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Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Russian Navy: Keystone Sailors Running Aground

Reuters reports that the Russian "navy" is slipping slowly beneath the waves:

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A spate of mishaps in Russia's navy has exposed the gap between the Kremlin's ambition of restoring lost military might and the reality of temperamental equipment and badly paid crews.

The navy suffered the double humiliation on Thursday of a fire on a nuclear-powered submarine that killed two crew members and a failed missile test launch.

"The Russian Navy is equipped for parading itself in front of President Vladimir Putin but underneath, there is still a dilapidated infrastructure," said Igor Kudrik, chief submarine expert with the Oslo-based Bellona environmental group.

Russia's submarine fleet -- the second largest in the world after the United States and a key part in Russia's nuclear defense shield -- has been especially accident-prone.

An electrical fire on board an attack submarine in the Barents Sea killed two crew who were trying to put it out. The navy's commander-in-chief said the vessel was overdue for scheduled repairs.

Hours later, a prototype inter-continental missile launched from a submarine in the Pacific Ocean fell back into the sea. The Bulava missile is a flagship project intended as an equivalent to the U.S. Trident, local media reported.

The Kremlin is splurging cash on its military, with the biggest increase in hardware spending. But that is not enough, said Ruslan Pukhov, Director of Moscow military think tank CAST.

"The main problems of the .. navy, including the submarine fleet, is not the equipment, but personnel," he said.

"There is not enough training for crews, they are not at sea very much and they are paid little. Technical accidents, for the most part, stem from the human factor."

The navy has caused Putin personal embarrassment. When the Kursk submarine sank six years ago, killing all 118 crew, he was accused of being uncaring because he did not immediately break off his holiday.

In 2004, Putin dressed up in a military-style outfit to watch a huge missile-firing exercise in the Barents Sea. But one ICBM failed to launch from a submarine.

Navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov was dismissed last year. His replacement, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, pledged a radical shake-up. But he too has been dogged by mishaps.

The Jamestown Foundation has more.

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