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Underway Replenishment Ships

Despite substantial improvements, by the end of the Cold War the Soviet Navy still had significant problems and limitations. These included: geographical constraints which inhibited access to the open sea; a narrowly trained, conscripted enlisted corps; limited capability in open-ocean ASW; inadequate sea-based tactical air forces and underway replenishment. Also, Soviet general purpose naval forces were still mainly dedicated to and trained for combined arms/homeland defense responsibilities and lacked the capabilities, experience, and support to enable them to engage in significant naval power projection, particularly over a prolonged period.

One often-cited shortcoming of the Soviet Navy was that it was a one-shot fleet, with strong initial striking power but relatively few offensive missile reloads. In one sense, this lack of endurance reflects Admiral Gorshkov's "battle of the first salvo" philosophy, a notion that under contemporary conditions of nuclear conflict the first naval engagement would be the decisive one. While certainly a limitation, this approach permitted the Soviet Navy to be optimized for a specific war situation. More over, the newer classes of warships had shown a trend toward increasing numbers of reloads.

The Soviet Navy had a lower operating tempo [OPTEMPO] than did Western fleets. Reduced OPTEMPO had a positive impact on the number of naval units ready to go to war on short notice. Reduced operattime means Soviet naval units had fewer maintenance and logistical requirements, and the Soviet Navy was able to maintain a higher percentage of its forces in combat readiness. Trading off at-sea training for increased ship availability is not a swap most Western navies would willingly make, however, but the Soviet Navy had a long tradition of believing that it was more important to be ready to go to sea (on short notice) than it was to be at sea.

And the Soviet Navy had no combat experience from the end of the Great Patriotic War until the end of the Soviet Union, a period during which the US Navy fought three major wars and a number of lesser engagments. A doctrinal emphasis on "battle of the first salvo", low operating tempo, and a lack of combat experience all combined to relegate underway replenishment to a distincly secondary role, in contrast to the absolutely central role it played in power projection navies, such as those of the US and UK.

The Soviet Navy had no insurmountable peacetime problems in replenishing and maintaining its distant-deployed fleets. It employs naval auxiliaries as well as ships of the Soviet Merchant Marine that are able to procure fresh water and foodstuffs from foreign ports. Additionally shore-based logistic and repair facilities are used to varying degrees in foreign ports where the Soviets have gained access. Coun tries which have provided such access include and Syria, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Tunisia, Guinea, Angola, Algeria, Yemen, Greece, Ethiopia, Vietnam. Djibouti, Singapore, France, Italy, Libya, and Canada.

During war, however, most such port facilities could become inaccessible, and the anchorages would be extremely vulnerable. At-sea replenishment of fuels, ammunition, consumables. and repair parts would then be required to sustain warships at great distances from their home ports in prolonged periods of conflict. Until the late 1960s, the Soviet Navy had been slow in developing underway replenishment capabilities and techniques. By the end of the Cold War they had improved their ability to conduct alongside, underway replenishment of liquids, but their ability to transfer ammunition and other solids in the same manner was still marginal.

During the 1970s, the Soviets introduced the BORIS CHILIKIN class of combination oiler-stores ship and a larger, multipurpose replenishment ship, the 37,000-ton BEREZINA, which carried two helicopters for vertical replenishment and is similar to the US Navy's WICHITA Class AOR design, although it carried only about half as much fuel.

Further, a number of Soviet naval oilers could also provide underway refueling by the less efficient astern method traditionally used by the Soviet Navy, which required the vessels involved to come to a virtual standstill. This was perhaps less a hindrance than might at first appear, as Soviets provided a preponderance of replenishment and routine maintenance to their deployed units in open anchorages in international waters. True to form, Soviet ships remained at anchor, even when under way.

By the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy employed about 50 replenishment ships, some 27 of which were capable of alongside refueling. No significant new replenishment ships had been delivered to the Soviet Navy for well over a decade, and most of the existing replenishment ships are small and slow. Only two very small underway replenishment ships had been delivered to the Soviet Navy since 1979.

By the end of 1991 almost all surface ships and submarines were withdrawn from the area of traditional operation of the Soviet Navy. Logistics support centers on Dahlak island (Ethiopia) and in Svinoustsje (Poland) were closed down within quite a short period of time. In the course of time Russian combat ships ceased to come in Cam Ranh Bay military base (Vietnam), consequently the base lost its significance and was abandoned due to absence of specific tasks to support operation of the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Federation.

Nowadays only one logistics support center abroad left to provide services to Russian warships special vessels and auxiliary ships. This is a sea base in Tartus port (Syria). This fact undoubtedly shows that the Russian Federation reduced its naval activity in regions formerly subdued by the Soviet Navy. However this state of affairs corresponds with the level of ability of the state to defend its interests in the Ocean making use of its military presence and flag demonstration. This situation is caused not so much by changes to the marine doctrine as by economic problems. Nevertheless, ships and vessels of the Russian Federation time after time make long-range voyages. They are mostly official visits to foreign ports and brief voyages connected with performance of special tasks.

Floating support vessels are the only ships, which are constantly abroad. They replace each other twice a year at the mooring line of the Syrian Tartus. The Mediterranean Sea, especially its eastern part, borders with smouldering for a few decades the Middle East center of international tension. This region is very promising considering resumption of Russian warships presence, mostly the Black Sea Fleet, because it was a core of the Mediterranean Squadron of the Soviet Navy, which was carrying out tasks in that region within a quarter of a century from 1967 up to 1992.

In summer 1994 a combat ships group (CSG) under command of Vice Admiral Petr Sviatashov, the Chief of the Black Sea headquarters, was conducting a submarine detection exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. The group included ships of the Baltic Fleet and the Northern Fleet together with ships of the Black Sea Fleet. Only five years later, in summer 1999, CSG of the Black Sea Fleet, at that time under command of Vice Admiral Vladimir Vasukov, was performing a task of transporting the Russian piece-keepers to Kosovo. The landing operation was carried out in Gulf of Salonika (Greece) by means of landing craft. After that CSG of the Black Sea Fleet left the Black Sea only in October-November 2002.




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