The Russian Navy Blog recently translated and posted a Russian after-action report. The most interesting aspect of this report is that it spells out the differences between the way the Frence and Russians operate their vessels at sea with particular emphasis on quality (or lack) of life issues. These differences might be well known to many of you, but it is nice to see what the Russians themselves think.

Part I

I ran across an interesting document, an after action report detailing “living conditions on board ships of the Russian Navy, observations by officers in the French Navy during joint Russian-French exercises and a port visit to Brest, France by ships of the Northern Fleet” dated 28 October 2004. There are a lot of interesting observations here, which can be summarized thusly:

They have hot water! Sh–, the French have water at all! The watch actually stands watch! Goddamn, we’re dirty! Paint mixed with sand on the decks so people don’t slip and break their necks? Mon dieu! Musters! Do we really need so many musters? And maybe our ships wouldn’t be so dirty if we gave our guys stuff to clean with. Or if we let them shower more than once every two weeks!

Well, not quite, but pretty close.

Part I:

To the Commander of the Northern Fleet
Vice Admiral Abramov

On the issue: “Some details on living conditions on board ships of the Russian Navy, observations by officers in the French Navy during joint Russian-French exercises and a port visit to Brest, France, by ships of the Northern Fleet”

The second joint Russian-French training exercise in the north-east Atlantic took place from 14-27 September, 2004. The large anti-submarine ship (BPK) Admiral Chabanenko, attack submarine K-157, French destroyer Tourville and submarine Emeraude participated. According to plan, the first evolution was an officer exchange: two Russian officers went to the Tourville and two French officers went to the Admiral Chabanenko. The liaison officers spent seven days on board, until the port call in Brest (21-26 Sep 2004). During direct interaction with French officers (on separate occasions),1 managed to indirectly obtain information about the issues that they paying attention to during the joint exercises and port visit….

Event————————- Tourville————–Chabanenko
Breakfast———————-0700-0900———-First shift 0730-0745
(Officers serve themselves)————————–Second shift 0815-0830

Page 2

Shipboard evolutions—–0900-1100———————-0830-1125
Lunch:———————–First shift -1100-1200———1130-1145
——————————–Second shift-1200-1300——1210-1230
Rest————————–Until 1445————————Until 1400
Shipboard evolutions—–1500-1900———————–1400-1725
Dinner———————–1st Shift 1900-2000————1730-1745
——————————-2nd Shift 2000-2100———–1810-1830
Shipboard evolutions—-N/A——————————–1830-2045
Free time——————-From 2100———————–2035-2200
Evening tea—————–N/A——————————-First shift 2330-2345
(Coffee, tea, juice, beer, etc.———————————-Second shift 0010-0020
always available to crew for free)
Taps————————-Anytime after 2000————-0030

Darken ship on French vessels is at 2000: the lights in the staterooms and common areas are covered and night lights are turned on in corridors (daylight lighting is turned on at 0800). As opposed to the lighting on the BPK, only running lights are visible from the outside.

There are no shipwide evolutions on the Tourville after 2000 except:
1. Night training (for instance, night time TOLs by the helicopter);
2. When the need arises because of a casualty.

Thus, French sailors (not standing watch) have twelve hours in which to relax while Russian sailors have but six.

Page 3

2. “Typical shipboard evolutions during the week…”

The commander of the Tourville established three types of days at sea when he assumed command, depending on the situation:

1. Combat training day
2. Maintenance day – when the crew concentrated on repairs and material condition.
3. Sunday (rest day) – one or two times a week. Shipboard evolutions are kept to a minimum or just not carried out. No reveille. (“Sunday” was announced as one of the days during the joint exercises).

Special attention was given to damage control and man overboard drills. They were carried out on maintenance days and also in parallel with joint training.

Man overboard drills are organized in an interesting manner. In secret from the crew, the First Lieutenant would give the signal and he would go to a cabinet and take out a manikin, throw it overboard and give the command “Man Overboard!”. The command is given over the 1MC. The watch officer presses the special button on the GPS to mark position and turns the ship around to return to that same position. At the same time fast rubber boat is prepared for launch. Launch of the boat is made without a crew aboard for safety reasons. Two members of the crew and a diver were lowered into the boat with a line after the boat was lowered into the water and placed under tow. The rubber boat was launched toward the manikin from the approaching ship. Upon return of the boat, the boat was secured to the ship and a Jacob’s ladder was lowered, and only then they raised the boat. The rescue operation – from the moment the “Man overboard” command was given to the recovery of the manikin on board in sea state three or four – took twenty minutes. No one from the ships command team took part in the drill. Action on the bridge was directed by the watch officer – a warrant officer. (Note: There is a big, handwritten exclamation point here).

