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Springtime of an Aircraft Carrier

December 5, 2007 a working meeting between Vladimir Putin and Minister of Defense Anatoliy Serdyukov took place in the Kremlin, the latter informed the president that the Russian Navy resumed its permanent presence in the oceans.

“Effective today and till February 3, 2008,” said Seryukov, “the cruise of Northern Fleet’s ships has been planed to the North-Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. The goal of the squadron is to provide naval presence and creating conditions for safe Russian shipping.”

At the end of the meeting Vladimir Putin wished seamen luck and sail on an even keel!

(An extract from a message received via communication link at HACC Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov).

Birth of a giant

On September 1, 1982, the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser (HACC) Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov was laid down at the slipways of Chernomorskiy Shipbuilding Yard in Nikolaev. In three years she was launched and in October 1989 the ship started factory sea trials. In the end of December 1990 the Navy command signed the acceptance act and on January 20, 1991 the ship hoisted the naval flag. This day became a starting point of the first aircraft carrier in the Russian naval history. Her building and commissioning required labor of thousands of people: designers, builders, naval seamen, etc. But let me tell you the HACC is worth of it, her length is about three hundred meters, and height from truck to keel is over sixty meters. The capacity of the power plant exceeds 200 thousand horse powers. Heaving the water displacement of 60 thousand tons Kuznetsov is the only aircraft carrier in the world capable to dispatch missions in the Arctic (her American opponents do not risk to go over the sixties).


The aircraft carrier on a long-distance cruise

Not saying of the hundreds of kilometers of cables and pipe lines. Seven decks, two platforms plus double bottom. Fascinating size of the aircrafts’ hangar. The total length of passageways makes up over twenty kilometers. Having no idea of the between-deck ladders layout it is much easier to be lost there than in unfamiliar city with a city map. Over two thousand rooms comprises numerous battle stations, command posts, cabins, cockpits, mess-rooms, crew's mess-rooms, bath stations, provision rooms, gyms and so on and so forth.

Briefly speaking for the moment of her launch the aircraft carrier became ultimate materialization of the last achievements of the Russian science and technology. Just short of three decades the country spent to have her in the oceans...

«I know you...»

Frankly speaking, prior to this cruise of Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov into the Mediterranean I did not keep records on how often did I visit her and made newspaper articles about her cruises…

In July 1991 it happened for the first time when the aircraft carrier was moored at the outer roads of Sevastopol. We the cadets of Lvov’s Politico-Military Academy couple of days before the trip on board of school ship Perekop went for the excursion to the aircraft carrier. What was the first impression? The ship amazed by her size, strength and elegancy of the construction. Sharp aroma of factory paint was still strong inside, the ship shined by holystoned copper, was grand in the navy way, glossy and triumphant. In other words she was spick-and-span.

Our second meeting took place up in the North on the last Sunday of July of the year 1992, on the regular Navy Day celebration. That day became particular for Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov as well as for other ships of the Navy as the navy flag of the USSR was replaced by the flag with St. Andrew’s cross and Russian Federation jack flag.

All in all I was under impression that the great part of Kuznetsov’s crew considered the events of that specific day rather philosophically. There were reasons for that: from the moment of the keel laid down at shipyard’s slipways till docking in polar town of Vidyaevo the HACC was renamed twice as if foreseeing every new epoch of our country. At first the ship was named Leonid Brezhnev later Tbilisi… And now the replacement of flags at the stern flag-staff occurred. Did it mark the end of the changes for Kuznetsov’s crew? Or it was yet to be considered that Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov being an Admiral had served the Soviet Union with the situation when any memories of the latter were to be forgotten at any rate. However the crew believed the fact of flag replacement was not to become the only milestone in continuation of the Russian Navy chronicle full of heroism and deeds of high resolve. The crew proved to be right!

The following life history of the aircraft carrier is the speaking proof of it. Her cruising miles are the vivid pages of country’s history.

