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Impact Of Logistics On The Soviet "Blue Water" Navy

Impact Of Logistics On The Soviet "Blue Water" Navy


CSC 1985












It seems to be the current trend to analyze the Soviet


Navy, its missions, capabilities, and trends, in terms of


broad, sweeping dissertations which primarily depend upon


quantitative advantages - sheer numbers and gross tonnage -


and/or technological advantages in weapons systems or


engineering principles. The recent addition to the Soviet


Fleet of the Kirov class cruiser and the Alfa, Papa, and


Oscar class submarines, combined with the prospect of a


fixed-wing aircraft carrier, have stimulated a new round of


these "bigger and better" arguments in numerous profes-


sional journals and maritime affairs publications.


Admittedly, it is much more sensational and "fun" to


expound upon revolutionary engineering concepts, advance-


ments in technology and impressive weapons systems; after


all, it's a typical American approach to analysis. Like


the "big car craze" of the 50's and 60's, Americans have a


propensity to fixate on gadgets, size, horsepower and the


amount of chrome before, if ever, they analyze such funda-


mental issues as: spare parts required, the number of


spare parts available, the reliability of the machine, the


cost of gas (how big is the gas tank?), and moreover, its


sustainability. This tendency in the automobile market has


fortunately been altered by consumer economic awareness and


the cost of gas. Unfortunately, our "defense psyche"


remains the same.


To somewhat alter this trend and further support the


cause of "mavericks" in the Navy establishment, I propose


to analyze the Soviet Navy - a reportedly "blue-water" Navy


- from a logistics perspective. I will endeavor to limit


this perspective to a quantitative and qualitative analysis


of the Soviet Navy logistics force which includes those


auxiliaries with a primary mission of replenishment at sea:


platforms which deliver petroleum, oil and lubricants


(POL), provisions, munitions, and spare parts. Although I


will briefly touch on the Soviet merchant fleet, it is my


intention to place most emphasis on active Soviet naval


units which are instantaneously under the command of Soviet


military authorities and theoretically most responsive to


the needs and missions of a blue water navy. The informa-


tion presented herein has been obtained from unclassified


sources and my own personal experiences so as to avoid


artificial barriers on readership.





Topic Page






















steaming independently in the East


China Sea observing the Russian


cruiser "CLASSIFIED" unreping


(replenishing) from an Altay class AO


(oiler). Both Russian ships are


anchored, using single hose astern


refueling method. A large crane is


being used to transfer both provisions


and what appears to be spare parts.





steaming independently in the East


China Sea continuing to observe


Russian cruiser "CLASSIFIED" unreping


from Altay class AO. Both ships have


been conducting replenishment at


anchor for just over 24 hours


continuous. Methods employed by the


Russians are......


Many of my contemporaries have been on bridge watches


and observed our countetparts in the Soviet Navy conduct


what we considered to be a very routine operation at sea;


that of "underway replenishment". Regardless of whether


"Ivan" is steaming independently or in battle group


strength, I'm sure we reached predominantly the same con-


clusion - "Ivan's" methods of underway replenishment are


still antiquated by any standard. While we are normally


impressed by ships bristling with guns, radars, ECM equip-


ment and missiles, we tend to overlook those platforms, and


the methodologies employed, which enable the Soviets to


operate at any distance from their home ports. These


platforms, known as auxiliaries, are given potent


capabilities by such authoritative sources as Janes


Fighting Ships, Combat Fleets of the World, U.S. Naval


Institute Proceedings, and a variety of other publica-


tions. To check the validity of their findings, however,


let's compare U.S. - Soviet Navy auxiliary strength (both


quantitatively and qualitatively), examine a few of the


more modern auxiliary ship classes, and take a brief look


at replenishment methods and the Soviet merchant marine.


Perhaps we'll be able to reach a few conclusions of our









"In the field of sea going replenishment, the Soviet


Navy has made great progress. With the acquisition of such


classes as the Berezina, Boris Chilikin, and Dubna and the


modernization of a great many older oilers to enable them


to provide alongside fueling underway, the Soviets have


made great strides in achieving a large and thoroughly


modern logistics force....Most of the naval units are now


civilian manned and fly the flag of the auxiliary service."


