The White Sea and the Barents Sea have been of importance to the Russian merchant fleet ever since the 15th century. Because of this, Russias Navy has always been an important part of the Russian Military. The matter of access to ice free harbors in the north became even more important after Germany became a significant naval power in the Baltic Sea. Events during World War I increased the importance of the Kola Peninsula to Russia very much. The Kola Peninsula and the White sea played an vital role in the movement of military supplies to Russia. A naval force dedicated especially to the northern region was established shortly after the outbreak of World War I.
This fleet is now know as The Northern Fleet. The Northern Fleet, formerly known as the Soviet Fleet of the Northern Seas, was officially established by Joseph Stalin during his visit to Polyarny during the summer of 1933. Prior to the outbreak of WWII, the fleet consisted of eight destroyers, 15 diesel-powered submarines, a formation of patrol boats, mine sweepers and some smaller vessels. During the time when Russia was involved in WWII(1941-1945), the harbors and ports in Kola were key to the Soviet Union. In the south, material from allied countries traveled by the railways, but in the north, many new ships were given to the northern fleet to protect the ships transporting goods. Although this increased the amount of ships in the fleet greatly, by the end of the Russian involvement, many of these ships had been destroyed.
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By the end of the war, the United States Navy had become considerably larger and more powerful than the Soviet Unions. In order to catch up with the Americans head start, the Soviet Union began to build a large naval force of its own. The building of the ships didnt end until the end of the 1950s. WWIIs use of submarines had shown the tactical and strategic possibilities of this weapon. However, the diesel submarines were severely handicapped because they couldnt remain permanently submerged. This means that it must spend long periods of time on the surface running the diesel engines, in order to charge the batteries which powered the vessel when submerged. This dilemma caused the beginning of the nuclear powered submarine.
The course was officially adopted by the Supreme Soviet on December 21, 1952. Shortly after this, in 1954, the Americans built the first ever nuclear powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. It wasnt until a year later that the construction of the first Soviet nuclear submarine began. The K-3 Leninsky Komsomol, built in Molotovsk, was launched on August 9, 1957, and then was commissioned to the Northern Fleet in July of 1958. In the period from 1950 to 1970, the Northern Fleet grew from being the smallest to the largest and most important of the four Soviet fleets(the Northern, Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea Fleets).
Six new Naval bases were built on the Kola peninsula and a number of smaller navy bases for other types of vessels were also established in Pechenga Fjord, Belomorsk, and Novaya Zemlya.
At the same time, five large naval yards were built on the Kola Peninsula and in Severodvinsk for the construction and maintenance of nuclear submarines. It was not long before the size of the Soviet fleet of nuclear submarines passed up the United States. About two thirds of all Soviet submarines were based in the Northern Fleet. Since 1958, there have been four generations of nuclear submarines and a number of nuclear-powered experimental submarines. These subs are built at four different shipyards. By 1995, there were 245 nuclear submarines and four nuclear-powered surface ships.
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Two thirds of these were delivered to the Northern Fleet, while only one third delivered to the Pacific Fleet. Still, no nuclear submarines have been assigned to the other two fleets, the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets. The current commander and chief of the Russian Navy is Commander Feliks N. Gromov. The commander and chief of the Northern Fleet is Admiral Oleg A. Yerofeev. The Fleet is separated into departments, each with a different responsibility. The Russian Navy is responsible for the nuclear submarines as long as they are in active service or are held at one of the Northern Fleet’s naval bases.
The Navy is also responsible for the three shipyards that service and maintain the nuclear submarines. Besides for that, the state committee for the defense industry is in charge of the other shipyards. The Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy is in charge of all aspects of the fuel for the nuclear reactors in the ships. There are many other organizations that put together the rules concerning the disposal of all nuclear waste and nuclear safety regulations. The Northern Fleet has undergone some significant changes since 1989. There have been several disarming agreements between the United States and Russia, including the START I and START II treaties. Because of this, the number of strategic submarines and nuclear warheads has been reduced, and the numbers will probably continue to decrease in the years ahead. In 1989, the Soviet Navy had its largest number of nuclear submarines in operation ever, 196 total.
