Two carriers whose service overlapped by about a year and a half going head to head.
In one corner, we have USS Midway (CV 41), the first of America’s post-World War II aircraft carriers, which served for 46 years and flew everything from the F4U Corsair to the F/A-18 Hornet.
The USS Midway. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In the other corner, the Russian Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, which just made her first combat deployment. To borrow a phrase from the Spike network’s Deadliest Warrior: “Which is deadliest?”
The Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (the ship previously had the names Riga, Leonid Brezhnev, and Tblisi) is a 61,000-ton ship. The Kuznetsov-class carrier can carry about 45 aircraft, including Su-33 Flankers, MiG-29 Fulcrums, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters.
The usual air group is about 15 Su-33s, to grow to 20 MiG-29KR fighters. But the Kuznetsov carries an “ace in the hole” — a dozen P-700 Granit (NATO codename: SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship missiles, with a range of 388 miles and a top speed of Mach 2.5.
For self-defense the Kuznetsov carries 6 AK-630 Gatling guns, 8 Kortik close-in defense systems (with twin 30mm Gatling guns and SA-N-11 missiles), and 24 eight-round launchers for the SA-N-9 Gauntlet short-range surface-to-air missiles.
The Midway, came in originally at 45,000 tons but grew to about 64,000 tons. At the time the Kuznetsov entered service, her normal air wing consisted of three squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters (12 planes each), two squadrons of A-6 Intruders (15 planes each), a squadron of E-2C Hawkeyes (four planes), a squadron of EA-6B Prowlers (four planes), and a squadron of SH-3H Sea King anti-submarine helicopters (six helicopters). Originally equipped with 18 five-inch guns, the Midway’s self-defense armament in 1990 was a pair of Mk 29 Sea Sparrow launchers and a pair of Mark 15 Close-In Weapon Systems.
In terms of reliability, the Midway takes the edge, given her 46 years of service that saw a slew of awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation, 17 awards of the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and a combat record that included three deployments during the Vietnam War and service during Desert Storm.
The Kuznetsov, though, has an edge when it comes to on-board weapons. The SS-N-19 battery gives it an extra anti-ship punch that the Midway just doesn’t have.
The Midway, however, has a decisive advantage when it comes to her air wing. The Kuznetsov’s maximum total of 24 multi-role fighters is dwarfed by Midway’s 36 F/A-18s and 30 A-6 Intruders.
But that doesn’t begin to outline the advantages.
While the Kuznetsov’s Su-33s would probably be the best fighters in the engagement, the American Hornets would have the advantage of support from the Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes. The Midway’s Intruders, though, would provide a much stronger anti-ship punch with AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles; AGM-123 Skipper laser-guided missiles; AGM-62 Walleye television-guided missile; and GBU-10 laser-guided bombs.
Then there is the situational awareness. The EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft would be jamming the sensors on the Su-33s, while the E-2s would be able to direct the Hornets to carry out their attacks.
The Kuznetsov has no such assets available. This means the Midway’s air wing now only has more raw power, it has two uncontested force multipliers.
To paraphrase Andrew Dice Clay, “Hey, Kuznetsov! Wake up and smell the toast.”