Russia’s only missile range instrumentation ship (the Marshal Krylov) returned to service October 19th, after a year of refurbishment in a yard on Russia’s Pacific coast. Also known as tracking ships, the Marshal Krylov is a 23,000 ton vessel carrying radars and antennae capable of tracking warheads from missiles being tested and capturing data broadcast from instruments in the missile as it plunged toward its aim point in the ocean.
The Marshal Krylov is the last of eight tracking ships the Soviet Union had in service in 1991. In the early 1990s all but the Marshal Krylov were scrapped, mainly because the Marshal Krylov had entered service in 1989, and best able to survive over a decade of relative inactivity. A tracking ship is expensive to operate, as it carried a crew of 400 and a lot of expensive and costly to maintain electronics. There was not much work for Marshal Krylov in the 1990s, but now there are a lot more tests over the Pacific.
The U.S. introduced the first missile tracking ship in the late 1950s, and currently has two in service. The U.S. has the advantage of controlling a lot of islands in the Pacific, several of which have been equipped to track missile tests. During the time Marshal Krylov was laid up for repairs, Russia could only test ballistic missiles over land, at less than maximum range, in order to record needed test data. But with Marshal Krylov back in action and updated, Russia is test firing its ICBMs at full range and into little-used areas of the Pacific Ocean.