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Russia's only aircraft carrier is a floating hell for the crew

Built in 1985, the Kuznetsov, a 55,000-ton behemoth, is a veteran of a full four deployments and the Russian Navy's flagship. It's powered by diesel fuel generators. Serving on the ship is akin to punishment for Russian sailors, who coined the phrase, "If you misbehave, you'll be sent to the Kuznetsov."


Not pictured: Sailors, Planes, Rust, Hope (Russian military photo)

Most telling are the deepwater tugboats that deploy with the Kuznetsov because the Russian Navy knows the carrier's "defective" engines will break down at some point. The fuel and engine issues give the ship a maximum endurance of 45 days.

The carrier's boilers are also defective to the point where the central heating system is inoperative and crewmen must bring their own heaters. This does not keep the pipes from freezing in extreme temperatures. Instead of fixing the system, the Russian Navy simply closed half the ship's latrines and stopped running water to 60 percent of its cabins. Half the ventilators are also in need of repair, so the ship reeks of mold and mildew.

"Ugh. Do you smell that? It's like cabbage mixed with burning plastic!" (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael Lewis)

To further the discomfort, the cafeteria on board the carrier seats 150 people, for a crew of almost 2,000. Remember that the command closed half the latrines? There are 25 operational ones for 2,000 crewmen.  The Russian sailors say they're in formation ten times a day, for 35 minutes each time. That's almost six hours of formation every day.

The Kuznetsov in its natural habitat: drydock

Comparatively, the U.S.' oldest carrier is the Nimitz, build in 1975. The Nimitz is a nuclear-powered carrier, the flagship of its strike group. It is home to more than 6,500 sailors and has an unlimited endurance time and distance. Nimitz-class carriers have a life expectancy of 50 years and will not be replaced until at least 2025. (And they don't deploy with deepwater tugs.)

Those in America worried about the military capability and force projection of Russia, China, and others can rest at ease. China's first homegrown carrier uses the same terrible power source as the Kuznetsov as well as similar air assets, like a bow ramp which launches fighters into the air while limiting the weight and armament the planes can carry.