Saturday, October 18, 2008

Death of a Super Spy

SSV-33 rusting at the pier, 2005? (Source:

SSV-33, June 2008 (Source:

Fate of the Fleet Superspy, Independent Military Review, April 2006.

The unique nuclear powered Ural rusts away after 25 years of disuse.

The Project 1941 nuclear powered reconnaissance ship Ural is moored to one of the piers in the Far East with a five degree list. There aren't enough specialists on board to maintain her nuclear reactor. There used to be a thousand strong crew and now there are barely one hundred. The main systems on board the giant ship haven't functioned for a long time and to rehab the ship would cost an enormous amount of money.

At the beginning of the 90s the reconnaissance ship Ural was a secret vessel. The hull and the reactor of the Ural were similar to the Project 1144 Orlan class cruisers (Kirov class). But the electonics and the combat missions of the ship were extremely secret.

The Ural wasn't built for combat and could only repel cutters, small ships and helicopters. It had two quick firing 76mm AK-176 gun mounts, four 30mm AK-630 gun mounts, four Igla missile mounts and four Utes-M 12mm dual machine gun mounts. But there is electronic weaponry to detect aerial, surface and subsurface targets, direct fire and also several special radars and supporting systems known as the Korall system, designed to locate and track missiles and track satellites and other objects in orbit that are of particular interest.

The Ural could loiter for an unlimited amount of time in neutral waters without refueling in the American littoral and analyze the electromagnetic spectrum around American ICBM and Strategic Aviation bases. She is equipped to quickly evaluate an enormous amount of reconnaissance data and transmit it to the national command authority. It makes sense that such a ship, which can carry out electronic reconnaissance from the the open ocean as well as from the pier at her home base, has obviously not dealt with hidden and open enemies or with emeging parters of Russia. But even today, 25 years after being laid down, it is very difficult to find reliable information about her construction.

The Spy on the Baltic Wharf
Back in 1977 the Military-Industrial Commission of the Communist Party Central Committee together with the USSR Ministry of Defense decided to construct a large, nuclear powered reconnaissance ship Ural with a length of 265 meters and width of 30 meters. The Ajsberg Construction Bureau was the prime contractor. The ship was laid down in June, 1981, launched in 1983 and accepted into service in 1988 or 1989. Designed for electronic warfare, she was equipped with several ES-1046 and El'brus computer systems in order to crunch massive amounts of collected data. With the help of the Korall system, the spy could track the trajectories of ballistic missiles, manned space systems and pass on that data.

Testing of all the systems began in the Baltic Sea in 1988. A huge scientific research organization was created in support of this testing. This was a huge scientific collective which practically never left the ship during the construction, shipyard and sea trials period of development.

The State acceptance act was signed in 1989 and the ship began her transit to her assigned port of Vladivostok. Complex brigades of specialists were embarked to work out all the possible kinks during the transit. Vladimir Anikeyev lead the scientists who worked on the two El'brus computer systems. The computer systems never wanted to work correctly and were very capricious. Anikeyev was in the tropical sun for the first time and watched from the deck as Singapore passed abeam of the ship. He spent practically all of his time in the bowels of the ship, bringing the computers on line so that they could analyze and use data in real time. Finally after 59 days at sea, the handsome Ural pulled into Strelok Bay in Vladivostok. There wasn't a pier ready for her and she was forced to anchor out in the bay and begin her invisible battle with corrosion and failing machinery, which had to remain running while at anchor to support the systems that supported the huge crew.


The crew of Ural immediately began to prepare for combat operations around one of the American test ranges testing anti-missile defense. Meanwhile, a lot of things were going wrong aboard the newly constructed ship that even the Baltic Fleet specialists couldn't deal with, such as problems with the reactor cooling system. Now there was no talk of a combat deployment. The unique Korall surveillance system and El'brus computer system didn't want to work. There was nothing fleet specialists could do about them either.

