The worst wasps’ nest in the world
The 16th Submarine Squadron stationed in Rybachy, Kamchatka, is one of the key elements of national defense in the east. The squadron includes nuclear-powered missile-carrying submarines that are part of Russia’s strategic nuclear shield. In 2007, the squadron’s submariners marked its 70th anniversary. Naturally, much in the squadron’s activities will remain off limits to our readers, but Rear Admiral Konstantin MAKLOV, Commander of the 16th Submarine Squadron, has agreed to answer some of the questions from VIP-Premier.
Konstantin Gennadyevich Maklov – is Rear Admiral, Commander of the Submarine Squadron since February 2008. He was born in 1957 in Sakhalin, graduated from the Higher Naval Submarine School in Leningrad, the Naval Academy, and the Academy of the General Staff. Maklov has served in all positions starting as a combat unit commander on a strategic nuclear submarine, went through ten combat services, and participated in several ballistic missile launches. Maklov has state awards. He is married, with two children; loves football, and is a fan of Zenit St. Petersburg.
– Mr. Admiral, is it true that the Russian submarine base in Rybachy is classified in NATO’s books as “Wasps’ Nest”?
– That is true. Our submarines can deliver a devastating nuclear strike on any sea- or land-based facility in a rather short time. Since modern submarines have a virtually unlimited operational range and can fire both from submerged and surface position, such a comparison would be quite appropriate. But we find it more comfortable to use our own terminology than the foreign one. Over more than 70 years of its existence, our unit has changed its official name ten times, but not in order to mislead the potential foe; as a rule, this was necessitated by the posture and missions.
To the honor of all generations of submariners who have served in our unit, irrespective of the name, there were no abortive missions. This is why the squadron was awarded the Order of the Red Banner in 1968 for a significant contribution to the defense capability of the country and in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Army and the Navy. It proved subsequently that such awards are not given for nothing, even on jubilees. Our seamen won 14 Defense Minister pennons “For Courage and Military Gallantry”! Those who served in the Navy know how hard it is.
– What criteria – mileage or the number of successful missile launches – can you use to assess the current state of affairs in the squadron?
– Our main criterion is the ability to fulfill the set tasks. A ship, whether on combat duty at the pier or at sea and regardless of the tasks and deadlines, cannot be partially fit. This is the main purpose of permanent combat readiness units, of which we are one. There are specific figures and indicators of course, and the squadron command always has something to rely on and to strive for. The officers and admirals who have been awarded the title of Hero while serving in the squadron – 16 Heroes of the Soviet Union and two Heroes of the Russian Federation – will always be an example to us. All of them, except for Petty Officer I Class Nikolai Vilkov who became Hero during the war with Japan in 1945, received the title in peacetime for actions that interest you: trans-continental and Arctic missions, including under ice, and missile firing from strategic and tactical systems. But I assure you, we are not going to stop there.
Another criterion is memory. Remembering our tragedies that have claimed lives is a sacred duty. The role of the human factor at sea increases immensely, and the Musketeers’ motto “One for all and all for one” is not just a nice saying for a submariner. There is a monument in the square in front of the Officers’ Clubhouse in Rybachy – the conning tower of the L-16 submarine – to the crew who died in 1942 during a voyage from the Pacific Fleet to the Northern Fleet. Later granite slabs were added to the conning tower, bearing the names of the K-129 diesel-powered submarine seamen who died during a mission in 1968, and their colleagues from the nuclear submarine K-429 that sank in 1983 in the Sarannaya Bay. My task as squadron commander (and I am sure of all of my successors, too) is to ensure that no more names are added to this list.
– Mr. Admiral, how has the Army and Navy reform affected your squadron?
– I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the 16th Squadron began revamping itself long before it became public. For the first time in the history of the base in Kamchatka, it was visited in 2004 by Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin. Prior to that, in 1990, Boris Yeltsin had come here when he was Chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet and his work did not concern the Armed Forces. During his visit to Kamchatka, the President of Russia made the decision to renovate the squadron’s base and the socio-economic infrastructure in Rybachy. Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] visited Kamchatka again three years later to hear the Pacific Fleet Commander’s report on preparations for the adoption of a new generation of submarines, and to visit newly commissioned facilities.
The present Supreme Commander-in-Chief, President Dmitry Medvedev visited us last fall. He checked on how the presidential program was being implemented. So I can say that the work to bring the sea-based nuclear forces in line with present-day requirements is in full progress.
