One of the interesting traditions in the Russian Navy is that each fleet has a designated flagship. In theory that sounds like a good idea: Give your proudest ship some extra glory and drive enthusiasm for your fleet. But when your flagship is old and unfit for battle, it becomes a public relations liability.
That has been the situation in the Baltic Fleet for some years now. The flagship is the Sovremenny-class destroyer Nastoichivy, which has been more or less inoperable since 2013. Last time the ship left the Baltic Sea was back in 1997 when it participated in the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi. The Baltic Fleet has several modern warships that far exceed Nastoichivy in combat abilities – not least by having a functional engine.
But now Russia has found money for a refit of Nastoichivy. That reports the press service of the Western Military District. The works will take place in the near future at the 33rd Shipyard in Kaliningrad, which is a part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK).
Apparently, the Achilles heel of the Sovremenny-class are the high pressure boilers in their propulsion system. Military historian Dmitry Boltenkov explains to Izvestia that the boilers have many advantages including low fuel consumption, high efficiency, and quick availability before use. But they are also demanding from a maintenance perspective, and in particular they require water of a very pure quality, which was difficult to provide during the 1990s.
In a somewhat unsympathetic manner, former Navy chief Valentin Selivanov rebukes the notion that there are technical difficulties with the Sovremenny-class. In Izvestia’s article he states that if any ship experiences breakdowns, then the blame is solely on the personnel. He then goes on to explaining how he personally played a role in the procurement of Nastoichivy, which is a fine ship.
Nevertheless, the data is clear. 17 ships of the class were built between 1980 and 1993. Many of them were decommissioned already in the 1990s, and currently only two are operational — Admiral Ushakov serves in the Northern Fleet, and Bystry is operational in the Pacific Fleet. Bystry has been used regularly, and in 2015-16 it completed a long journey to India. Admiral Ushakov has participated in exercises in the Barents Sea, but is has been suspiciously absent off Syria. When Nastoichivy enters service, it will be the third operational Sovremenny-class. A fourth ship – Burny – has been undergoing repairs since 2005 and may eventually rejoin the Pacific Fleet.
Nastoichivy was commissioned in 1992. With a little luck, the flagship of the Baltic Fleet will rule the waves again later this year. But the image remains: The flagship of the Baltic Fleet is a legacy warship with unreliable technology. Perhaps it would be better to just find another flagship that it is easier to get excited about.