior Chief Petty Officer BMCS (SW/AW)(E-8) at United States Navy (1995-present), on Quora.
‘The kicker for Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s aircraft are not just in the numbers. Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s Super Hornet’s can launch with full payloads due to have catapults and buddy-stores tanking systems. Kuznetsov’s aircraft are significantly limited in payload due to the need to ski-jump and they have no organic tanking ability.’
‘To sum it up the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier can send 4 complete Strike Fighter Squadrons and 1 Electronic Attack Squadron, fully loaded with full combat radius, with full Airborne Early Warning support and Organic Tanking support.
‘The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s aircraft can hit Kuznetsov from outside of the P700 range and also the range of the SU-33 and MiG-29. Kuznetsov’s surface to air missiles would not be able to reach Reagan’s airwing. Kuznetsov would need to focus its small airwing completely on fighting AAW. The problem is that all of the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s aircraft coming in their vicinity will be capable of AAW, even the Growler’s will have AMRAAM’s.
‘The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s airwing will peel back the SU-33’s and MiG-29’s. The Growlers will then work on electronically disabling Kuznetsov’s fire-control ability (missile guidance). They will do with jamming and decoying, then they will hit Kutnesov with AARGM anti-radiation missiles.
‘Following more slowly behind will be the subsonic anti ship missiles coming from the Super Hornets. 48 Rhino’s in the Airwing, many of them will have either SLAM-ER or LRASM. Kuznetsov probably already expended a fair amount of missile trying to shoot down AARGM’s and Decoys from the Growlers. Kuznetsov will not have much fire-control ability either way. The Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier’s airwing can easily send 50 or so SLAM-ER’s and LRASM’s. It won’t take even half that to put Kuznetsov permanently out of action. Once its disabled and unable to fight, the coup de grace would probably come from 2000 pound laser-guided bombs.’
F/A-18F Super Hornet firing an AIM-120D AMRAAM
F/A-18F Super Hornet loaded for Buddy-Stores Tanking Duty
F/A-18E Super Hornet loaded for ASuW with SLAM-ER
E/A-18G Growler loaded to bead for Jamming, AAW and Anti-Radiation Missiles
E-2D Hawkeye providing AEW support.
‘It really wouldn’t be much of a fight.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation
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