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Other SSV class ships

During the Cold War a variety of small types of trawlers were converted to SSV [Sudno Svyazyy = Communications Vessel] electronic surveillance ships.

During the Cold War the Soviet Union developed a program of converting ocean going fishing trawlers outfitted as electronic intelligence platforms or AGI vessels. By the late 1970s the latest Soviet spy ships also carried "jamming" equipment. At least 100 of these were scattered among the trawlers (tral'shchiki) that prowled the seven seas.

The United States Navy could not demand exclusive rights on the high sees when its exercises excited the curiosity of Russian "trawlers" operating as intel collectors (AGI). US and Allied vessels found it difficult to maneuver unobserved by Soviet vessels. Soviet spy ships in fishing guise monitored US naval activities around the world. It was not unusual to observe a Soviet AGI in trail of US aircraft carriers off the East Coast.

Fishing vessels are designed to locate, catch, and preserve fish while out at sea. The planned operations of a vessel determine the overall size of the vessel, the arrangement of the deck, carrying capacity, as well as the machinery and types of equipment that will be supported by the vessel.

Trawling is the most important and one of the most efficient fishing methods in the world. Today, commercial trawling is carried out from very shallow waters up to a depth of 2000 m. These deep water vessels are provided with engines of sufficient power to tow the gear at the appropriate trawling speed. Trawlers drag funnel-shaped trawl nets through the water to catch fish. The size and deck layout of trawler vessels vary with differences in gear. For example, modern trawlers can range from the 15 m (50 ft) shrimp trawlers used in the Gulf of Mexico to the 144 m (472 ft) F/V Atlantic Dawn, the worlds largest freezer (factory) trawler. Three common types of trawlers are side trawler, stern trawler and an outrigger trawler.

By the 1980s the Pacific Ocean was the USSRs premier fishing ground. Soviet fishing vessels regularly operated around its rim off the coasts of New Zealand, Peru, and Chile, over scattered points in mid-ocean, and just outside foreign coastal zones. The Pacific provided one-half of the USSR's total annual ocean catch. During the 1970s fish provided about 15 percent of the animal protein in the Soviet diet. This food source assumed increasing importance.

Since the catch was obtained without the massive hard currency expenditures associated with grain imports. The fishing grounds off the north Asian coast remained the most important for the Soviets, producing some four-fifths of the annual Pacific Ocean catch. Soviet operators did not use their motherships or huge stern trawlers in their own coastal fisheries, for there are adjacent ports, anchorages, facilities and markets close by.

Because of its size and equipment, the Soviet Pacific fishing fleet brought with it military and intelligence capabilities. The fleets travels, for example, put it into position to implant navigation and surveillance devices, collect communications and radar signals, monitor foreign ships and aircraft, and reprovision naval vessels should the need arise. Russian trawlers in the Indian Ocean are considered to be disguised supply ships servicing Russian submarines in the area.

The repeated return of Seviet fishing and fisheries research vessels to isolated Pacific regions in the face of declining catches there suggested the use of the fishing fleets for scientific research, communications and navigation work. military support, or intelligence gathering.

The frequent appearance of Russian trawlers in areas where naval exercises are being conducted or in waters where Western military research activity is being carried out, indicated that the Soviet Union was carrying out intensive intelligence-gathering operations. Some of the intelligence gathering and military support missions that elements of the fishing fleet were known to conduct:

  • Collection of communications and electronic intelligence.
  • Visual monitoring of the activities of foreign ships and aircraft.
  • Visual and electronic observation of Allied naval almost all parts of the Pacific.

Subject to cooptation by the Soviet Navy, fishing vessels were used to collect communications and radar signals and to observe foreign ships at sea and also while in foreign ports. The larger ships in the fleet the factory ships and the tankers could resupply naval ships if the need arises. The trawlers, with their stern ramps, could be modified for minelaying and towing arrays of sensors. The maximum speed of the latest Russian trawlers is estimated to be of the order of 1719 knots. The great 539W majority have design speeds of less than 15 knots.

Research vessels were used in the same manner. Fisheries research ships collect oceanographic information that is useful for military planning. The submersiblcs carried by some of these ships could be used to implant seabed surveillance and navigation devices and to tap communications cables although there was no evidence that the Soviets had done this, nor that they even had the capability to tap underwater cables. The sophisticated instrumentation on Soviet oceanographic research vessels could provide information on ocean temprature differences for use by Soviet submarines.

By the late 1950s NATO deployed buoys for the collection of environmental data, but they were equipped with additional sensing devices such as radar and sonar and radio-equipment for the transmission of recorded environmental and non-environmental information. The Soviet Union responded to these NATO efforts by installing a similar buoy system of surveillance along the sea passages stretching from Greenland to the UK (the so-called Greenland-Iceland-UK/GIUK Gap). These installations became the subject of CIA studies as its purpose was precisely to monitor the movement of nuclear submarines. Soviet trawlers were also busy sabotaging or stealing Western allies' buoys.

To supplement defense of the flanks of the continent, in teh 1950s the zus Navy provided radar picket ships and flew early warning airplanes and blimps, while the Air Force flew sentry aircraft and also emplaced four radar towers, called Texas Towers, out in the Atlantic.

After Texas Tower 4 collapsed in January 1961 during a storm, carrying 29 men to their deaths, USAF ADC set up standards for evacuating the other two towers whenever they were threatened by severe weather. The other two, TT-2 on Georges Bank and TT-3 on Nantucket Shoals, were to be evacuated whenever seas higher than 35 feet were forecast, or when winds reached 50 knots if they were forecast to go to 70 knots. The first evacuation of the towers under these criteria was made on 19 September 1961, and several more took place before the end of the year. Evacuations continued in 1962.

Total evacuation of the towers raised its own problems, however, one of which resulted from their location in international waters. Soviet trawlers could not be kept from the area legally. Often when the towers were evacuated, Russian trawlers would move in quite close, raising the specter of the Russians boarding the towers and claiming them as salvage. For this reason, the Coast Guard was called on during the latter part of 1962 to patrol the area around evacuated towers and prevent their being boarded.

ADC declared TT-2 excess to its needs as of 1 January 1963. The next day, the JCS authorized immediate deactivation. TT-2 was deactivated 15 January 1963. TT-3 was to remain on standby status with a seven-man crew until it was replaced by aircraft.

The Soviet trawler fleets were constantly at sea in close proximity to US and allied territorial waters, fitted with electronic and technical equipment for the purpose of testing radar and intercepting radio transmissions. They are always patrolling where British or NATO naval exercises were taking place. The American, British and others rather disliked seeing the trawlers hanging about to see what they can pick up, but they were legal, and, under international law, they had no right to drive them away or arrest them, and certainly not to sink them.

Larisa Brown and David Williams reported in the Daily Mail 17 March 2015 that "Russia has deployed a fleet of spy trawlers off the British coast to intercept military communications.... Lord West of Spithead said Russian espionage had soared to a worrying level as president Vladimir Putin ordered more acts of provocation.... Equipped with hi-tech surveillance, the converted fishing boats have been seen in the international waters of the North Sea by Nato aircraft. Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said It was quite a tense business during the Cold War and now it is winding up again and it is very worrying. They seem to have... increased espionage, which raises tension."

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Page last modified: 02-12-2019 17:59:20 ZULU