When size matters

In January 1996 aircraft carrier multipurpose group of the Northern Fleet comprising heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, destroyer Besstrashniy (Fearless), escort ship Pylkiy (Ardent) and other Mobile Logistics Type Ships entered the Mediterranean, passed Morocco, Algeria and finally anchored off Tunisia. In the meantime one of the Russian tankers supporting the group anchored close off the shore of one of the northern African countries. Suddenly the aircraft received a radio from the tanker that local coastal guard considered the tanker had entered marginal waters circled it with the motor boats and intended to tow the tanker in port.

Navigation officers of the aircraft carrier once again scrutinized tanker’s location and confirmed: no violation of marginal waters took place. The Command of the group via international communication link spelled out the situation to the “heated” opponents. Yet the latter impressed by the tremendous size of the Russian aircraft carrier, fighters secured at the flight-deck chilled out promptly and admitted the tanker “indeed made no trespassing” of this north African state. “Sorry, our mistake!”

“This is another example,” said the participants of that cruise on board of Kuznetsov, “that clearly shows that our presence in the oceans can assist in solving of many geopolitical issues”. In this connection aircraft-carrying fleet and ship-based aircrafts are quite convincing arguments.

The most powerful nation…

In October 2004 the aircraft carrier group (ACG) of the Northern Fleet under former Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice-admiral Vladimir Dobroskochenko upon successful completion of long-haul cruise tasks returned in Severomorks.

A month-long cruise in the North-Eastern Atlantic, Norwegian and Barentz Seas of Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov accompanied by auxiliary and support crafts resulted in over five thousand nautical miles. The pilots of ship-based fighter aviation had performed over ninety take-offs and deck landings in SU-25UTG and SU-33 aircrafts. The crews of two helicopter squadrons of rotor-driven Ka-29, Ka-27PL and Ka-27PS had carried out fifteen flight shifts.

As Vice-admiral Dobroskochenko then said “eventually the crews of the Northern Fleet marked their presence in the usual regions of the long-haul cruises essential for Russia from economical and geopolitical standpoints. In other words ACG returned from the oceans that always witnessed our presence”.

“The fall in the Northern Atlantic is rather difficult time with regard to the weather conditions,” noticed Deputy Commander for Aviation of ACG yet Colonel that time Nikolai Kuklev. “The flights sometimes were carried out under conditions on the verge of allowable regulations limits. We were flying so to say without alternate aerodrome with other air fields in foreign states planned for emergency cases situated at the edge of aircraft limit. Therefore the carrier-borne fighters were used at a maximum range. And yet nine years before while the first cruise of Kuznetsov into the Mediterranean the foreign partners had a free hand in flybys over the aircraft carrier and this time not a single foreign ship or aircraft came close without our authorization”.

According to Kuklev the aircrews of the separate ship-borne fighters’ wing gained invaluable experience in aerobatic flights and air-to-air combats. Such an experience is to be increased further as the fact remains "the most powerful nation is the nation that has the strongest fleet".

Deck life

In September 2005 the ACG returned to Severomorsk prior to the scheduled date. Having covered four and a half thousand nautical miles in the Northern Atlantic it had performed over twenty drills including gun and missile firing exercises and conjoint practice with the Baltic Fleet. The pilots of ship-borne SU-25UTG and SU 33 aircrafts performed over fifty take-offs and deck landings. The crews of helicopter anti-submarine wing at Ka-27PL and Ka-27PS had carried out three flight shifts.

Save for the accident occurred on September 5, when SU-33 fighter run off the deck and sunk in the Northern Atlantic at a depth of 1100 meters due to the break of the arresting wire the results of the air exercises of the ACG could have been more impressive.

Investigation of the aircraft accident had occurred at Kuznetsov was performed by special committee of experts from the Ministry of Defense. Apart from the committee on board of the HACC there were the representatives of Sukhoi design bureau and factories that had supplied the ship with arresting gear and wires.

The Head of Air Force Flight Safety Division Major General Sergei Bainetov recognized emergency behavior of SU-33 pilot Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Korneev. "Should on land the pilot has seconds to make a decision then on deck the count give fractions of a second, just instants to take the only true decision. The Lieutenant Colonel Korneev successfully abandoned the fighter”.