3. “Multiple and prolonged cleaning events”.

Planned cleaning on the French ship is done once a day. The cleaner, who has a wide variety of cleaning implements and household chemicals, decides himself if he has cleaned enough or if he should clean some more.

Part II

B. The ship.

1. “Presence on board of unnecessary, but potentially dangerous objects and materials”.

French officers paid attention to the presence on board the BPK of a large number of:

- large mirrors (which can shatter during explosions and seriously cut people standing nearby; and the shards are potentially dangerous);

- plastic and wooden surfaces (which burn well and put out toxic smoke).

The sauna is potentially dangerous.

In the French Navy, the presence on board of dangerous objects and materials without good reason is categorically and strictly controlled. (Note: Big handwritten exclamation mark here).

2. “Slippery decks: both the weather decks and the interior spaces”.

The metal decks, especially when they are wet or covered in salt, are very slippery. There is a great probability of falling and receiving serious injury during pitching. The guests often slipped. The decks on French ships (as well as on American, British and Norwegian ships) are covered with a rough paint which limits slipping even when wet. The ladders also have a special coating, kind of like emory board, that limits slipping.

3. “Many commands given on the 1MC”

Only reveille and the command to begin damage control training and the man overboard drill were announced over the 1MC on the Tourville. All underway evolutions, including watch change, happened without a command. The crew acted on their own in accordance with the plan of the day. (Note: Handwritten exclamation mark here).

4. “Radar detection of air targets didn’t work all the time”.

The air search and surface search radars on the French ships were on in active mode constantly, monitoring the air and surface picture. (Note: Bit exclamation mark in the margin here). On the BPK, the air search radar was periodically switched off, resulting in the detection of a British Nimrod and a British civilian helicopter only after they made a low altitude flyby.

5. “There is no accessible and clear way to deliver ship wide information to the crew”.

Russian liaison officers were invited to briefings held once per day on board the Tourville and the Latouche-Treville for the officers. Briefing topics included: weather forcast, disposition of foreign forces in the sailing area, the plan of the day for the current day and a provisional plan of the day for the next day, training events for the joint training and a supply and armament report. Information was presented in the form of slides, projected on the screen with interesting photographs made that day. There is a television in the central corridor on which the whole crew could watch information about the briefing.

There were similar events on board the BPK twice a day. Information was provided to the underway staff officers only, using maps. The French liaison officers weren’t invited. No notes were given to the crew.

6. “Hygiene on board the ship”.

On board the more than thirty year old Tourville, there was hot and cold fresh water in all the compartments and showers all the time. (Note: in the margin, someone scribbled “No comment!!!”). The Tourville boils about a hundred tons of fresh water a day.

French officers were surprised that onboard the most modern Russian ship, provision of hot water to the staterooms wasn’t even planned for and that cold water was available once a day for ten minutes.

The entire crew (450 people) washed once every ten days, over the course of eight hours. Each man had three to four minutes in the shower. The French officers paid attention to the appearance of the Russian sailors. By the end of the deployment, lice was found on the sailors. (Note: Exclamation mark in the margin).

Part III

C. The Crew

1. “How seniors in rank and position relate to juniors, particularly to the sailors”.

This was a topic that the French officers paid special attention to. There was much yelling and cursing on the BPK and subordinates were often belittled (even senior officers in the presence of sailors.

The Chief of Staff refused to talk with a Russian communications officer (who had told the COS that he was a Captain 3rd rank) over the HF radio (I.E for the whole world to hear) to resolve some sort of problem. The French interpreter interpreted this conversation for the French servicemembers present. And they were very surprised: “Why doesn’t he want to talk to a Captain 3rd Rank?”

It was noted by the French officers that similar relations between people in France would be intolerable.

2. “There are a lot of officers on the ship”.

There are twenty four officers in the three hundred person crew on the Tourville. On board the BPK Admiral Chabanenko, with just a little more crew, there were twice as many officers, and taking into account embarked staff – four times as many. French officers were surprised at the amount of senior officers on board, especially Captain 1st Ranks – seven, whose functions could not be understood (on the Tourville, there is only the captain).

3. “Lots of musters”.

Russian liaison officers didn’t observe one crew muster onboard the Tourville in a week.

On the BPK, musters came one after another.

4. “Another BPK commander is onboard the Chabanenko, but he outranks the commander of the Chabanenko”.

