USSR was unable to build US-equivalent aircraft carriers?

I was on holiday in America in 1992 when one of my relatives (an ex-marine) took me shopping. I was into building scale models at that time and we were in a shop that sold them, I remember looking at a scale model of an American aircraft carrier and my relative proudly stating that the Soviets were unable to build American-style aircraft carriers.

Was he right, I know the Soviets had aircraft carriers but they weren’t on the same scale as the American versions. Was it a case that they were unable to build them, not having the technological know-how or unwilling to build them, being mostly a land-power based superpower?


btw I ended up buying a scale model of a Tu-26 Backfire, even then I liked to live dangerously… :smiley:

Of interest:

Nice link. I enjoyed reading that. Thanks for posting it. And it answers the OP pretty clearly. The Russians certainly could have built American style carriers, but lacked the political will to do so.

I don’t see any reason why the Soviets couldn’t have built a carrier task force if they had really wanted to do so. It would have been really expensive but the Soviets did have an entire country’s worth of resources. And there’s nothing technically outstanding about an aircraft carrier.

America has two very long coasts (just on the mainland), an island state and a northern pacific state. Overall a fuck load of of open water sea access. The Soviet Union had the thinly populated Pacific coast where they couldn’t hope to compete the America and really had no large sea interests, a southern coast on the Black Sea completely bottled up by Turkey, and a Northern coast on the Baltic and the Arctic. They never had an abundance of room to maneuver a carrier force or, for the most part, a need to project power in that manner.

Everyplace the Russians really wanted to project force was readily accessible over land. Europe? Check? Asia? Check.

Understand that the Soviet Union collapsed because they went broke. The ruble was not an international currency and was artificially inflated by the Soviet government. Nobody wanted rubles. The Soviets had advanced in military hardware but were woefully behind Europe and the US in computer technology. The modern aircraft carriers, fighter planes, submarines and spacecraft were increasingly dependent on advanced computer technology.

The Soviets didn’t have the cash to buy the needed technology on the open market and didn’t have the resources to catch up on their own. They were falling behind very quickly while their economy was collapsing.

Did the Soviets have the brain power to do it? Probably. Did they have the money and the resources? No. Did they have the economic system to repair the problem? Absolutely not.

In Soviet union carrier aircrafts… oh god I can’t.

But it’s an issue of scale. Did the Soviet Union have a well-run healthy economy? Hell, no. But even a bad national economy has a huge amount of resources.

The GDP of the Soviet Union in 1990 was the equivalent of over two trillion dollars. The cost of building a Nimitz-class carrier is around four billion. The Soviets had the money if they had really wanted a carrier.

And if the Soviet Union or the United States had fought a war it almost certainly would have been in one of three areas: Europe, the Middle East, or East Asia. These were all borderlands for the Soviet Union but the United States would have had to cross oceans to fight a war in any of these three. So we needed a navy.

Strictly speaking he was correct since the Soviet Union dissolved the year before in 1991. It’s also probably a fair statement that Russia in 1992 was unable to build large carriers; they could scarcely maintain the existing navy which was falling apart and rusting away from neglect. But like everyone else has said, there was nothing stopping the USSR from building large carriers if they had really wanted to do so.

Aircraft carriers enabled the US to beat the Japanese, pretty much with limited allied help (as compared to Europe). So the US prepares to fight the last war and has a more aircraft carriers (and heli carriers) than the rest of the world put together many times over.

The Soviets beat the Nazis with tanks. So they build tanks. They fought the last war too and are preparing to fight the next one the same way.

If the Soviets needed to build a super carrier, they could. But they didn’t see the need, and they didn’t have the European warm water ports to enjoy their use.

Soviet navy was a defensive navy. The only offensive segment, was its submarine fleet. The Soviet naval doctrine was to defend the coastline from NATO, and disrupt the supply line in North Atlantic using massive submarine fleet, the same way Germany did during WW1 and WW2.

The NATO knew this and they specifcally focused on ASW (anti-submarine warfare). The Soviet surface fleet was not a threat in North Atlantic because they would be contained behind the GUIK gap, just like the German surface fleet during the world wars.

Here is a good video about the ASW warfare, made by the US Navy:

See more of the GUIK gap:

EDIT: I saw you mentioned Tu-26 Backfire, it was one of the backbone of the Soviet naval defense doctrine of coastal defence. During war, the backfires were supposed to carry Kitchen Anti-Ship Missiles, take off from the airbase, approach the NATO surface fleet, and fire the missiles at stand-off distance. This was the standard practice, and it was the very reason the F-14 tomcat was created, in order to address this long-range threat with F-14’s long-ranged anti-air missiles intended to shoot down aircrafts such as Backfires before they could fire their anti-ship missles.

Well he was speaking historically. Its just one of those things that stick in my mind from childhood that I never really questioned until later.

Thanks for the answers everyone!

Alternatively, the enemies of the US in the Second World War and the important areas for them to project power in the Cold War were overseas, so the Americans built a big navy. The enemies of the USSR in the Second World War and the important areas for them to project power in the Cold War were overland, so the Soviets built a big army.

Re the paper the Russians finally sold the Varyag to the Chinese

In the Pacific the competition was more Japan and China than America.

And the Gorshkov is undergoing a conversion from cruiser-with-VTOL-flight-deck to proper carrier forIndia.

Heh. I was thinking the same thing. Thanks for not letting me embarrass myself! :slight_smile: