Russia's Massive 'Ship of Shame' Heads for Repairs After Pumping Black Smoke on the Way to Syria

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov passes through the English channel near Dover, England, on October 21, 2016. The old ship had a calamitous trip to Syria, during which it lost two aircraft and pumped black smoke while sailing. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Russia's massive aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is scheduled to be renovated next year after about three decades of service, including a busy but calamitous trip to Syria in 2016, during which it lost two aircraft and pumped black smoke while sailing.

Alexey Rakhmanov, the head of Russia's United Shipbuilding Corp., announced the 2018 renovation plans on Tuesday. The scale of the overhaul that the 32-year-old vessel will undergo has yet to be determined, he told state news agency Itar-Tass.

The ship has already been handed to shipbuilders, the Russian navy's Northern Fleet announced last week, as Commander Nikolay Emenov assured the Interfax news agency that the ship's deployment schedule had been cleared.

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The vessel is Russia's only aircraft carrier, built in 1985 and flying the Russian navy's colors since the 1990s. Weighing 55,000 tons, Admiral Kuznetsov is the biggest and one of the most imposing ships in Russia's navy, but its first combat mission last year was plagued by setbacks.

The Russian navy's flagship received orders to join Russian forces in Syria in late 2016 and sailed through Europe's perimeter to enter the southeastern Mediterranean. Numerous reports from along the coast indicated that the vessel was worryingly emitting plumes of black and gray smoke as it moved.

Moscow denied that the smoke was symptomatic of a malfunction, but the ship and its flotilla sent Spain a request to refuel at its enclave in North Africa. Over the course of the deployment, two aircraft missed the runway of the carrier, falling into the sea.

The state of the ship, which travels with a massive tugboat in case it breaks down, became the subject of a war of words between Russia and the U.K. over the summer. The British defense secretary at the time, Michael Fallon, taunted the "old, dilapidated Kuznetsov" twice over the course of the journey, branding it a "ship of shame."

Russia hit back, claiming that the British aircraft carrier under construction is built like a "large convenient naval target."

Little is known about the Admiral Kuznetsov's renovation, but the United Shipbuilding Corp. estimated that after some work, the vessel could sail for more than another 20 years.

The National Interest, however, expressed skepticism about Russia renovating the vessel in any meaningful way, as it is unlikely to be deployed in battle again.

"Since Kuznetsov is not so much a combat platform as a training platform. Deep modernization for her is an obvious excess," Mikhail Barabanov, editor of the Moscow Defense Brief journal, said in July.

The construction of a second aircraft carrier has repeatedly been discussed in Russia, but the navy's Vice Admiral Viktor Bursuk said in June there was no exact blueprint that Moscow had selected to move forward on soon.