Combat Fleets of the World1


In 1962, the Soviet Navy possessed twenty-five


transports, three supply ships and forty-five oilers.2 By


1973, they had increased their auxiliary service to include


one-hundred and twenty supply ships, fifty oilers and


twenty-five transports.3 Obviously, somewhere along the


way the Soviet Navy had recognized the importance of


replenishment vessels. As indicators of this logistics


awareness, Admiral Gorshkov has repeatedly referred to the


requirement of staying power as a primary requirement of a


modern navy.4 Rear Admiral G. Kostev has emphasized that


"...The high demands always made on a naval ship's crew and


the extreme pressure to keep the vessel in a state of


combat readiness has considerably increased now that Soviet


warships have the possibility to ply the waters of the


world oceans, to carry out much more distant cruises and


face more complicated tasks."5 Indeed, by 1981 Soviet


Auxiliary capability included: seven replenishment ships,


fourteen replenishment oilers, thirteen special tankers


(for transporting radiological liquids), thirty-seven


support tankers, fifty cargo and transport ships and


four-hundred and fifty-five specialized auxiliaries


including a considerable portion with a major or partial


supply capacity.6 The Soviet Union has continued its ship


building progress through 1984 with a trend toward


progressively larger, more capable ships. By 1984, the


Soviet auxiliary fleet capability included: eighty


training ships, twenty-eight oilers, thirty-one special


tankers and twelve support tankers. In comparison, the


1984 statistics for the United States Navy auxiliary


arsenal included: eighty-four Military Sealift chartered


ships, twenty cargo ships, eight combat stores ships,


eighteen ammunition ships, forty-four oilers, twelve


transports, and twelve fast combat support ships of the


Sacramento class.7 While comparative figures presented


would apparently support a conclusion of Soviet auxiliary


superiority, let's further break-down the auxiliaries to


those ship types which could deliver munitions, provisions,


spare parts and POL - the essential ingredients necessary


for sustained operations of a blue water navy. The table


below will clarify what appeared to be a Soviet auxiliary


superiority over the United States.




Type Class Number

1. Replenishment Ship Berezina, 12


2. Replenishment Tanker Dubna, Kazbek, 28

Uda, Altay, Olekma,



3. Munitions/Missile Lama, Modified 14




Table I



*The majority of the "support replenishment tanker"


classes were not included as they are generally less than


2,000 tons full load displacement, slow (14 knots or less)


and would be of questionable value when operating with a


blue water navy distant from Soviet shores.




**Amga class was not included as they are primarily for


ballistic missile submarine support. The Andizhan class


has been included as it does have potential for surface


ship support.





Type Class Number

1. Replenishment Ship Sacramento, 20

Wichita, Mars



2. Replenisment Tanker Cimarron, Neosho* 21

Ashtabula, Mispillion*



3. Munitions/Missile Kilauea*, Nitro, 18

Support Suribachi*


Table II



By comparing Tables I and II, it would appear that


U.S. and Soviet auxiliary fleets are numerically equivalent


with the U.S. having 59 and the Soviet Union 54. However,


let's take this quantitative comparison one step further


and examine the full load displacements of each type.


Perhaps by comparing quantitative capabilities we will gain


some measure of cargo capacity and capability. The results


are presented in Table III below.



U.S. Soviet

Type Displacement Displacement

(Tons) (Tons)


1. Replenishment Ship 624,864 183,000


2. Replenishment Tanker 683,700 166,990


3. Munitions/Missile 231,478 57,000



TOTAL TONNAGE 1,540,042 406,990


Table III


From the information in Table III, it is evident that


the U.S. auxiliary force is far superior from an admittedly


simplistic quantitative analysis. The Soviet auxiliaries,


though almost equal in number, represent only about


twenty-six percent of U.S. auxiliary tonnage. To many,


this fact alone could lead to a finite assessment of the


Soviet surface fleet capability, especially given an


additional fact--this relatively small logistics force is


providing service to an overall numerically superior Soviet


surface force.


Next, let's turn to a qualitative comparison and


examine first, a few modern representatives of each


country's logistics service and second, the replenishment


methods employed by each. Hopefully, we may be able to


draw a few more logical conclusions.








