Tuesday, October 7, 2014

XLT: Admiral Viktor Chirkov Discusses Black Sea Fleet Issues

Admiral Viktor Viktorovich Chirkov - RF Navy Commander-in-Chief
(image courtesy if RIA Novosti)
(Translation of RIA Novosti interview with Admiral Chikrov)

RIA Novosti

Following the reunification of Crimea and Russia, only Russian ships and submarines will moor in the Black Sea Fleet's main base in Sevastopol. Russia will no longer make lease payments to Ukraine to base the Russian fleet in the City of Russian Glory. And now there is the question of expanding the presence of Black Sea Fleet ships in the Crimea by using facilities and bases once used by the Ukrainian Navy.

As part of the "Crimea Today" project, Sergey Safronov, head of RIA Novosti's defense editorial section, talked with RF Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Viktor Chirkov about the Russian Navy's plans for development of the Black Sea Fleet.

Comrade Commander-in-Chief, what missions does the Black Sea Fleet have under the new geopolitical conditions that have emerged?

— The missions remain unchanged. The primary ones — together with the navies of Black Sea states, to promote stability in the Black Sea and to ensure security for peaceful economic activities and shipping. But along with this, I would like to mention that we have the capability of executing these missions more effectively. Above all, we are now confident that developing the Black Sea Fleet and maintaining its fighting capabilities will occur in a programmatic manner, without any artificial impediments. We have always striven and will continue to strive to have a balanced Black Sea Fleet in terms of composition and combat capabilities so that it will be capable of executing missions to ensure the security of our southern maritime axes in its operational area of responsibility, as well as to effectively work together with the forces of other branches and services of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. These missions are not changing.

We are following this course while implementing the directives of the RF Minister of Defense and in an effort to execute a shipbuilding program in the interests of the Black Sea Fleet on a priority basis. For well-known reasons, the fleet was aging uncontrollably. Now we are putting an end to this destructive aging process, we are revitalizing our subsurface and surface forces, we are organizing the basing infrastructure for Black Sea Fleet forces in the Crimea, and we are reviving the ship repair system. And this will allow Black Sea Fleet sailors to effectively and fully carry out their missions in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, to include as part of the Mediterranean Sea standing operational group.

How will the Black Sea Fleet basing system be developed, and, specifically, will the purpose of the Novorossiysk basing point change?

— The "Creation of a Black Sea Fleet Basing System on RF Territory in 2005-2020" federal targeted program, which addresses the construction of a basing point for Black Sea Fleet ships and vessels in Novorossiysk, will be completed in full. Geoport, with its unique protective seawall, will become another basing point for Black Sea Fleet forces together with the basing of forces in the main base - in the city of Sevastopol. The Black Sea Fleet will have a truly integrated basing system on the Crimean Peninsula, which includes the Black Sea Fleet's main base - Sevastopol - and other basing points. This basing system and infrastructure will be self-sufficient; that is, able to provide for a full cycle that allows for the comfortable basing of surface ships, submarines, and coastal troops with corresponding social infrastructure facilities.

How will the Black Sea Fleet be augmented and revitalized over the coming years?

— In accordance with the military shipbuilding program, over the next six years about 30 combatant ships of various classes will join the Black Sea Fleet. I am talking about first-, second-, third- and fourth-rank ships and auxiliary vessels. And I am not talking about an unjustified build-up of forces. These are long overdue needs of the Black Sea Fleet, which has not been revitalized for many years.

By the end of the year, the Black Sea Fleet will receive two of six Project 636 submarines. These are the "Novorossiysk" and "Rostov-na-Donu" submarines. Also by the end of the year, we plan to raise the flag on the first of six Project 1135.6 escort ships, which are being built for the Black Sea Fleet. These ships can operate both independently and as part of a grouping of fleet forces. Ships of this class are ideally suited for Black Sea waters and for operations beyond its borders. For example, as part of the Navy's Mediterranean Sea standing operational group. Escort ships of this type are capable of effectively conducting counter-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden. Also joining the Black Sea Fleet will be six Project 22160 open-sea patrol ships, which are designed to carry out patrols to protect territorial waters, to patrol the 200-mile exclusive economic zone in open and closed seas, to protect ships and vessels during sea voyages, as well as to protect naval bases and water areas in order to warn of an attack by various enemy forces and means, to interdict illegal and pirate activities, to search for and render assistance to victims of maritime accidents, and to monitor the environment.

