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Impact Of Logistics On The Soviet "Blue Water" Navy

Impact Of Logistics On The Soviet "Blue Water" Navy

 

CSC 1985

 

SUBJECT AREA Logistics

 

 

 

 

 

ABSTRACT

 

 

 

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.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

Topic Page

 

INTRODUCTION 1

 

U.S. AND SOVIET NAVY AUXILIARY FORCE:

A QUANTITATIVE COMPARISON 3

 

U.S. AND SOVIET NAVY AUXILIARY FORCE:

A QUALITATIVE: COMPARISON 7

 

THE SOVIET MERCHANT FLEET: A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE? 13

 

CONCLUSIONS 15

 

IMPACT OF LOGISTICS ON THE SOVIET "BLUE WATER" NAVY

 

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

 

MIDWATCH LOG ENTRY: 20 February 1984: USS "CLASSIFIED"

 

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.

 

 

MIDWATCH LOG ENTRY: 21 February 1984: USS "CLASSIFIED"

 

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

 

own.

 

U.S. AND SOVIET NAVY AUXILIARY FORCE: A QUANTITATIVE

 

COMPARISON

 

 

"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.

 

SOVIET NAVY AUXILIARY FLEET8

 

Type Class Number

1. Replenishment Ship Berezina, 12

 

2. Replenishment Tanker Dubna, Kazbek, 28

Uda, Altay, Olekma,

Pevek*

 

3. Munitions/Missile Lama, Modified 14

Andizhan**

 

 

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.

 

 

U.S. NAVY AUXILIARY FLEET9

 

Type Class Number

1. Replenishment Ship Sacramento, 20

Wichita, Mars

Lyness*

 

2. Replenisment Tanker Cimarron, Neosho* 21

Ashtabula, Mispillion*

Pevek*

 

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.

 

DISPLACEMENT COMPARISON10

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

Support

 

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.

 

 

U.S. AND SOVIET NAVY AUXILIARY FORCES: A QUALITATIVE

 

COMPARISON

 

 

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

 

includes:

 

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

 

includes:

 

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

 

includes:

 

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,

 

namely:

 

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.

 

THE SOVIET MERCHANT FLEET: A VARIABLE ALTERNATIVE?

 

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

 

alternative.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS:

 

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

 

FOOTNOTES

 

 

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.

 

3Ibid.

 

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.

 

7Ibid.

 

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

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

 

9Couhat, pp. 778-808.

10Ibid.

 

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.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

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.

168-174.

 

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,

1982.

 

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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