As a result, the first rank ship, which should have become the flagship of the Far Eastern Fleet, became a floating barracks for young or prospectless officers. She never went to sea and her powerful radioelectronic complement, into which was poured and enormous amount of valuable metal, gradually began to decay. Officers sent to crew the ship requested transfer or release from duty after a year or a year and a half of prospectless service on board. There were occasions when the command didn't satisfy such requests and the officers jumped overboard and swam for shore. After several such protests, the command decided not to block requests for transfers from Ural.

Suggestions were advanced to use Ural as a floating nuclear power plant or even sell her abroad for scrap. But nothing came of these suggestions because Russian nuclear secrets needed to be kept. For now the ship is in limbo. No suggestions have been made by fleet command to do anything with her. It is preferred to just not talk about her openly. Only the former Navy Chief of Staff Fleet Admiral Vladimir Khmel'nov has mentioned her in his chronicle of the Russian Navy, "Russian Fleet: Prowess and Poverty", pulling back the curtain on the fate of the giant ship. "On board the Ural, each reactor is served by two people when there should be six".

There are less than a hundred crewmen out of a thousand still serving aboard the Ural, out of them 25 seamen. The cooling system doesn't work and only one pump heroically pumps water out of the huge bilges. Word around the fleet is that the ship will be sold overseas after removal of the nuclear reactors.

A few years ago, there was some preservation work done on the hull at the ship yard. Meanwhile specialists couldn't correct the five degree list. Afterwards, the nuclear spy was welded to the pier, where she awaits her fate.

Ural Fun Facts

- Ural is one of those rare ships free of rats - while the reconnaissance equipment is working all the rats died and only reappeared when the ship moored at the pier.

- When the Ural was in port Cam Ran Bay, Vietnam, the roving patrol employed their weapons (special grenades) against an unknown target in the water near the ship. It turned out to be a large turtle.

- The ship was only 1.5-2km from the site of a memorable fire at the main Pacific Fleet ammunition storage depot. Despite the huge number of shells and missiles flying through the air in different directions, thanks to the efforts of K1R Keshkov and the crew, not one shell, rocket or fragment fell on the ship. Under a hail of fire, the crew, at night, with only the help of one tug and her own power, moved the ship to a safe place.

- A box of 76mm ammunition disappeared during an on load. The commmander of the ship Keshikov asked the crew to return the ammunition anonymously, no questions asked. All the shells were returned that day and Keshikov personally thanked the crew over the 1MC for every shell brought to his stateroom.

- In the fall of 1991 during a powerful storm, the ship broke loose from her mooring and drifted out to sea. She passed within a few hundred meters of the rocky shores of Putyatin Island. The next day the crew got deployment rations (like sausage and condensed milk) since formally the ship was out of home port.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Deep Thought

Why has Joe the Plumber done more one on one media interviews than Caribou Barbie?

USS Barry (DDG 52) In Port Poti

Poti, Georgia, expects the arrival of the American missile cruiser (sic) Barry. The ship can't approach shore for now because of a storm. According to the American Embassy in Tbilisi, the visit is "friendly". The crew should visit Georgia for three days. The American command denies any connection between the arrival of the ship in Georgian territorial waters and the conflict in South Ossetia.

Peter the Great Update: Great Guns!

The Peter the Great conducted exercises with light deck guns while steaming toward Latin America. According to the narration, the crew conducts these types of exercises every day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Independent Military Review Editorial: Bulava vs. Sineva

The Bulava in the Background of the Sineva

Russian Federation President Dmitriy Medvedev was present at the Sineva launch from the SSBN Tula on 11 October. With satisfaction, he noted that, "As a result of the successful launch the range was fixed at 11,547km". He underlined that the Sineva had "good prospects".

Experts were divided. They say that the Sineva is a modernized version of the long obsolescent RSM-54 sea-based missile and that there is no point to the record since the strategic submarines it is for attacks at a range of 3-4,000 km. The acceptance into service of the Bulava is planned for 2009 and the era of the Sineva will be done.