After the Chief of Staff (the commander of the BPK Admiral Kharlamov) briefed the French, he was asked, “How can the commander of one BPK give orders to the commander of a second BPK?” and “How the commander of the BPK Admiral Chabanenko Captain 1st Rank S. Grishin takes such orders?”

D. The Ship’s Watch

1. Organization of the bridge watch

While spending a lot of time on the underway bridge of the BPK, the French liaison officers (the first one – the navigator, who normally stands officer of the watch and the second one – the electronic warfare officer, who normally stands watch as the combat officer) noted the following:

- The constant presence of the captain or senior on the bridge, who runs the ship: he works the radio himself, he himself evaluates the situation, he himself gives the wheel and engine telegraph commands. The watch officer plays no role in the running of the ship. The function of the watch officer is not understood.

In the French Navy, ships and submarines are run by the watch officer. There is no command watch. In normal situations, the commander appears on the bridge only episodically (on submarines, surfacing is done without the commander): in complicated situations, he will be there but he does not take control, but is there to support the watch officer. The watch officer, in turn, trains his assistant (the warrant officer). In 2003, during a refueling evolution, the Latouche-Treville came along side the Admiral Chabanenko twice for refueling: the first time, the watch officer brought her along side (with advice from the commander), while the second time, the commander didn’t participate as the watch officer advised his assistant.

- Stationing an additional navigation watch.

On the French destroyers, the plot is kept by the watch officer or by one of his two assistants (a warrant officer and a senior sailor who also is the signalman). The plot is kept on the bridge with the aid of GPS. Besides that, the plot is kept in the combat information center on an electronic map on a personal computer.

- Conflicting commands are issued.

Often, conflicting commands were issued when the commander of the ship, the chief of staff and task force commander were on the bridge. The French liaison officers were surprised when someone corrected the orders of the ship’s commander.

- Tense situation on the bridge.

This was noted especially in areas with a lot of shipping traffic. There was much screaming and cursing on the bridge. The BPK, even having the right of way in accordance with MPPSS-72, would initiate unpredictable maneuvers, confusing the transports proceeding in their own lanes. The French liaison officers asked, “Don’t you ever have intensive marine traffic transiting your area?” (Note: This whole paragraph is bracketed in the report).

- Current information for the watch standers are written on cardboard cards.

On French ships, all the current information (course, speed, callsign) is written in marker on glass on any convenient place, including the bridge windscreen.

2. “Many watchstanders have unclear roles”.

The French liaison officers, probably, have in mind the supplementary watch, stationed in the corridors and hatches along their routes.

3. “There are more watches on the BPK”.

There aren’t many differences between the French and Russian Navies concerning how watches are relieved or when. ON the Tourville, watch turnover is at 0400, 0800, 1200, 1500, 1800, 2000, and 2400 (on the BPK there is no turnover at 1500, but at 1600 instead). But they have four watch sections (and in certain situations, three) while we have two or three watch sections.Part IV

D. Joint Russian-French Training

1. “The Russian side tried to take control of the training”.


2. “Planning was complicated”

Questions pertaining to the joint exercise on the Tourville were handled by the operations officer equivalent in rank to Captain 3rd Rank (the responsibilities of the operations officer is similar to our BCh-7, only he is also responsible for combat readiness and doesn’t stand a watch)(Note: Handwritten exclamation mark here). He himself resolved all issues (consulting with the commander for specific complicated problems) and immediately after agreement with the Russian liaison officers, issued corresponding commands to the Combat Information Center watch and the submarine Emeraude. The operations officer also developed the personnel plans for the officers on the ship. There in a special box in front of the stateroom, each officer on the ship could pick up his personal plan for the day in the morning. In accordance with this plan, each officer ran his division.

The commander of the task group made all the final decisions on the BPK. Plans often changed at night. As the French interpreter (in voice over the radio) noted, the change of the commander of the BPK for the Chief of Staff on the bridge lead to a change of plans. Late at night the plan changed again (probably by the task group commander). This inconvenienced the French operations officer since he had to revise the plan a couple of times and issue supplemental orders to the submarine Emeraude. And do this all at night instead of resting.

In Brest, after two hours of work to plan the final step of the training, the French side (represented by a Captain 2nd Rank from the base ops department and the ops officer from the Tourville, a Captain 3rd Rank) asked the Chief of Staff (representing the Russian side), “We agree, but is this the Russian side’s final answer?” The answer was, “I can’t make a decision. We have to consult the admiral.” This caused a misunderstanding with the French and when the task group commander arrived, planning began again.

3. “Exercise planning in this season in this area”.

