Sunday, February 7, 2010

Even the Russians know they suck, Part I

I ran across an interesting document, an after action report detailing "living conditions on board ships of the Russian Navy, observations by officers in the French Navy during joint Russian-French exercises and a port visit to Brest, France by ships of the Northern Fleet" dated 28 October 2004. There are a lot of interesting observations here, which can be summarized thusly:

They have hot water! Shit, the French have water at all! The watch actually stands watch! Goddamn, we're dirty! Paint mixed with sand on the decks so people don't slip and break their necks? Mon dieu! Musters! Do we really need so many musters? And maybe our ships wouldn't be so dirty if we gave our guys stuff to clean with. Or if we let them shower more than once every two weeks!

Well, not quite, but pretty close.

Part I:

To the Commander of the Northern Fleet
Vice Admiral Abramov


On the issue: “Some details on living conditions on board ships of the Russian Navy, observations by officers in the French Navy during joint Russian-French exercises and a port visit to Brest, France, by ships of the Northern Fleet”

The second joint Russian-French training exercise in the north-east Atlantic took place from 14-27 September, 2004. The large anti-submarine ship (BPK) Admiral Chabanenko, attack submarine K-157, French destroyer Tourville and submarine Emeraude participated. According to plan, the first evolution was an officer exchange: two Russian officers went to the Tourville and two French officers went to the Admiral Chabanenko. The liaison officers spent seven days on board, until the port call in Brest (21-26 Sep 2004). During direct interaction with French officers (on separate occasions), ((something)) managed to indirectly obtain information about the issues that they paying attention to during the joint exercises and port visit….

Event------------------------- Tourville--------------Chabanenko
Breakfast----------------------0700-0900----------First shift 0730-0745
(Officers serve themselves)--------------------------Second shift 0815-0830

Page 2

Shipboard evolutions---0900-1100----------------------0830-1125
Lunch:-------------------First shift -1100-1200----------1130-1145
---------------------------Second shift-1200-1300--------1210-1230
Rest----------------------Until 1445------------------------Until 1400
Shipboard evolutions---1500-1900-----------------------1400-1725
Dinner-------------------1st Shift 1900-2000-------------1730-1745
----------------------------2nd Shift 2000-2100-----------1810-1830
Shipboard evolutions----N/A------------------------------1830-2045
Free time----------------From 2100-----------------------2035-2200
Evening tea--------------N/A-------------------------------First shift 2330-2345
(Coffee, tea, juice, beer, etc.--------------------------------Second shift 0010-0020
always available to crew for free)
Taps---------------------Anytime after 2000---------------0030

Darken ship on French vessels is at 2000: the lights in the staterooms and common areas are covered and night lights are turned on in corridors (daylight lighting is turned on at 0800). As opposed to the lighting on the BPK, only running lights are visible from the outside.
There are no shipwide evolutions on the Tourville after 2000 except:
1. Night training (for instance, night time TOLs by the helicopter);
2. When the need arises because of a casualty.

Thus, French sailors (not standing watch) have twelve hours in which to relax
while Russian sailors have but six.

Page 3

2. “Typical shipboard evolutions during the week…”

The commander of the Tourville established three types of days at sea when he assumed command, depending on the situation:

1. Combat training day
2. Maintenance day – when the crew concentrated on repairs and material condition.
3. Sunday (rest day) – one or two times a week. Shipboard evolutions are kept to a minimum or just not carried out. No reveille. (“Sunday” was announced as one of the days during the joint exrcises).

Special attention was given to damage control and man overboard drills. They were carried out on maintenance days and also in parallel with joint training.

Man overboard drills are organized in an interesting manner. In secret from the crew, the First Lieutenant would give the signal and he would go to a cabinet and take out a manikin, throw it overboard and give the command “Man Overboard!”. The command is given over the 1MC. The watch officer presses the special button on the GPS to mark position and turns the ship around to return to that same position. At the same time fast rubber boat is prepared for launch. Launch of the boat is made without a crew aboard for safety reasons. Two members of the crew and a diver were lowered into the boat with a line after the boat was lowered into the water and placed under tow. The rubber boat was launched toward the manikin from the approaching ship. Upon return of the boat, the boat was secured to the ship and a Jacob’s ladder was lowered, and only then they raised the boat. The rescue operation – from the moment the “Man overboard” command was given to the recovery of the manikin on board in sea state three or four – took twenty minutes. No one from the ships command team took part in the drill. Action on the bridge was directed by the watch officer – a warrant officer. (Note: There is a big, handwritten exclamation point here).

3. “Multiple and prolonged cleaning events”.

Planned cleaning on the French ship is done once a day. The cleaner, who has a wide variety of cleaning implements and household chemicals, decides himself if he has cleaned enough or if he should clean some more.


Mark said...

Any representative of any navy sent to do a crossdeck visit of .....let's say, an "ideologically non-aligned" nation's warship (unless he was flag rank or higher) would be given the same instructions: record everything you see and hear, regardless whether you think it's important. Your information will be analyzed by higher authority and by individual Subject Matter Experts, and WE'LL decide what's important. Therefore, taking the time to write down the cleaning routine is not necessarily a measure of its importance, nor a reliable admission of self-suckiness on the part of the navy that collected the information. Ditto the ship's interior lighting routine, and other standard observations.

I was part of a tour of the MARSHAL SHAPOSHNIKOV (same class as the CHABANENKO) alongside in Vladivostok, when I visited there with HMCS VANCOUVER. Although she looked like she'd seen hard use, interior-wise, I wouldn't say she was dirty or poorly-maintained at all, and I'd like to think we have fairly high standards for both. Everybody remarked on the dangerous slipperiness of the upper decks (no non-skid coating) which would make linehandling in rough seas (such as might be experienced during underway replenishment) much more hazardous than it needed to be, but that would be an easy problem to resolve.

Russian naval electronics and weaponry are generally less sophisticated and clumsier than their western counterparts. However, this reflects intended operation by conscripts who sometimes receive limited training, and are rarely specialists. Again, not a reliable indicator of relative suckiness, but of national and military policy. Russia continues to work toward an all-volunteer force, although poor pay will likely remain a demotivator. That's one area where they DO suck. I note that the less-sophisticated systems had generally very good reliability compared with technological pieces of wizardry that were often capricious to operate. There's little value in a technological advantage that won't do what it's supposed to when you turn it on. I also noted a few interesting departures from conventional thought, such as the inclusion of submarine-style periscopes on the bridge - these allowed full field-of-view outside visual monitoring in a contaminated NBCD environment without the requirement to open any doors or hatches.

Doctrinal influences often result in navies doing things differently, but significant variations in things like crew comforts and watch routines leading to an analysis that the navy concerned is "sucky" should be limited only to those areas rather than an impression of overall incompetence. That'd be a mistake.

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