Meanwhile, even the hardest core skeptics agree that the Sineva is the best missile in the world with regards to the balance between energy and mass. The relationship of its mass to throw weight and range is 25-30 percent more than the American Trident I and II. It can carry 10 100kg warheads, it has more protection against electro-magnetic pulse and carries more missile defense penetration aids. The combined Malakhit-3 astro- and satellite navigation system allows it to destroy a target with an accuracy of 500 meters.

The maximum range of the Sineva is 8300km with a front section weight of 2.8 tons. The range increases as the front section weight decreases. Obviously the 11,500km range was acheived by carrying a front section mock-up of minimal weight. The President didn't mention this, but it is known that the 100kt small warhead weighs 100kg.

The coast of the United States, which has long been our potential enemy, is covered by a powerful system of sonars and ASW patrol aircraft. This allows the detection of submarines at a distance of several thousand kilometers. But if Sineva has an 11,000km range then it is invisible. The American anti-missile system covers the United States from the directions of the Russian Far East, the North Pole and Europe, but from the direction of Latin America, there is no protection. And even a small warhead could potentially deal unacceptable damage. In this way the Sineva poses an assymetric answer to the American anti-missile system in Europe.

The next day after the launch of the Sineva from the Tula, two missile were launched in opposite directions from two Project 667 BDRM class SSBNs (Delta IVs): the Zelenograd launched from the Sea of Okhotsk and destroyed a target at the Chiza range in the north of Arkhangel'sk Oblast' while the Ekaterinburg successfully hit the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsula from the Barents Sea. This confirms that the Sineva remains the main Russian Navy nuclear deterrent. Meanwhile, six Project 667 BDRM (Delta IV) SSBNs should be stricken by 2015.

(Russian Navy Blog note: Zelenograd is not a 667 BDRM Delta IV armed with the SS-N-23/Sineva, but a 667 BDR Delta III armed with the SS-N-18.)

As far as the Bulava goes, six unsuccessful launches in a row is all it has to show for 10 years of development. By the way, the President of the Russian Federation didn't say anything about the Bulava which leads to fears for the worst - that suddenly the Commander in Chief will decide to leave the Sineva in service and all the people working on and lobbying for the Bulava lose their generous budget allocations....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Russia, the International Community and Piracy

Problems with Russia's Participation in the Pirate Hunt

About the author: Mikhail Dmitrievich Vojtenko - Chief of the Information and Analysis Department, OAO "Sovfrakht", editor of the journal "Sovfrakht Maritime Bulletin".

Attempted Translation:

03 Oct 2008

Reports have circulated in the press in the last week about how the Russian Navy is supporting the international fight against piracy at sea, including off the coast of Somalia. This has been talked about in both official announcements and in Navy Public Affairs. This is in connection with an incorrect interpretation of remarks made by Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy; that supposedly our fleet would take care of the piracy problem by itself.

“The Russian Navy is supporting the international effort against piracy at sea, including off the coast of Somalia. And when Russian citizens find themselves threatened, the Navy reserves the right of unilateral action”, the Navy PAO Igor’ Dygalo noted. He emphasized that in other circumstances (for instance, during international operations against piracy) the issue of Russian naval participation will conform to Russia’s foreign policy line.

Four Forces

Judging by the first reports in the press, first a Navy ship will be sent to the Gulf of Aden; moreover it is planning on operating independently. And the statement by the CinC Vladimir Vysotskiy has been corrected to reflect that Russian participation in the international fight against piracy at sea will conform to Russia’s foreign policy line. But it is entirely unclear what conditions have to present themselves for Russian participation.

Right now the naval forces in the Gulf of Aden can be divided into four types:

1. Coalition forces. Coalition Task Force 150. The main mission of these forces is to combat terrorism, which is not really understandable, or more likely, to force the blockade of the Straits of Hormuz in the event that the Iranians close it. The closure of the Straits of Hormuz would be more terrible for the world economy than the closure of the Suez Canal. Around 40 percent of world oil exports go through the Straits of Hormuz while the Suez Canal is the main route for the gigantic flow of finished goods that are manufactured cheaply by China and India from Asia to Europe and the United States. The coalition forces look at the piracy fight as an annoyance and not worth the trouble, and to re-orient their mission would be very complicated, even if it were possible.