The Berezina Class, diesel powered, displacing 36,000


tons and capable of speeds up to twenty-two knots is the


largest multipurpose underway replenishment ship yet built


for the Soviets and the only one to be currently armed.


This class (consisting of only one ship) is capable of


astern refueling or fueling from constant-tension stations


on either side, amidships. Solid replenishment (stores,


ammo, spare parts) is accomplished by two sliding-stay,


constant-tension transfer rigs on either side. A vertrep


capability is built in with two specially configures


Hormone helicopters and aft-located flight deck and


hanger. Cargo capacity includes:


1. 16,000 tons of fuel oil


2. 500 tons of fresh water


3. 3,000 tons of stores, ammo, or combat spares.11


This class, completed in 1977, is probably the first of a


group to support the Kiey class carrier and subsequent


aircraft carriers.12


The Soviet Boris Chilikin class of 6 ships displaces


23,400 tons each is diesel powered, and is capable of speeds


up to seventeen knots.13 This is the first Soviet Navy


class of purpose built for underway fleet replenishment for


the supply of both liquids and solids: indicating a growing


awareness of the need for afloat support for a widely


dispersed fleet. This class has three port and starboard


transfer stations and its cargo capacity includes:


1. 13,000 tons of fuel


2. 400 tons of ammo


3. 400 tons of spare parts


4. 500 tons of water.14


The Soviet Dubna class is capable of speeds up to sixteen


knots and the eight ships in this class displace 13,500


tons each. They are diesel powered with three port and


starboard transfer stations and the cargo capacity for each




1. 12,000 tons of fuel


2. 150 tons of water


3. 1,000 tons of stores, ammo, or combat spares.15


The Kazbek class is diesel powered and displaces


16,250 tons. The four ships of this class are capable of


fifteen knots with astern refueling or constant-tension


stations on either side amidships. The cargo capacity




1. 14,000 barrels of fuel


2. 250 tons of fresh water


3. 1,500 tons of stores or ammo.16


Representative of similar U.S. auxiliaries are the


Sacramento and Wichita classes. The four ships of the


Sacramento class displace 53,600 tons each and are capable


of speeds to twenty-six knots. Steam propelled, the incor-


porate multiple refueling and stores transfer stations and


a vertrep (verticle replenishment) capability which


includes two CH-46 helicopters. Cargo capacity is:


1. 177,000 barrels of fuel


2. 2,150 tons of ammo


3. 750 tons of provisions.17


The seven ships of the Wichita class displace 37,300


tons each and are capable of speeds to twenty knots. They


also has steam propulsion and incorporates multiple refuel-


ing or stores transfer stations. Cargo capacity




1. 175,000 barrels of fuel


2. 600 tons of ammo


3. 575 tons of provisions.18


Though these relatively modern U.S. and Soviet classes


appear qualitatively similar, a thorough comparison of all


classes will reveal several striking Soviet deficiencies,




1. Vertrep (verticle replenishment) capability: Only


one Soviet auxiliary class, the Berezina, has a significant


vertrep capability. Though not overly significant, the


absence of this capability on most Soviet auxiliaries will


limit the speed and flexibility of underway replenishment


evolutions. Additionally, this capability, present on most


U.S. classes, allows replenishment of vital low volume


supplies over greater distances.


2. Munitions capacity: Unlike their U.S. counter-


parts, Soviet auxiliaries do not have a significant


munitions lift capability. The majority of classes, muni-


tions capable, must rely on a very slow transfer process


whereby ships being supplied must moor alongside.


Ammunition is then transferred by crane from the supplier


to the receiving ship. Obviously, this method would be


very time consuming at best and labor intensive.


