Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Russia Starts Here


(View of Avachinskaya Bay from Vilyuchinsk. Source: vilyu4insk.ru)

An article about by far the most beautiful place in Russia that the Russian Navy Blogger has visited (no snark). There is absolutely nothing like cutting through a fog bank on an August morning on Avachinskaya Bay with the volcanoes looming in the background and an Akula DIW, waiting for pier space a few hundred yards away. Unforgettable.

The Vilyuchinsk Submarine Base Waits For Borey

Until recently, the existence of the submarine base at Vilyuchinsk was known to a narrow circle of people - our sailors and their colleagues in the NATO Alliance. On NATO charts it was labeled "hornet's nest" - the place where Pacific Fleet submarines were based. In order to understand the combat potential of the Pacific Fleet SSBNs based there, we will note that a single salvo from just one Project 667BDR SSBN (Delta III class) will deliver 48 200kt warheads to the probable enemy. The damage to such a country, such as the USA, would be unacceptable.

Night Flight

The possibility to visit the Pacific Fleet base on Kamchatka, see the nuclear submarines and talk to the submariners came about due to the personal invitation of the Russian Minister of Defense Anatoliy Serdyukov. It's a nine hour flight from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. There is time to forget pressing problems and the daily grind. You can physically feel the enormous size of our country while crossing time zones in the salon of the Il-62M.

Russia was created by the labor of dozens of generations of Russian people, by the exploits of our Army and Navy, by the political power of Russian Tsars. The country has known times glorious and dark. And as always, a weak government has invited chaos, evident in the thousand year Russian history. There are examples of this during the 300 year reign of the Romanovs, during Soviet rule as well as in recent times.

(Cut out: a three paragraph rumination on the power of Russian rulers, from the Tsars through Stalin and the future legacy of Vladimir Putin.)

"Hornet's Nest"

Vice Admiral Konstantin Sedenko, Commander of the Pacific Fleet and Vice Admiral Aleksandr Vitko, Commander, Russian North-East Forces met us at the airfield at Yelizovo. We set off for Vilyuchinsk. The city is considered a closed city (ZATO) and entry is restricted to local citizens with passes. All cars are inspected at the entry control point. Outsiders haven't yet set foot here. Along the way there are a lot of sites with fences decorated with signs that read "Military Site. Trespassers will be shot without warning". Such is the exotic local sights. The Commander of the Pacific Fleet commented along the way, from time to time admonishing, "Photography in that direction is not permitted". What can you do?

The goal of our visit - the SSBN Saint George the Victorious (K1R Sergey Yesyunin, commanding) and the Project 949A SSGN Omsk (K1R Valeriy Savon, commanding). The guests from Moscow meet the Commander of the 16th Submarine Squadron, Rear Admiral Konstantin Maklakov and the Commander of the 25th Submarine Division, Rear Admiral Sergey Rekish at the piers, where the boats are moored. There's a briefing and an invitation to board the submarine follows. By the way, the President of Russia Dmitriy Medvedyev was on board the Saint George very recently and we literally were following in his steps.

The commander of Saint George the Victorious, K1R Sergey Yesyunin, is young - he just turned 38 on the 12th of August. He's got the Pacific Fleet Makarov School and the Officer's Advanced Course at the Maritime Acadamy under his belt. The officer makes a very good impression, just like the rest of the crew, by the way. The concentration on their Russian faces projects steady professionalism. Service on a nuclear submarine entails risk and much depends on each member of the crew. The main task of an SSBN - to carry out the orders of the Commander in Chief. Readiness for nuclear war - it isn't just words here, its an everyday reality. If it were to become necessary, the sailors must carry out their duty clearly and without wavering. The nuclear deterrent, maintaining strategic parity with the United States is on the shoulders of these people.

K1R Sergey Yesyunin reports on the use of missile weapons after receiving the corresponding command to do so and the time necessary to fire a missile salvo. It's impressive, indeed! Even in the event of a first strike on Russia, the aggressor will receive a guaranteed return strike - retaliation will be unavoidable. The actual targets are not named - they are simply "land targets". We will note that the RSM-50 (SS-N-18) SLBM has a range of around 6500km. Project 667BDR submarines have the ability to fire from a submerged or surfaced position and while deployed or while at the pier.

The construction of the Kal'mar class (another name for Delta III) at the Rubin Shipyard under the guidance of S.N.Kovalev began in 1975. The navy received 14 of these boats. Their main battery consists of 16 RSM-50 with three independently targetable warheads.

The Pacific Fleet had 8 Project 667BDR submarines at the start of the 21st century which carried 128 missiles (384 warheads). Four submarines have been stricken and sent to the Far Eastern Zvezda shipyard for scrapping: K-449, K-455, K-490 and K-180. Now there are five Project 667BDR SSBNs in the Pacific Fleet order of battle: K-44 Ryazan' (recently arrived from the Northern Fleet), K-506 Zelenograd, K-211 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, K-223 Podol'sk and K-443 Saint George the Victorious. This is 80 missiles with 240 warheads.