2. Random ships from random countries, dispatched for a limited amount of time to guard ships with humanitarian aid to Somalia. This is in accordance with the UN program for humanitarian assistance and as far as the author knows isn’t related to the fight against piracy.

3. Unilateral national forces. Right now we have the first “swallow” in Malaysian form, which has sent three Navy ships to the region with the exclusive goal of supporting the safe passage of Malaysian ships. The Malaysian company MISC, which has two tankers held in Somalia as well as a container ship with thousands of containers on board which was attacked with cargo worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is one of the biggest ship operators in the world. The company has a large significance for economies throughout the world. The defense of MISC ships is the defense of its national interest by Malaysia.

4. Last week the European Union decided to a) create a Somali Piracy Command Center in Brussels, and b) possibly send some sort of multilateral task force to the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy threatening the EU economy. If container ships, tankers and dry cargo vessels have to avoid the Suez Canal, it will strike a heavy blow against Old World economies and the pocketbooks of European citizens, including Russia. Asian goods will increase in price since everywhere you look, all you see are goods labeled “Made in China” and the value of the Suez Canal will be quickly understood even in the Russian sticks.

Together With Whom and How?

Meanwhile, I am urgently interested in the following question: what will Russian Navy ships be able to achieve in the Gulf of Aden?

1. It is useless (unfortunately) to talk about combining with Coalition Task Force 150 since, I repeat, this formation isn’t fighting piracy.

2. Guarding humanitarian cargos headed for Somalia only has a tangential relationship with fighting piracy.

3. Unilaterally? There aren’t any ships there that demand national defense. Either you guard everyone who needs guarding or you guard no one. The transit of the Gulf of Aden by a fully Russian ship (Russian flagged, Russian owner and a Russian crew) is too much of a rarity to maintain a squadron of ships in the region on a constant basis (even if there is only one military ship, she needs escort). There are always Russian sailors crossing the Gulf of Aden but, as a rule, as part of a multinational crew under different flags on ships owned by different owners. If the goal is to exclusively defend Russian interests, then it becomes necessary to ask each ship that is attacked if there are Russian citizens on board and if there is cargo bound for Russia or not. That is absurd. So even if unilateral action is taken, in order to operate effectively, water space and technical details would have to be worked out, first of all, with coalition forces, second, with Malaysian ships and, third, with EU forces if and when they show up.

4. Working together with EU forces – this is obviously the most logical, preferable and effective scenario.

5. There is a fifth, extremely undesirable variant: ships sent independently and operating independently. Imagine the situation – there is a family in which a couple of members have been kidnapped for ransom. And help comes from the organized crime unit, from the Ministry of the Interior, from the FSB, traffic cops, private security guards and sundry other “powers”. And all of them work independently, for themselves. They rip the phone receiver from each others hands when the kidnappers call, each on suggests their own solution, each one screams that he has a bigger and more deadly gun. The same would happen in the Gulf of Aden if everyone sent independent actors. I repeat that no one country has enough shipping in the region to send forces that would guard only their own flagged ships. But at the same time, the shipping in the area has importance for many countries, for all of Europe. Quite simply, modern maritime commerce is more globalized and international than any other economic activity and either everybody or nobody defends it. If Russian ships are sent there independently, that means piracy isn’t the issue, it’s ambition.

A further question – what kind of forces should be sent? It should be a ship with a helicopter since the lack of a helo on board during piracy patrols, as experience has shown, would reduce patrol effectiveness by 50 percent or more. The ship should also have a SPETSNAZ detachment on board (or whatever they are called). It doesn’t seem like it to me that I have to explain why.

