Submarines: The Last Kilo Limps Home


November 25, 2009: The Russian Black Sea Fleet suffered a major blow when its only operational submarine, a 19 year old Kilo class boat, broke down at sea on November 21st and limped back to port on partial power. The only other sub in the fleet, a 29 year old Tango class boat, it undergoing repairs (and appears likely to continue doing so for some time.)  During the Cold War, the Black Sea Fleet had thirty or more submarines.

The Black Sea Fleet is a pretty ragtag outfit, equipped with Cold War leftovers (the Kilo class sub was the youngest major ship it has). Most of the fifteen major surface ships are in need of repair, or not able to leave port at all. Some of the twenty minesweepers and missile equipped patrol boats date from the 1990s, but for the most part, the Black Sea Fleet is a rest home for Cold War relics.

The government recently ordered the navy to concentrate on building new ships for the Black and Baltic Seas, instead of planning a high seas aircraft carrier fleet. The Black Sea fleet has been continually declining since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. That decline was the result of new countries (like Ukraine and Georgia) inheriting old Soviet ships and bases. That was the dissolution deal. Whatever Soviet weapons or bases were normally were, belonged to one of the 14 new nations. Most of Russia’s high seas ships were based in northern Russia (the Northern fleet, based next to Finland and Norway) or the Far East (the Pacific fleet, based north of China and North Korea). But the Baltic and Black Sea fleets were largely based in ports that were now part of a foreign nation. Russia negotiated a lease on their large naval base in Sevastopol, but that lease expires in eight years, and is not going to be renewed. So Russia is building a new base to the east, on the Russian Black Sea coast.

For over a century, Russia had four fleets (Northern, Pacific, Baltic and Black Sea). The latter two were virtually destroyed by the dissolution. But now Russia is having political problems (largely caused by Russia) with Georgia and Ukraine, and could really use some additional (and modern) naval power. To a lesser extent, the same situation applies in the Baltic (where Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania harbored, and often built, many of the Soviet ships of the Baltic fleet.) Poland, while not part of the Soviet Union, was a major naval ally, as was East Germany. Thus the Baltic fleet is a fraction of what it once was, and needs rebuilding.





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