Surface Forces: March 26, 2004


: Russian navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov ordered the Northern Fleet's nuclear-powered flagship "Peter the Great" into port for repairs, as it was in such a poor state that "it may blow up any minute". Kuroyedov made this alarming statement in a smoking room enroute to a meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin, having come to the conclusion after visiting the vessel last week. Three hours later, Kuroyedov was back peddling and saying that the that media reports had nothing to do with reality and that the ship, a Kirov class battlecruiser,  would be ready in three weeks, after the crew quarters had been overhauled.

During the strategic naval training program in January-February 2004, the missile cruiser's crew received excellent marks and the ship's commander Vladimir Kasatonov was awarded the title of rear-admiral. So if crew competence and the ship's condition aren't the real problems, what is? While Kuroyedov could have exaggerated the problems in order to get more funding for the Navy, the real naval battle appears to be political backbiting. 

Kasatonov blamed Kuroyedov for the sinking of the K-159 decommissioned nuclear submarine in August 2003. Admiral Gennady Suchkov was charged with dereliction of duty for allowing the K-159 to leave port, despite predictions of heavy weather but Kasatonov offered testimony that absolved Suchkov as the responsible party in the accident (contrary to what Kuroyedov wanted). By giving Kasatonov a black eye, Kuroyedov devalues any testimony he might offer. 

Furthermore, Kuroyedov doesn't get along with retired Admiral Igor Kasatonov (who is still a political power and just happens to be Vladimir Kasatonov's uncle). Kuroyedov also faced harsh criticism for his role in the August 2000 explosion of the Kursk nuclear submarine and the death of 118 sailors, after which many expected him to be fired. 

The  "Peter the Great", the Northern fleets newest nuclear operated battlecruiser,  has two reactors built with 1960's technology, and has been haunted by accidents and problems ever since it's 1989 launch. A number of construction defects has kept the cruiser in dry-dock for repairs for much of it's time after joining the Northern fleet in November 1996. The most lethal incident was on October 27 1996, while on a test cruise in the Baltic Sea there was a break of one of the high-pressured pipelines in the bow engine room: five crewmen were killed and a number wounded, but the navy was quick to disassociate that problem from the reactor.

Perhaps the 28,000 ton "Peter the Great" is simply a Jonah (or cursed ship). It is powered by the KN-3 (OK-900) nuclear reactors with VM-16 type reactor cores used in Russian surface vessels were designed based on experience gained from nuclear icebreakers and are almost identical to used in the Arktika class icebreakers. The main problem with Peter the Great and the other ships of the Kirov class,  is the lack of properly equipped naval bases and facilities for servicing these reactors. 

The Kirov class ships are 828 feet long and lack of funds saw the  construction of the "Peter the Great" stretched out over ten years. One of four Kirov Class battlecruisers (arguably the last battleships still in service), the first was laid down in 1974. Construction and design flaws have led to two of these ships being stuck in port for years, and are likely to be scrapped. Each ship carries 20 large Shipwreck anti-ship missiles (designed to take out American carriers), 16 surface to air missile launchers (12 SA-N-6, two each SA-N-4 and SA-N-9), and eight 30mm anti-cruise missile guns. There are two launchers for SS-N-14 anti submarine missiles, ten torpedo tubes and depth charge launchers. Each ship carries a crew of 610. The ships carry extensive radar and electronic warfare equipment.  - Adam Geibel

The Russian Northern Fleet Nuclear-powered vessels, online at:


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