”The crew of the aircraft carrier showed high skills, did not loose head,” further said Sergei Dmitrievich, “as the plane crushed from the deck into the sea there was a real threat to get the plane and the pilot under propeller screws. However the watch crew did their best and put the rudder over and avoided collision with the sinking aircraft".

That day on September 5, 2005 the 1st grade military pilot Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Korneev an experience carrier pilot, flew a fighter with side number 82 he was expected to perform an ordinary carrier landing. That was his forty second landing. At first everything was routine: jerk of the arrester, dramatic speed drop but in the end of the roll-on the plane did not stop and simply run off the deck. Yuri Anatolievich had nothing to do but eject himself from the aircraft. No alternatives. The hope was for catapult seat that jerked him into the sky and for … the Lord. The pilot spent in the sea not more than five minutes.

"Thanks to helimen who recovered me quickly from the water,” said Korneev, “So alive and kicking, no scratches. Sorry for the plane. Excellent and reliable. I’m thankful to men who created the plane. It gave me a chance to save life”.

The brave pilot was in high spirits and intended to serve in the ship-borne aviation further and indeed to fly.

"I’m followed by young officers. Who is going to teach them in case I leave? What is important it is their confidence in myself as a pilot. At the same time they should not think necessary to remain in the cockpit until the last moment. As my first wing commander used to say "till the waves splash over the canopy,” tells Korneev.

Already now in the long-haul cruise of Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov into the Mediterranean Deputy Commander of the separate ship-borne fighters’ wing Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Korneev not once took off from the carrier’s deck into the skies over the Atlantic and Mediterranean in the cockpit of SU-25UTG and SU 33 planes.

Is the money worth spending?

The last cruise into the Mediterranean of the Northern Fleet ACG with the aircraft carrier in the lead as it was expected caused wide political and public response both in Russia and abroad. Should we got used to negative assessment of western political analysts with regard to strengthening of the Russian Navy in the oceans then the statements of some experts that “there is no reason to send the fleet into the Mediterranean with the presence of two US fleets there” in the homeland sound rather weird. And what is more the Russian International Radio reported that a Deputy of the State Duma had announced that he considered Navy exercises in the Atlantic as unpractical, “We should have spent the allocated funds on something else rather than for the exercises.”

For us on board of the carrier at sea such statements sounded at least ridiculous if not absurd. That is why I addressed the commander of the ACG Rear-admiral Alexander Turilin awarded with The Military Achievements and The Naval Achievements Orders to explain the public what objective was pursued by sending out such a large detachment of the Northern Fleet into the Mediterranean.

Alexander Vasilievich is from Novorossiysk. He graduated from the Caspian Naval College decorated with the Order of the Red Banner and named for Sergey Kirov. All his service is related to surface ships of the Northern Fleet. Senior navigation officer of destroyers’ brigade, first officer and later destroyer’s commanding officer. Further on he commanded heavy guided-weapon nuclear-powered cruiser Admiral Nakhimov and of course HACC Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov.

On repeated occasions he visited the Mediterranean in 1995-1996 as executive officer for combat control of Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov. After being assigned to the post of commanding officer of the carrier in the beginning of the century in the tough years for the Russian ship repair industry in one of the interviews he said that was looking forward to cruise on board if the ship to the midlatitudes.

The dream finally came true although Alexander Vasilievich was the commander of a division of guided weapon ships at the moment.

As a Rear-admiral Alexander Turilin said “This region of the World Ocean is the traditional location for the Northern fleet for dispatching missions. Over thirty years the naval and auxiliary ships served here defending country’s interests. Here now upon considerable break the ACG of the Northern Fleet with Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov in the lead is honored to fly the flag with St. Andrew’s cross over the Mediterranean again. This demonstrates that Russia as before possesses the strong and what is more the modern surface fleet and highly professional ship-borne aviation capable to meet any challenges and potential threats from terrorism and piracy against shipping in the Mediterranean and impose stability in this strategic region as a whole”.