Taking into account the almost three decades of service, they need to be replaced soon. And their replacement is being readied - this is the Project 955 Borey class SSBN with the solid fueled Bulava-30 SLBM. Right now, OAO Sevmash is building three of this class and five more hulls will be laid down in the coming years.

There has been a complete overhaul of the piers in anticipation of the arrival of the Boreys in Vilyuchinsk as well as an organization of technical services for the new systems, the installation of modern communications systems, the modernization of the training center and introduction of new training simulators.

Task for the Special Construction Units

The capital improvements of the infrastructure at Vilyuchinsk is undoubtedly the work of Vladimir Putin. The first time he visited was in 2004 during the Mobility-2004 strategic exercises. What Putin saw then left a bad impression. The infrastructure was in poor condition. Many buildings were constructed 30 or 40 years ago and were simply dilapidated. The sailors simply didn't have normal conditions in which to serve, relax or live. A resolution was adopted during Putin's visit on the necessity to rebuild the base for the submarine squadron and the living conditions at the village of Rybachiy.

Rebuilding the special support structures, the domiciles, the utility network and the shore infrastructure of ZATO Vilyuchinsk and the 16th Squadron was organized according to the 24 June, 2004, order of the President of the Russian Federation.

Despite the distance to the construction site from the Special Construction base, a whole range of structures were put into service thanks to the delivery of men and materials by airplanes and ships of FGUP GUSS and Far East Special Construction. Among the buildings to come on line between 2005 and 2007 were the Officer's Club, the Sailor's Club, Middle School No.3, the 16th Submarine Squadron HQ, the Ocean Fitness Complex and the garrison hospital and clinic.

One of the peculiarities of the buildings is that they were equipped with the most modern engineering equipment and systems to withstand a force 9 or 10 earthquake.

Additionally, in 2007, Special Construction with the cooperation of the Pacific Fleet and the leadership of ZATO Vilyuchinsk performed renovations of four apartment buildings. Fifteen ruined multi-story apartment buildings were raised and a car park and a children's playground were put in their place.

Vladimir Putin visited Vilyuchinsk again on 05 September, 2007, to personally oversee his writ. The Commander of the Pacific Fleet reported on the completion of the master reconstruction plan for the Squadron base and the progress of the preparations to receive the new Project 995 SSBNs to the President. The Commander in Chief visited one of the piers where the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and the Magadan were moored.

As Vladimir Putin noted back then, much had been done over the previous three years to improve the lives of service members and their families, but 1800 officers still lived in unsatisfactory conditions. "Russian officers should live well", the President said. Putin ordered the Ministry of Defense to prepare a program to improve the living conditions of service members in Primorskiy Kray.

Specialists from Special Construction began to make preparations to work on new apartment buildings and recreation centers for the inhabitants of Vilyuchinsk - three improved apartment buildings and two kindergartens for 400 kids. The first of these, the kindergarten "Fairy Tale", was opened in a ceremony on 27 June, 2008.

The first sixty family improved apartment building will be opened at the end of October, 2008. Residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg will envy these apartments. Spacious halls and kitchens, large, light rooms. The area of a typical three room (two bedroom by our standards) apartment is 100 square meters (1070 square feet). The director of Special Construction, General of the Army Nikolay Abros'kin proudly showed off not only the apartments built by Far East Special Construction, but other buildings also. These include the magnificent Officer's Club, the Officer's dorm, the "Fairy Tale" kindergarten, the military hospital and other buildings. All the materials and equipment had to arrive from the mainland. The progress achieved in four years is evident. But a lot of work lays ahead. Russian President Dmitriy Medvedyev promised the submariners an indoor hockey rink during his recent visit to Vilyuchinsk.

We surveyed Avachinskaya Bay from a boat with the Commander of the Pacific Fleet at the conclusion of our visit. The bay is huge - second largest on the planet and capable of holding all the ships in all the fleets in the world. It cuts 24km deep into the land. Its width at the entrance is three km and it is up to 26 meters deep. The area of this watery mirror is around 215 square km. Nature has given Russia a unique place, ideal for basing ships and submarines. Immediately after exiting the bay, the depth drops off to five km - there our nuclear submarines "dissolve", avoiding the numerous American hunters, like the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes which hang out nearby, trying to "sit on the tail" of Russian submarines departing on combat duty.

"Positive changes ongoing in the Russian Armed Forces testify to the attention that the army and the fleet are receiving from the state", emphasized the assistant Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov. Construction at these garrisons, like at Vilyuchinsk, will become more common. At our departure, the Pacific Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Konstantin Sedenko said that he would be happy if Vilyuchinsk was protected from air attack by the newest S-400 air defense system. He hopes that this desire finds a foothold in the State Armament Program. What's more, as was said during Medvedyev's recent visit, we will restore any and all presence in the region, including our military presence. The national interests of Russia demands it.

Igor' KOROTCHENKO
Editor in Chief, "VPK", Member of the Ministry of Defense Advisory Council
Vilyuchinsk - Moscow

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