Ubiquitous Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer reports for the Jamestown Foundation (hat tip: Johnson’s Russia List) that wildfires near Kolomna may have devastated Russia’s naval aviation by destroying vital logistic and technical resources. I’m familiar with the concept of naval bases far from open water, given that I grew up not far from Crane Naval Weapons Station. Nonetheless, the thought of non-shipboard fires affecting naval operations is a little disconcerting:
An Internet news site, lifenews.ru, first reported that on July 29, flames tore through a secret naval airbase in Kolomna, 100 kilometers (km) south-east of Moscow, destroying up to 200 aircraft worth 20 billion rubles ($600 million). Initially, the defense ministry tried to cover up the story by first declaring it to be erroneous, and then admitting that it was not an “airbase,” but logistic base office buildings, warehouses with unneeded equipment and vehicles were destroyed without any loss of life (ITAR TASS, August 3). It was later reported that the base in question Central Air and Technical naval base (also known as base 2512) has been used for 60 years to supply the entire naval aviation force with avionics, armaments, jet engines and other essential equipment (Interfax, August 3).
Medvedev did not elaborate about the equipment lost at base 2512, but implied “the consequences were heavy,” and that it was a result of “criminal negligence.” Medvedev officially reprimanded the Commander of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, and his First Deputy and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Alexander Tatarinov. Medvedev fired the Russian navy’s Chief of Logistics, Rear Admiral Sergei Sergeyev, and the Chief of Naval aviation, Major-General Nikolai Kuklev. Medvedev ousted three colonels: the commandant of 2512 base and two of Kuklev’s deputies. Under orders from Medvedev, Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, ousted five officers that served at base 2512 (Kommersant, August 5). Medvedev declared that further dismissals were possible later, after the entire crisis is finally defused (www.news.kremlin.ru, August 4).
The severity of the punishment handed out by Medvedev for a fire at a supply base that did not involve any human casualties surely reflects his overall anger, but also would indicate a large quantity of essential equipment was lost. The replacement of supplies lost at base 2512 could require billions of rubles, years of effort and, in some cases, may be simply impossible as the crisis in Russia’s defense industry has made the production of some essential components virtually impossible. Elements of Russian naval aviation could be grounded for a long time and maybe indefinitely, including the Su-33 jet fighters on Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov. The Su-33 is no longer produced and reportedly at least four new Su-33 jet engines were destroyed at base 2512 (Vedomosti, August 5). The 2512 base contained 65,000 tons of equipment, which might have been entirely destroyed. An airborne forces supply base (3370) was damaged by fire near the 2512 base, but its losses seem less significant (Kommersant, August 4).
The AP is reporting this morning that a Tupolev-154 carrying the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and some of the country’s highest military and civilian leaders crashed in heavy fog while trying to land at a military airport in Smolensk, Russia.
On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.
Ninety-six people are said to have died in the crash. The President and other state officials were en route to events marking the seventieth-anniversary of the Katyn massacre.
For an early report on the story, click here.
UPDATE @ 9:21 am CST: RIA Novosti is reporting that human error was the cause of the crash. The death toll is now estimated to be as high as 132.
Thanks to colleagues at the Command and General Staff College for pointing me to this video on Mikhail Nikolaevich Tukhachevskii. The historical commentary is OK, though its list of Tukhachevskii’s feats omits his disastrous defeat before Warsaw in the 1920 Russo-Polish War.
Its real value is in the archival footage of Tukhachevskii, including an excerpt from an actual speech. The vignettes are somewhat datable. The budyonovka peaked cap (which looks strikingly like the German pikelhaube spiked helmet in several of these shots) is earlier–Civil War era and the early 1920s. You can also note the rank insignia on Tukhachevskii’s collar–in late 1935, Tukhachevskii and four others (Voroshilov, Budyonny, Bliukher, and Egorov) were made Marshals of the Soviet Union, with a single star. Before that, he had four diamonds.
There’s also some very nice shots of other leading Red Army commanders of the time:
Ian Alksnis, key figure in the development of the Soviet air force (2:43)
Vasilii Bliukher, who fought the Japanese at Lake Khasan (2:51–far right)
Semyon Budyonny, cavalry hero and namesake of the budyonovka peaked cap (2:51–with mustache)
Aleksandr Egorov, Chief of the General Staff 1931-1935 (1:39–on right)
Ieronym Uborevich, ninety-eight pounds soaking wet, whom Georgii Zhukov called the most military man he ever met (2:46)
Kliment Voroshilov, Stalin’s lackey and dim-witted long-time head of the Red Army (2:09)
plus non-military figures like
Sergo Ordzhonikidze, industry tsar (2:34)
Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s right hand man and World War II foreign minister, who appears with Tukhachevskii while both are in civilian clothes (3:06)
No Stalin, though.
Of these, Alksnis, Bliukher, Egorov, and Uborevich died in the purges; Ordzhonikidze committed suicide.
[Cross-posted at Dictatorship of the Air]
On Tuesday the Russian Federation’s eighth International Aviation and Space Salon (widely known by its Russian acronym MAKS) opened to great fanfare in the city of Zhukovsky outside Moscow. Held bi-annually since 1993, the Salon has become one of the world’s most important aerospace gatherings. According to state organizers this year’s celebration, MAKS-2007, is the largest in history. 583 Russian companies and 243 foreign firms representing 110 countries are taking part. Before the closing ceremonies on Sunday, the Salon is expected to attract in excess of 650,000 visitors who will be treated to typical air show fare including exhibition halls and displays, simulators, and numerous acrobatic demonstrations headlined by the “Russian Knights” flying team.
Despite its recent origins (the first Salon was held in 1992), MAKS is steeped in history. As President Vladimir Putin proudly noted in his welcoming address, MAKS “continues the longstanding tradition of aviation parades and air show holidays that has always existed in Russia.” His statement was no boast. Tsarist Russia opened its first “International Week of Aviation” in April 1910, just three months after Los Angeles-area aviation patrons hosted the first such meet in the United States. Dozens more events were held in Russia during the years leading up to 1917. In the Soviet period, public air shows, exhibitions, and spectacles were commonplace as Communist Party leaders exploited aviation to generate public faith in (and foreign fear of) their country’s military might.
MAKS is, by definition, an international event. However, its primary purpose has always been to showcase and promote the accomplishments of the Russian aerospace industry. President Putin’s opening day assertion that his government’s main task “is maintaining our leadership in the production of military aviation technology,” [emphasis added] should be understood in this light. It’s a classic example of “compensatory symbolism:” the historic propensity of Russian officials to exaggerate technological accomplishments and military standing in order to mask weakness and deficiencies vis-à-vis foreign rivals. That President Putin should sense a need to embellish the truth doubtless stems from the precipitous decline in Russian air power that followed the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and from continuing doubts about the current status of the post-Soviet air weapon. Continue Reading »