3. Replenishment methods: Only three classes of


Soviet auxiliaries employ modern methods of underway


replenishment. This represents a total of only eleven out


of the fifty ships considered. The remainder, roughly


seventy-eight percent, employ older methods using a


modified A-frame with one constant-tension station or the


astern refueling method. Solid cargo items are, for the


most part, transferred by crane with the receiving ship


moored alongside. Other than obvious constraints on


tactical mobility and efficiency, most Soviet replenishment


evolutions will require excessive amounts of time. Time


may not be such a precious commodity by itself, but, as


both receiving and supplying ship are limited in capability


and maneuverability while replenishing, they are extremely


vulnerable to interdiction by opposing surface, subsurface


and air forces. As time progresses, the vulnerability


period increases, as does the probability of interdiction


by enemy forces. Given the Soviet Navy's current reliance


on old and time consuming methods, they would be at a


distinct tactical disadvantage during most blue water


missions. It should also be kept in mind that the first


underway, alongside replenishment of liquids by the Soviet


Navy were not attempted until the mid 1960's, and prototype


constant-tension solid-transfer equipment did not


materialize until 1969.19 In conjunction, they didn't


establish a system similar to the U.S. Navy's "Fleet Train"


concept until the late sixties.20 These later factors


adequately illustrate an overall lack of experience in a


critical blue water evolution.


4. Strategic Mobility: Speed, or rather the lack of


it,is characteristic of Soviet logistic strategic


mobility. Of all ship classes in the Soviet auxiliary


inventory, only one, the Berezina, is capable of speeds


equal to or in excess of twenty knots. In comparison, all


but three U.S. Navy ship classes are capable of twenty


knots or better. Significant here is the probability that


the Soviet "Fleet Train" will be much slower. Movements of


supplies from staging areas will proceed at a slower pace


and auxiliaries won't be able to steam with battle forces


unless the whole group's speed of advance is slowed


(probability of interdiction increases). Conjunctively, if


not steaming in company with a battle force, additional


escorts will be required to protect vital resupply, thus


thinning-out the number of combatants available for major


blue water missions. Intra of inter-theater resupply would


also be protracted vis-a-vis rigid timetables occasioned by


a lack of mobility. Overall, strategic mobility suffers


and vulnerability has increased because of this decided


lack of adequate speed.




From the preceeding discussion the viability of a


superior Soviet logistic capability, both quantitatively


and qualitatively, have been compromised. To many, the


Soviet merchant fleet, in part, makes up for many of the


previously mentioned short comings. As an example, a


recent article in our own U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings


maintained that "...The Soviet merchant marine's peacetime


organization, manning and numbers and types of ships


provide the Soviet Navy with an auxiliary capability


unequalled by any other maritime nation."21 In constrast,


I find this argument dubious, at best, when contemplating


use of the merchant marine to support a blue water navy.


