Russia axes plan for new aircraft carriers

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The Russian military admitted Friday that it lacked the funds to deploy a powerful new armada of aircraft carriers as promised and that no more would be built for at least another decade.

"The state armaments programme for 2011-2020 does not envision the construction of aircraft carriers," an unnamed senior official in Russia's defence ministry told the Interfax news agency.

He said current funding plans allowed the military to come up with new designs but not proceed with actual construction.

"Only then -- after completing the advanced designs -- can we examine the expediency of building aircraft carriers," the official said.

The comments represent a rare public admission that the military was struggling to keep up with President Dmitry Medvedev's commitment to modernise sn outdated Soviet-era force that has lost its dominance on the high seas.

The Interfax dispatch seemed to produce initial confusion among top commanders. It was denied by one unnamed official and received with blanket silence by the defence ministry itself.

But Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov later conceded that the Interfax report was true.

"No, there are no plans" to build carriers by 2020, Serdyukov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

The Soviet Union had five aircraft carriers at the height of its power but Russia currently only has one, the Admiral Kuznetsov.

This compares to the 11 operational and six reserve aircraft carriers of the United States, with another three under construction, according to the US Congressional Research Service.

Medvedev made his country's re-emergence as a naval power one of the planks of a military programme that he announced with much fanfare in 2008.

"We are not going to spare our financial resources," Medvedev said that October while attending exercises in the Barents Sea.

Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said that same year that Russia intended to build six new aircraft carriers -- three each for its Pacific and Northern Fleets.

© 2010 AFP

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