More than once French officers, including the captain of the destroyer asked, “Why did you plan an exercise in this season in this area?” Traditionally there are strong storms here in fall. (Note: handwritten exclamation mark in the margin). It would have been better, in their opinion, to do these exercises in the Mediterranean.

4. No reason for stationing French liaison officers on the BPK.

The commander of the Tourville, just like the commander of the Latouche-Treville in 2003, asked the same question, “Why are our officers on board the Russian ship if you never resolve any issues with them?” The French liaison officers asked the same question.

5. “Dangerous method of launching the rubber boat”.

As noted above, the Tourville launches and recovers their rubber boat without crew for safety reasons.

A SPETZNAZ detachment was launched in a rubber boat from the BPK for an inspection operation. The launch was conducted in full view of the French ship. Because there was no initial planning of the launch and the boat wasn’t hooked up in the center, the boat was launched in almost a vertical position with SPETZNAZ troops strapped in. The French noted that this was dangerous.

It can be noted about boarding operations that the order to form a boarding group was only given as the ship was leaving base. No member of the team had a clear idea of what to do or how to do it. For a month before deployment the commander of the SPETZNAZ detachment on board was told that his help wasn’t needed during boarding and inspection operations. As a result, the order was given to the SPETZNAZ representative to be included in the inspection group and they began a crash training course (without actually getting into a small boat).

E. Organization of communications.

1. “Ineffective comms in the tactical zone”.

Exercise experience has shown that existing means of communications (simplex radio communications on one frequency) normally allows only two ships to execute tasks. When submarine is added to the mix, confusion and missed messages results.

The French liaison officers brought to the BPK PC-NET device allowing comms between ships in automatic mode. But the device wasn’t installed and tried out by the Russian side. It’s practical application remained unknown. (The PC-NET device was developed by a civilian organization for automatic communications between French fishing ships. It worked well and was accepted into use in the French Navy. It consists of a PC and an attached small scale radio transmitter. The installation of the PC-NET on board the Russian ship was in the plan for the first French-Russian exercise, but wasn’t installed by the French for technical reasons). (Note: Big exclamation mark in the margin here).

2. “Lack of satellite phone on the BPK”.

The Tourville has two satellite phones onboard. One is on the bridge for official use. The second is located in the main passageway for the crew to use to call home. The crew pays for their own personal calls, but phone card can be obtained on base in advance.

The necessity for a satellite phone on board, even if it is only for official use, was demonstrated while resolving the situation surrounding obtaining medical help for Seaman Golub. Arrangements were made with the Russian embassy in Spain and an American airbase by the Russian liaison officers in a short amount of time because the French offered the use of the official satellite phone.

The French means of communication were used again to send a fax from the Admiral Chabanenko to the commander of the American airbase.

Besides satellite telephones, the French destroyer has access to the internet and permanent antennas for satellite television. Not everyone had access to the internet. There is an electronic address for the ship to which comes all the messages which allows delivery of personal messages to members of the crew. Members of the crew give their responses to the postal service. The satellite TV is streamed to the wardroom and sailors’ messes. (Note: big exclamation mark in the margin).

3. “Many personal messages on the radio”.

The French interpreters, who were always present during radio conversations and immediately conveyed the gist of those conversations to their commanders, had to interpret a series of incomprehensible conversations. For instance: The Chief of Staff ordered a Russian communications officer to read him the text of a message (already sent to headquarters using secure communications) over the HF radio concerning the readiness of Russian ships to carry out unofficial events during the visit, but the Russian officer evaded giving an answer, considering what a serious violation of communication’s security this represented.

In addition, the BPK openly reported names, ranks and positions of officers in the clear in HF. It is fair to say that the callsign of the 2nd DPLK (Division of Anti-submarine Ships) “Maslina” is now linked to a concrete billet by the French Navy.

Part V

Zh. “Other details noted by the French and Russian liaison officers”.

1. There is an identical uniform on surface ships and submarines in the French Navy: dark blue jumpsuit with corresponding stripes. There are service shoes, but in general everyone wears dark “civilian” shoes. They wear the same uniform in the mess at chow time. They go out and stand watch on the weather decks without covers since they don’t have the equivalent to our “pilotkas” (garrison cap?). On the Latouche-Treville, there was a ships laundry with a couple of modern automatic washers where they washed sheets. No ships laundry was ascertained on the Tourville. There was a meshbag full of underwear hanging in the wardroom, from which officers could take sheets (?!?). Probably there is system of single use sheets on the older Tourville.