Storming the Atlantic

The Northern Atlantic met the ACG with sea disturbance of 5 grade intensity and 28 m/s blasts of wind. Should the rocking of the aircraft carrier with 60 thousand tons of water displacement was notable then you can imagine how severe it was for the large submarine-hunting ships Admiral Levchenko, Admiral Chabanenko, tanker Sergei Osipov, and tugboat Nikolai Chiker at the long Atlantic waves. But the trained crew did not cherish any illusions regarding weather conditions in the Atlantic in the month of December.

With respect to Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov with ACG’s command on board her crew was doing well having no one seasick and not a single record in the carrier’s medical log. The crew was busy with the daily routine keeping the watch. It used to happen that someone refused to eat during such stormy weather but not this time when seamen ate everything cooked by the sea-cooks with gargantuan appetite.

There is a sea joke. The sea can bear tough guys and the tough guys like to fill their maws. The guys showed themselves as real sailors in every respect”, said deputy commanding officer of the ACG for education, captain of the 1st rank Sergey Subora, “In spite of the fact the waves splashed over the seventeen meters high ski-ramp of the carrier the crew, hardware, and mechanisms of Kuznetsov were doing well“.

The floating town

Certainly the main value of the carrier is her crew comprising officers and midshipmen who gave ten, fifteen or even seventeen years of their lives to the carrier. The body of several thousand strong is fully devoted to their ship literally from the moment of the carrier’s birthday. Together with the ship they experienced economic crises, empty pockets and understuff that severely hit not only the “steel” but people as well. There were times of nothing to repair, nothing to keep the families, nobody to command. The crew and the carrier learned together the joy of the “open sea” and felt the bitter taste of being moored to the pier for many years.

The ship and the crew. They are so similar and so inseparable from each other – one fate, one way into the sea to gain feat and glory!

The first meeting of the current captain of the carrier captain of the 1st rank Alexander Shevchenko occurred over ten years ago in September 1997 when Alexander arrived on board of Kuznetsov to continue his naval carrier as the commander radio-radar unit of the ship.


The helicopters in the parade line

”The size of the cruiser that was the most impressive”, recalls Alexander Petrovic, “It differed dramatically from those I got used to while my service at large submarine-hunting ship Admiral Nakhimov, destroyers Rastoropniy (Dexterous) and Besstrashniy. The ship is the real school of life and a sort of springboard for those officers dreaming of the true naval career and high professionalism. We can proudly name such men on board: executive officer captain of the 1st rank Vyacheslav Rodionov, deputy commanding officer for aviation Colonel Yuriy Anischenko, commander of ship’s communication branch captain of the 2nd rank Pavel Kuznetsov, commander of ship’s aircraft branch captain of the 2nd rank Alexander Misa and many others.

Moreover the service at the sole aircraft carrier in the Russian Navy for the majority of young officers and midshipmen, member on contract, petty officers and seamen as itself can be considered as self-esteem as a real seaman and man. Alexander Petrovich said that while a long-haul cruise he received a letter from a woman full of pride for her son serving at Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov. In her letter she wrote that had seen a report in the TV news regarding the activities of the ACG in the Mediterranean. She wished good luck all the crew and happy return home. Indeed such things are always pleasant to get.

”Our carrier is a small floating town: thousands of people lives and characters, problems and joys,” says captain of the 1st rank Alexander Shevchenko, “To be the commander of such ship at one hand is incredibly troublesome but a great honor in the other hand”.

Talking with Alexander Petrovich I just recalled the statements in the high circles saying “unfortunately we’re not ready and capable to maintain and service such ships.” Probably now we learned the main thing i.e. to understand this ship and even more so to love her. I can not say about ten years she was fondled less figuratively speaking. Well that time a series of seamen and pilots served at the carrier who considered the service as pride and prestige. But the last cruise apparently changed the attitude to the ship, increased the skills of the crew. Now everyone who has crossed the Atlantic and Mediterranean on board of Kuznetsov can say that the carrier is his home!

