(ID) Tom Hill @te3ej has been tracking the Russian Tug Nikolay Chiker for the last few weeks as it made its way down to Cuba with Russia’s premier spy ship the Viktor Leonov CCB-175. Yesterday Tom Hill noted the tug has taken up position just off the coast of Florida – now for two days at 29 18 00.0N, 80 30 00.0W.
While some mock the Russians for always deploying tugs with their Navy, I’ve grown to appreciate it as I have now observe them use the tugs effectively both in soft power operations and now military operations like trapping the Ukrainian fleet. Navy’s can do a lot when they have ships with incredible utility like Fleet tugs, indeed one might ask how the US government screams really loud about climate change, but doesn’t build ships like icebreakers and fleet tugs. Like I’ve always said, we should all start to actually worry about the effects of climate change the day the government starts buying a bunch of those types of ships, because that will be the day the government is legitimately worrying about it.
The Nikolay Chiker is widely considered to be one of the worlds most powerful ocean tugs, but more important from this observers perspective, the tug seems to always be escorting high value assets of the Russian Navy when it deploys.
So the question is, why have the Russians parked their premier Northern Fleet naval tug off the coast of Florida? There are probably several valid reasons, but if I was to speculate, the following two reasons strike me as the most likely.
The ship is observing the launch of Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS3 scheduled for early Sunday morning from the SLC-40 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Dragon C3 for its fifth operational cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station. The flight is being conducted under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.
In addition to that though, during previous visits to the US east coast by the tug, US media reported that Nikolay Chiker escorted Russian nuclear attack submarines that were patrolling our coast at the time. Given circumstances taking place in Ukraine, I think it is very possible that Nikolay Chiker is staying near Cape Canaveral for legitimate reasons (to monitor the launch) but is also standing nearby as one or more Russian nuclear attack submarines monitor US Navy activity out of Kings Bay, Mayport, and or Norfolk during a period of political crisis between the US and Russia.
Indeed, given the presence of Nikolay Chiker off the Florida coast and given the events unfolding in the Ukraine, I believe it would be foolish not to assume that Russia is operating submarines off our East coast naval bases.
Special thanks to @russiannavyblog for assisting me thinking through this activity as we have observed/discussed it together on Twitter the last few days.