2. (Note: Circled and exclamation pointed). Food on French ships was significantly better and varied. The basic part of the menu – frutti di mare, meat and vegetables. For the week the Russian officers were on board, the menu did not repeat itself. According to the French sailors, the menu begins to repeat itself after they have been at sea for a month. As opposed to the Russian BPK, where the ration worsens as you go from the Captains table, to the wardroom for the officers and warrants and further down to the crew, on the French destroyers and multipurpose submarines, there is one galley and the food is the same for everyone. The only difference: the crew’s mess is self service while the wardroom is served by well trained orderlies.

3. There are two wardrooms on the French destroyers: a senior mess and the wardroom for junior officers. Entry into the wardroom, except for those that mess there and the orderlies is prohibited. The prohibition on entry into the junior wardroom even extends to the senior officers. One shift an hour eats there since there is time to linger over cool drinks before eating and a cup of coffee and conversation afterwards. The senior wardroom has its own fund that they use to buy additional supplies and organize additional excursions during foreign port calls with everyone’s agreement. Similar funds on Russian ships are funded by the officers themselves, while in the French Navy they are a separate line in the ships budget.

4. All the combat posts and officer staterooms on French destroyers are equipped with laptops or computers connected to a local network. Each officer has a personal password and can connect with the appropriate access levels to a data base. Messages, including secret messages, are received on the laptops and sent by email to the radio room for transmission. All the incoming messages are sent to the commander’s laptop, who readdresses the messages to the appropriate combat post. There are very few messages printed out on paper on the ship. There a plans for the future of a paperless ship, where all documentation is electronic.

Power to these computers on the French ships is provided by ordinary power outlets both at combat posts and in living spaces without any additional adapters. There are a couple of computers on the BPK which were plugged directly into ship’s current without any sort of stabilizer. They malfunctioned because of surges in voltage and frequency.

5. All the passageways are named for streets on the destroyer.

6. The French officers noted that admirals in their Navy rarely go to sea and then only in specific circumstances. Usually, there are no senior officers on board.

7. All the household trash on French ships underway is collected and stored in bags in special compartments. When they make port call in a domestic or foreign port, the garbage (for pay or for free) is disposed of. Nothing is thrown overboard. We throw everything overboard, therefore one can often see a greasy stain and household trash in the water around our ships in foreign ports.

8. Smoking is prohibited inside the Tourville. There are two specially equipped areas to smoke in on the weather decks: the signal bridge and the fantail. There is only one spot in foul weather where one can safely smoke – the signal bridge. Smoking is prohibited on the signal bridge on the BPK, but they smoke there anyway (especially during storms), and butts are thrown overboard. The wind often blows them onto the decks below or onto the small boats.

9. French ships are painted a lighter shade. Against the background of the sea, they are less noticeable from the air than the darker Russian ships. Against the background of the land – it’s the opposite.

10. The French noticed that a Captain 1st Rank (the Chief of Staff) spent a lot of time on the pier with a radio handset, assembled those who were going on liberty in town (after they had already assembled on the ship), as well as those returning from liberty, for uniform inspection.

11. The French noticed that there weren’t a lot of Russians on liberty out in town as compared to the number of crew members. The Russian side requested more buses during the exercise planning and the French met our request, but just two or three busses were used. The rest ran empty. In five days, the 530 members of the crews of the BPK and submarine made 925 trips to shore. When the French ships tied up, only the duty section and those who had work to do stayed.

International military cooperation at sea continues to develop at a higher level: from port calls to joint exercises at sea. It bears paying attention to the unofficial opinions that the French side has of the Russian Navy. It would be better if we could incorporate some of their experience (such as use of non-skid on the decks and the use of satellite phones).


Acting Chief of the International Military Cooperation Detachment of the Northern Fleet, Captain 2nd Rank O. Prasov

28 October 2004

Somehow I doubt that reports like this result in changes. Really, how is it possible that non-skid is news to the Russians? If technology like that can’t migrate to the Russians, than what else can. Even worse, Russians are sailing on merchant ships all over the world where they enjoy modern conveniences and a safe work environment. How is it possible for the Russian Navy to so effectively avoid making these changes to their fleet?

Even the Russians know they suck, Part I – Russian Navy Blog
Even the Russians know they suck, Part II
Even the Russians know they suck, Part III
Even the Russians know they suck, Part IV
Even the Russians know they suck, Part V


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  • KazuakiShimazaki

    According to posts I’ve skimmed through on Russian boards, a possible reason for failure to put on non-skid is due to two disadvantages:
    1) The roughness makes it much harder to get accumulated ice off.
    2) The anti-skid may reduce slipping but the extra friction means serious abrasions when they do.

    Any comments on these factors?

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