The crew is our family!

Lieutenant Colonel Sergey Mironenko deputy commander of the 830th separate ship-borne anti-submarine helicopter wing of Northern Fleet Air Force said that his first acquaintance with the deck Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov occurred in 1991 when the carrier was still in the process of factory trials in Sevastopol. Rather experienced helicopter pilot at that time he was amazed as anybody else though with the size of the carrier. He never saw such a ship although performed several cruises on board of air carrying ships Kiev and Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov.

Sergei Ivanovich says that he felt she was a real aircraft carrier. There were no frictions and difficulties with the crew. Nice persons, experienced seamen with outstanding competence. In the first instance he says of the crews of communication, electromechanic, aircraft and radio-radar ship’s branches that guarantee the flights. Everything done by them is highly professional. With regard to the unity of the ship’s crew and aircrafts personnel Sergey says the helicopters’ crews are of high standing. He is sure the helimen had never been the outsiders at the ship and never will.

According to the commander of 279th separate ship-borne fighter wing of Northern Fleer Air Force Colonel Igor Matkovskiy the pilots and ship’s crew works as a team. About forty percent of flights of the previous and present cruise were done from the carrier.

”I consider the normal work with professional cooperation can be obtained when everything goes like in a well know navy song The crew is our family,” Igor Feoktistovich said. The wish to Kuznetsov can be only one, he says, for us to not hop to the carrier for the cruises or other planned flights only but to return on board quicker from deport airfields. As the fate of the fighter wing is fully dependable on the ship and her longevity.

Aircraft head Major General Nikolai Kuklev deputy commander of Kuznetsov’s Air Force and Air Defense confesses that this is the part of his life and probably its greater part. For twenty seven years he remains a heliman of the Northern Fleet the fleet that became home for the aircraft carrier since 1991.

Nilolai Viktorovich says “I’m with her since. I took part in all long-haul cruises and practices in the Barents Sea. Moscow is the place of my service now but our fates apparently interlaced so much that she still keeps me close. As for the age of the ship then seventeen years is not much for an aircraft carrier. I would say youth. Besides she becomes better over the years. You may ask how. At first it is her technical condition of course. Right now it is much better than before.”

According to Kuklev it was apparently a disease of the nineties that progressed in the governance that questioned the necessity of the carriers. Even the Navy officials declared that “we leave the oceans and come to a coastal navy”. Corvette navy so to say. “Why do we need the World Ocean, what national interests can be pursued there, what goals to be set for the carriers?”

Fortunately the situation has changed now. Today everybody realized that Russia as the great naval power needs the Navy. What kind of modern navy should be? Air-carrying of course!

We can do nothing but recall the legendary carrier pilot Hero of the Russian Federation Major General Timur Apakidze who said that “the country traveled painfully long way in development of aircraft carriers and without them nowadays the Navy simply loose its significance.” Aircrafts at sea are the most formidable enemy for the surface ships and especially for atomic-powered submarines.” That is why “without fighters’ coverage we’ll not be able to provide for full stability for both guided-missile ships and attack submarines”. Timur Avtadinovich was convinced that if we want to stay a nation not a population as it is expected overseas then Russia desperately needs aircraft carriers. Then our man task for today is to retain Kuznetsov as transitional ship, her aircrews, technical engineer personnel, seamen who experienced in managing the aircraft carrier. As in several years they will be worth their weight in gold. Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov “when at last we raise ourselves from the knees” will let the country to create mighty air carrying fleet capable “to defend interests of the nation in any region of the World Ocean”.

The interview of western naval experts in The Navy Times evaluated the cruise of aircraft carrier group of the Northern Fleet into the Mediterranean as “one of many steps taken by the Russian government to expand their military presence world-wide that reflects the growing economical and military strength of the country”.

Source: The Red Star (Krasnaya Zvezda). Author: Sergei Vasiliev
Text translated by: RusNavy