– There is an opinion that such close attention to the submarine fleet on the part of chief executives was prompted by the Kursk tragedy. What do you think about this?
– And what prompted our Navy’s return to the ocean theater after a 15-year break? What made our Tu-160 strategic missile carriers go on a transcontinental mission, performing a number of tasks in the air? What necessitated a turnaround in the provision of the military with housing and the financing of this work? I can go on asking questions like this, but I believe this is enough for understanding that the Kursk accident was not the reason. Decisions have always been made by people and depended on their understanding of the situation in the Armed Forces and their tasks.
– Apparently, you have a minimum of problems under such patronage?
– This is the wrong way to put it. There is nothing even remotely close to patronage. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief made the decision, and we are implementing it under the direction of the Navy command. As for the problems, we never had and don’t have any, but we have unsolved tasks. These include in particular violations of deadlines during scheduled submarine repairs at the shipyards. I understand that there are objective reasons for that, but I cannot explain this to the crews of permanent readiness ships that have to operate at the limit of their capacity (service life and mechanisms are not everlasting). I also hope very much that we will adopt the latest generation of Borei submarines as scheduled and they will not only increase our power but will also help effectively solve the tasks facing the 16th Squadron.
– How would you assess the level of preparedness of your personnel, especially in light of officer position cuts?
– Operating submarines are manned with seamen and petty officers on a contract basis. Conscripts serve only in ground-based units and make almost no difference for the ship crews. The number of officer positions on the submarines has practically not changed because the size of personnel for each project submarine has long been determined by sea. I don’t think it will make so much difference for warrant officers, who wish and are ready to continue their service, what kind of shoulder straps they wear. They will retain their positions but will have the rank of petty officer. I am talking about this so confidently because all categories of personnel get decent salaries nowadays. (A submariner serving on a contract basis is entitled to a food ration and a monthly pay of 40,000 rubles – Ed.). And a few words about combat training. In addition to the fact that it is regulated by weekly plans, submarine crews are required to undergo training in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is the competence of the Combat Training Department at the Navy Headquarters, but we do our best to make sure that the process goes smoothly.
– Mr. Admiral, how much have the conditions of submariners’ service and everyday life changed over the twelve years you have been with the squadron?
– I don’t want to say banal things that the submarines have become better and have modern weaponry and equipment, or that the conditions of everyday life have improved. But I think the biggest changes have occurred lately. Rybachy has become a totally different place in less than five years. Two dwelling houses have been built (for 140 more comfortable flats), and another six houses are to be commissioned this year. A hostel for officers with individual kitchens and bathrooms in each section has been put into operation. All families of contract servicemen without exception have been provided with comfortable government-issued flats.
Two new five-story sections have been added to the renovated three-level therapeutic wing of the military hospital. Up-to-date equipment makes all kinds of diagnostics and operations possible, with the exception of oncology cases. Two wonderful preschool institutions have been commissioned for children; an indoor skating rink will be completed this year; the Officers’ and Seamen’s Clubhouses have been renovated. They can now receive the most renowned performers. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Spetsstroi of Russia headed by General of the Army Nikolai Abroskin for carrying out the presidential program of socio-economic infrastructure renovation in Rybachy so briskly.
And I want to mention particularly the sport and recreational center Okean commissioned in 2007. There was nothing like this here before. The center includes an indoor water park with a variety of attractions and an artificial beach, a 25-meter swimming pool and a universal gym, a big billiard room with three tables and a four-lane bowling parlor. All this is overseen by the 16th Squadron. All talk that Okean is a loss-making business because it is located in a closed territory, which allegedly makes it inaccessible for the people living in Yelizovo and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, is no more than an invention. The center was built for the squadron’s submariners and their families and is on the Defense Ministry’s books. Apart from the squadron personnel, any person can use Okean for a fee. It hosts regional sport competitions, and the stands and swimming pools are always full.
I think that with time, when specialists understand how much has been done, Okean may as well claim to be engineering know-how. In addition to the double-pitch roof, which is quite unique for such buildings and the best possible solution for snowy winters, the center rests on a seismic cushion. It is designed so smartly that would let the building withstand even the shockwave form a nuclear strike. But we have wandered off the point. As a senior navy officer, I am glad to see positive changes in Rybachy. I know quite well, including from my own experience, that being determines consciousness. My fellow servicemen will certainly agree with me, just as they will agree with the fact that for everyone to who much is given, of him shall be much required.
By Viktor SIRYK
Moscow – Rybachy