The Black Sea Fleet search and emergency rescue service has longed need to be revitalized and modernized. What is the Navy HQ planning to do in this area?

— The Black Sea Fleet rescue forces received a new rescue craft, which was built using a modular approach. It is attached to the Black Sea Fleet diver school (Sevastopol), which is part of the Navy Combined Training Center. On a side note, the Project 23370 modular craft is the Navy's first vessel to be built using a modular approach, and it provides new capabilities for search and rescue forces of the Navy as a whole and of the Black Sea Fleet in particular.

By the end of 2014, the Russian Navy's search and emergency rescue service is scheduled to have seven Project 23370 modular search and rescue craft in its inventory. In the near future, Navy rescuers will be equipped with a total of 12 such craft. By the end of this year, there will be six new auxiliary vessels to provide integrated support for operations by Black Sea Fleet surface and subsurface forces.

A topic of special concern for the Black Sea Fleet has always been hydrographic support for shipping safety. What is the situation like in this area now?

— The task of reestablishing regular hydrographic surveys in the Black Sea Fleet's operational zone in the interests of shipping safety has been long overdue. For these goals, the 10th Oceanographic Expedition of the Black Sea Fleet Hydrographic Service was established; three hydrographic vessels have already been assigned. By 2016 we plan to exclusively revitalize the inventory of hydrographic vessels in the Black Sea Fleet. I am talking about the introduction of new hydrographic vessels, and particularly of modern large hydrographic vessels, into the fleet.

What can Black Sea Fleet naval aviation expect?

— Black Sea Fleet naval aviation has received an opportunity to expand and restore its capabilities. We have begun to rearm the pool of aircraft. Replacing the SU-24 aircraft are the new SU-30MS. Robust repairs of existing Black Sea Fleet airborne vehicles (helicopters and aircraft) will allow us to achieve a level of 80% this year. That's not bad at all.

—  How will the NITKA facility be used?

— We have a clear understanding of the function and use of the training facilities (NITKA) at Saki and Yeysk. In Saki, we will train pilots of existing shipborne aircraft, while the new NITKA in Yeysk will be used for scientific research purposes and for studying new, advanced airborne vehicles. And there is logic to this. We have the opportunity to provide continuous pilot training and to use what currently exists for the future.

What is the situation with ship repairs for the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea?

— That is a standing topic — ship repairs in the Black Sea Fleet. The military ship repair system in Crimea is coming to life. Contracts are being signed.

We have an opportunity to fully exploit the capabilities of the "Black Sea Fleet 13th Shipyard (13 SRZ)" Federal State Unitary Enterprise (FSUE). After the well-known events of 1991, there were serious obstacles to repairing Black Sea Fleet ships. This significantly complicated how issues related to maintaining and restoring combat ships' technical readiness were solved.

For the 13 SRZ, in the near future we plan to have production areas, which meet modern requirements and technologies, to purchase new equipment, and to begin a phased replacement of machining workstations with the goal of servicing newer ships that will begin to join the Black Sea Fleet starting in 2014. These efforts are already underway. The shipyard has come back to life. As an example, the 13 SRZ in Sevastopol has already repaired a second Northern Fleet large antisubmarine warfare ship that was part of the Mediterranean Sea standing operational group. And the Black Sea Fleet submarine "Alrosa" is undergoing repairs at this same shipyard. Employee salaries have been brought up to a Russia-wide level. Any social strain has been lifted.

Based on its composition, the Black Sea Fleet should execute its missions, as intended, in full. And for this, it is necessary to boost the ship inventory to a commensurate level.