NORTHERN FLEET SAILS OUT

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Vyacheslav Gudkov Kommersant, September 23, 2002, p. 6

An update on the exercises of the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea.

Planned exercise of the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea lasted over a week. The first large sortie after the sinking of the Kursk ends tomorrow. Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov is personally present to evaluate combat readiness of the fleet.

Tragic sinking of the Kursk halted fully-fledged combat training and large sorties of the Northern Fleet. The fleet spent autumn 2000 assisting in the salvage operation and the following summer and autumn it assisted the operation where the submarine was lifted from the seabed. The fleet was decapitated in late 2001 when eleven admirals and senior officers including Fleet Commander Vyacheslav Popov and Chief-of-Staff Mikhail Motsak were sacked. In 2002, forces of the Northern Fleet lifted fragments of the first compartment of the submarine from the seabed.

Reduction of the Northern Fleet within the framework of reorganization of the Armed Forces kept the military busy these last two years. Two leading submarine flotillas became squadrons, enabling the Northern Fleet to get rid of old submarines and surplus infrastructure. A directive of the Navy Main Command transformed the 3rd Nuclear Submarine Flotilla in the garrison of Gadzhiyevo into the 12th Squadron comprising modern multipurpose nuclear submarines of Bars type.

This April the Northern Fleet organized its first more or less serious sortie after the sinking of the Kursk. The exercise did not involve many ships, however, and lasted only two days. The exercise under way involves virtually all seaworthy surface combatants and submarines. The list includes Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered missile cruiser, Marshal Ustinov missile cruiser, Admiral Chabanenko and Severomorsk large ASW ships, nuclear and diesel submarines, aircraft and helicopters, missile units of the coast troops, marines, and tenders. Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft-carrier cruiser is the only major surface combatant that is not involved. It is being repaired at the Sevmorput facility in Murmansk.

The exercise was commanded by Admiral Gennadi Suchkov. This is his first large exercise in the capacity of Northern Fleet commander. The performance was monitored by Kuroyedov who flew to Severomorsk in the middle of last week. The Navy Main Command inspected the fleet after a series of resignations last year, and performance of the Northern Fleet was found inadequate. These days, Kuroyedov wants to see combat readiness of the fleet with his own eyes, to see that previous mistakes have been corrected and the Northern Fleet is adequate again.

Kuroyedov boarded the Pyotr Veliky and sailed out last Thursday to monitor performance of the Northern Fleet. This correspondent was told at the fleet headquarters that elements of the exercise (including ASW missions and missile and torpedo shooting practice) would be specified by Kuroyedov himself. How the Northern Fleet performed will become clear when results of the exercise are summed up.

According to what information the Kommersant has compiled, the Gepard submarine participates in the exercise too. The latest multipurpose submarine, it was commissioned last December. Submarines of Project 949, of which the Kursk was one, are also involved. A well-informed source claims that a submarine was supposed to launch some guided missiles. Flawless performance might have earned the submarine the prize of Russian Navy Commander annually awarded to the best combat ready units of the Navy. The Kursk was awarded one such prize, For the Best Shot at a Naval Target, posthumously.

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