Now in 1996, there are 109 nuclear submarines in service, and 67 belong to the Northern Fleet. The number of operational submarines in the Russian Navy will probably drop to approximately 80 by the year 2003. Before the ending of the Soviet Union, nuclear submarines of the Soviet Navy patrolled both the East and West Coasts of the United States, the South China Sea and outside the Persian Gulf. Today, it is seldom that a Russian nuclear submarine will patrol in any of these waters. Toward the end of 1995, increased Russian submarine activity was registered off the north-western coast of the United States, Akula class nuclear submarines were discovered in international waters just outside the Bangor Naval Base in Washington state. In the same year, Oscar II class submarines followed American aircraft carriers in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on a number of occasions.
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At the same time, American submarines continued to patrol Russian waters outside the Kola Peninsula. Since 1989, the number of naval vessels in the Northern Fleet has been reduced by 40%.All of the first generation nuclear submarines (November, Echo, and Hotel classes) and half of the second generation vessels (Victor, Charlie, Yankee, and Delta) classes are no longer in service. The number of surface ships in the Northern Fleet have also been reduced, but only the oldest and most worn out vessels have been taken out of service. According to Russian naval authorities, there are no plans to develop any further generations of nuclear submarines. However, the fourth generation of subs, the Severodvinsk class was recently put into service in 1998. Many shipyards have been converted to civilian use because of the reduced demands for nuclear subs. Three out of the four shipyards that built nuclear subs have halted all production. The Northern Fleet doesnt have the funds to carry out the necessary maintenance on its operational submarines, so many of them remain in port.
Because of lack servicing, the Northern Fleet’s two nuclear-powered battle cruisers remained in port for all of 1994 and 1995. In 1994, only 35% of the funds intended for the Northern Fleet, were actually transferred. According to the 1994 budget, 600 billion rubles should have been transferred to the Northern Fleet, but this was never actually done. Now, the Northern Fleet is unable to pay for the services that used to be provided for by the state. In January of 1996, the Northern Fleet owed 40 billion rubles in wages to workers at shipyards and other factories. The total debt of the Fleet is now up to over 200 billion rubles. Before 1991, Soviet submarine crews were trained at three different training centers within the Soviet Union.
The training center in Sevastopol was the largest of the three and operated highly advanced computer and reactor simulators. This facility went trained 500 submarine officers a year. However, ever since the Ukraine achieved independence, the Russian Navy has not utilized this center. The future of the Northern Fleet is held in the hands of military and political events that will occur in Russia. Although the build up of the Northern Fleet was because of the arms race and the Cold War, it is not likely that the Northern Fleet would be reduced to the levels it was at in the 1950s, despite the fact that the Cold War is over. The new military doctrine of Russia stresses that the Northern Fleet’s main objective is to defend Russian territory. According to Russian military experts, their Navy in the future will need a maximum of 16 strategic nuclear submarines, 21 attack submarines, and 12 tactical submarines. Some of the largest challenges facing the Russian Navy at this time are the problems associated with the getting rid of old submarines and the storage and transport of used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.
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According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, at the present level of funding it will be impossible to solve any of these problems. Now, plans exist only on paper how to execute the work through the years 2005-2010. Yet the task of dismantling the force of old submarines must be looked at in a longer perspective. The danger of accidents and radioactive leaking from old nuclear submarines increases from year to year, and both from an environmental and economic perspective, it is important to get rid of old nuclear submarines and make sure that the storage of old nuclear fuel and radioactive waste is undertaken quickly. Otherwise, as the physical condition of these vessels continue to deteriorate, it will become far more expensive to solve the problems associated with them. The only way to see the future of this fleet is for time to take its place. Soon we will see what will happen to the Russian Northern Fleet.