First, as pointed out by Mr. Ackley's thesis on Soviet


maritime power, the Soviet merchant marine fleet is largely


used as a long-range sea lift that can sustain Soviet or


proxy land forces over extended periods.22 Thus, the


merchant fleet's mission is not strictly to support the


navy. A conclusion otherwise would infer a competition for


resources by other armed services and could conceivably


overburden the assets available. As an example, Mr. Jean


Couhat, editor of Combat Fleets of the World, pointed out


the fact that "...(Soviet) deployment of a very powerful


force in the Indian Ocean at the time of the invasion of


Afghanistan, and for many months thereafter, demonstrated


clearly that it is now capable of sustaining a long term


effort very far from home. That certainly, however, was


achieved only at the expense of its presence in other parts


of the world, particularly the Mediterranean, where the


number of ships on station was the smallest it had been for


a long time.23 If the Soviet Merchant Marine is indeed the


viable alternative advertised, why then did Soviet


presence, in other areas, subside? Secondly, though the


Merchant Marine has been-employed in both theater and


world-wide exercises, the practice is not clearly employed


as widely in the operational environment as one might be


led to believe. Per a recent article in Proceedings,


"Merchant tankers formerly provided more than seventy-five


percent of the fuel transferred to Soviet warships at sea,


but in recent years this has dropped to below forty


percent. Their principal mission is now to keep the Naval


oilers topped off with fuel from Black Sea depots, except


in the Mediterranean, where they deploy in support of the


Soviet Navy for three or four weeks. In addition to


supplying fuel, tankers have a secondary mission of


providing fresh water to Soviet warships because of their


inadequate water distillation equipment.24 Thus, despite


apparent potential, the Soviet Merchant Marine is not


employed in support of the Navy to the extent many


advertise. Though consisting of over 2,000 ships and


fifteen million tons as early as 1973, the percentage


available for support of a blue water navy would be


problematical.25 Additional factors such as individual


ship type, size, speed, replenishment equipage and crew


training would further detract from the Merchant Marine







From the preceeding discussion I have illustrated the


quantitative and qualitative deficiencies of the Soviet


Navy logistics forces and its capability to support a blue


water navy. In terms of numbers, size, cargo capacity,


vertrep capability, munitions capacity, replenishment gear


and methods and strategic mobility, their auxiliary force


would be hard pressed to support a blue water force. Even


with the addition of Soviet Merchant Marine assets, their


capability still remains questionable. Admittedly, forces


operating near the Russian littoral, the Mediterranean, or


a selected theater (the Indian Ocean) could be adequately


supplied. However, the presence of several forces


operating in distant theaters would not be simultaneously


supported by the Soviet "Fleet Train". While this


capability is building, it should be several years before a


credible power projection mission, a major role of a blue


water navy, exists. Interested naval affairs observers


would be well advised to watch for developments in the


logistic arena to gain possible insight into potential


Soviet navy mission capability. Construction of additional


Berezina or Boris Chilikin type auxiliary platforms would


pose significant evidence with respect to changing


missions. Until that time, "the Soviets must contend with


a shortage of all weather ports, restricted access to open


oceans, a lack of adequate air cover when the fleet


operates far from the Soviet homeland, and a shortage of


naval open-ocean replenishment ships. Consequently, Soviet


naval forces have significantly less military capability


when operated far from the Soviet homeland; a situation


vastly different from the American fleet."26





1Jean Labayle Couhat, ed., Combat Fleets of the World.

(Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1982),

p. 665.


2Richard Thomas Ackley, Soviet Maritime Power (Ann

Arbor, Michigan: Xerox University Microfilms, 1975),

p. 138.




4Sergie Gorshkov, Seapower of the State (Moscow:

Military Publishing House, 1976, pp. 253, 301,347, 353.


5G. Kostev, "Ships Combat Readiness", Soviet Military

Review, February 1981, p. 24.


6Ray Blackman, "Logistic Ships", Naval Forces, No. 1,

Vol II, 1981, p. 75.




8John E. Moore, ed., Warships of the Soviet Navy

(London: Janes Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 145-150.


9Couhat, pp. 778-808.



11Ibid., p. 665.


12Ibid., p. 669.


13Moore, p. 145.


14Couhat, p. 665.


15Ibid., p. 665.


16Ibid., p. 665.


17Ibid., p. 779.


18Ibid., p. 780.


19Arthur D. Baker, "Their Ship Types: Part III", U.S.

Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1984, p. 173.


20Ackley, p. 247.


21Baker, p. 167.


22Ackley, p. 245.


23Couhat, p. iv.


24Robert E. McKeown, "Their Merchant Fleet", U.S. Naval

Institute Proceedings, October 1984, p. 164.


25Ackley, p. 140.

26Ibid., p. 359.





Ackley, Richard Thomas. Soviet Maritime Power. Ann Arbor,

Michigan: Xerox University Microfilms, 1975.


Baker, Arthur D. "Their Ship Types: Part III". U.S.

Naval Institute Proceedings. October, 1984, pp.



Blackman, Ray. "Logistic Ships". Naval Forces. No. 1,

Vol. II, 1981, pp. 74-75.


Chant, Chris., ed. The World's Navies. Seacaucus, N.J.:

Chartwell Books, 1979.


Couhat, Jean Labayle., ed. Combat Fleets of the World

1982-83. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press,



Gorshkov, Sergie. Seapower of the State. Moscow:

Military Publishing House, 1976.


Hull, Andrew W. "Their Surface Forces". U.S. Naval

Institute Proceedings. October 1982, pp. 53-59.


Kostev, G. "Ships Combat Readiness". Soviet Military

Review. February 1981, pp. 24-26.


McKeown, Robert E. "Their Merchant Fleet". U.S. Naval

Institute Proceedings. October 1984, pp. 160-167.


Moore, John E., ed. Janes 1981-1982 Naval Annual. New

York: Janes Publishing Company, 1984.


Moore, John E., ed. Warships of the Soviet Navy. London:

Janes Publishing Company, 1984.


Polmar, Norman. "Their Missions and Tactics". U.S. Naval

Institute Proceedings. October 1984, pp. 34-44.


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