Not a Solution, but a Phantom

But this is the main point. Somali piracy has uncovered a mass of problems and defects in international relations. For example, what should be done with captured pirates? On whose shores should they be deposited and why? What is to be done when aid is rendered to attacked ships – can pirates finally be sunk or not? Can they be fired upon? Yes or no, and if not yet, then when?

Incidentally, I’d like to clear up one point that is unjustifiably treated as nothing important,. but turns out to be very nearly the most important issue. It is the sensational decision by the UN Security Council to allow free passage by foreign naval forces into Somali territorial waters to fight piracy.

This means that each country should receive permission from the temporary government of Somalia. Meanwhile the discussion continues about formalities anyway. But the main issue has been resolved.

Technically, there isn’t anybody to give permission to follow pirates into Somali territorial waters, that’s a phantom. Only the truly crazy go into Somali waters now anyway; and besides, without exception, all the attacks have taken place outside of these waters and in the territorial waters of, for example, Yemen. As soon as pirates board a ship and the immediate option of freeing it by force is excluded, since that would lead to the death of part or all of the crew. Hijacked ships are already being brought into Somali waters and nothing can be done about it.

Also, patrolling can’t be done near Somalia, but only in international waters. Pirates have long used mother ships far offshore as their jumping off point for hijackings instead of from small harbors along the coast. These mother ships must be hunted. Where is the outcry about this sorry solution? The author doesn’t know. Supposedly this solution has some realistic chance of being possible. There is nothing to it and as matters stand, I repeat, it is a phantom.

Area Closures

(111641Z OCT 2008)

A. IN AREA BOUND BY 47 36N 151 21E, 47 54N 151 06E,
48 06N 151 40E, 47 52N 151 58E.
B. WITHIN 27 MILES OF 52 49N 146 17E.
C. WITHIN 28 MILES OF 57-09N 140-33E.

I wonder what this was for?

(112026Z OCT 2008)

16 AND 17 OCT AND 180400Z TO 180700Z OCT
49 06.0N 140 30.5E, 49 20.0N 140 39.5E,
49 20.0N 140 44.0E, 49 06.5N 140 44.0E.

Not sure at this time who is going to use this. Looks like its going to be ships as the orientation is wrong for shore based artillery.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Somali Folly: Russia Sends a Mothership...Or Is It Bait?

Gist: The Baltic Fleet tanker Yel'na sets sail for the shores of Somalia. There she will rendezvous with the escort ship Neustrashimyy which has been sent there to fight piracy. The tanker carries water, fuel and weapons for the escort ship. The ship is guarded by a detachment of marines armed with sniper rifles and heavy machine guns. They have orders not to allow pirates to get within shot range.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

On The Scene From Stability-2008

Livejournal user MuRena has a bunch of great photos from Stability-2008.
Check them out.

Peter the Great Update: Port of Call, Tripoli

In a move guaranteed to boost recruitment and retention levels, the Peter the Great makes a port call in Tripoli, Libya. Read and listen carefully and there is a hint that the promised port calls in Tartus and/or Latakia, Syria, are cancelled.

Gist: The ships of the task force converge in Tripoli, Libya, where the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Chabanenko and support vessels pulled into port while the Peter the Great anchored out in the roadstead. The Baltic Fleet ship Neustrashimyy also pulled into port. The port visit will last until 13 October. While there the ships will reprovision and the crew will get shore leave. Having completed all of their tasking in the Mediterranean Sea, the ships prepare for further sailing. They will set course for South America where they will participate in exercises with the Venezuelans in November. The Neustrashimyy will continue on to fight Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

Stability-2008: Red Star TV Roundup

Lots of cool footage of the month-long, nationwide strategic exercise Stability-2008.

Strategic Aviation:

Twelve combat aircraft, TU-95 and TU-160 missile carriers took off from Saratov Oblast' this morning. Thirty more aircraft joined them in the air. Their mission was to practice joint operations with interceptors and bombers in simulated battle and to conduct aerial refueling. But the main task will take place in a few hours: cruise missile launches over neutral waters.

A-50s deploy to Komi (probably Vorkuta) to support "War in the Far North", a reflection of the interest the Russians show in the Arctic theater:

Gist: Stability-2008 continues in the polar regions. Airmen complete their tasks in especially harsh conditions. Not every army can wage war in the far north. Here's the report.
The airfield easily handles the maneuvers of the Il-76s and An-12s. This airfield is uniquely huge. There aren't any bigger airfields in the polar region. Its big enough to handle any size aircraft including the Buran space shuttle (Note: that's a little OBE, don't you think?). This 200 ton piece of equipment is an A-50, a modified Il-76. This radar system operating in the one centimeter wavelength range is able to detect fighter sized targets and maritime targets at ranges of up to 200-400 km. The mission of the A-50 during the exercise is to conduct radar reconnaissance, relaying information to the central command post on targets in the area. The commander of the aircraft says that operating in the far north is not easy.
Flight time is limited because of short daylight hours and there is poor visibility at night and the the weather changes quickly and weather forecasts up here are only right about half the time.

Landing among the MiGs is an An-12 which has already completed its mission. It took off this morning and spent six hours in the air. It has the airplane's symbol painted on the fuselage: a black mammoth. It was deployed to Tiksi, much further north than Vorkuta. The commander reports that the training was outstanding.

Our crew performed littoral weather reconnaissance, and the flight was okay. We completed the mission.

All crews have completed their training missions. Today is the last day of exercises and tomorrow they all return to their home airfields.

Medved'ev also visited the space launch center at Plesetsk, where he observed the successful launch of an SS-25 Topol' mobile ICBM, hitting the target at the Kura test range on Kamchatka and inspected the new Angara launch system, consisting entirely of Russian made components (vice the Ukrainian made missiles the Russians previously used).

But before watching the Topol' launch, Medved'ev and Minister of Defense Serdyukov embarked aboard the aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral of the Soviet Fleet Kuznetsov to watch maritime portions of Stability-2008, culminating in a SS-N-23 Sineva launch from Delta IV SSBN Tula, descibed as "record setting", traveling 11,547km and hitting a notional target in the Pacific Ocean.

Gist starting at story footage: The President and the Minister of Defense arrived on board the carrier by helicopter and considering the class of the ship, it was full of symbolism. Despite the strong winds, Medved'ev and Anatoliy Serdyukov walked the entire flight deck and then went down to the hanger deck. The President greeted the sailors, inspected the aircraft and even sat in the cockpits of an Su-33 and a Ka-27. President Medved'ev visited the Combat Information Center before heading up to the flag bridge to watch the progress of training.

1MC: Next evolution - attack on enemy ground targets with ballistic missiles.

Stability-2008 is continuing for a month and of course the ship has been to sea several times already during the exercises. But today was the most spectacular with the full might of the Northern Fleet on display. DM even went to the flag bridge a couple of times to watch missile launches and flight ops. The exercise script calls for the repulsion of an attack by a fleet of enemy submarines, but the highlight of the exercise was an SS-N-23 Sineva launch from a submurged position. For the first time in the history of the Russian Navy, an SLBM traveled more than 11,500km and destroyed a notional target in the Pacific Ocean.

(Cut to reporter with a little spiel about the capabilities of the Kuznetsov).

(Cut to DM on the mess decks): After completion of the main task, DM went to the mess decks to meet with the crew. The crew had the opportunity to ask any question they wanted of the Commander in Chief and the old Russian saying, "Sailors have no questions" (TR Note: its a cute rhyme in Russian) didn't apply. The questions were wide ranging and included questions about the future of the armed forces.

DM: We have to build new aircraft carrying cruisers. It is completely obvious that it is the most important issue for the Navy. Across the world, all the great powers have great armed forces and powerful navies and I think we should do the same.

The sailors gave DM a hat and a striped sailor's shirt and DM signed the ship's guest book. The President gave Saturday's training an "Outstanding". Training continues for another month.