On 15 March 2021, Russian Navy Northern Fleet Project 05360 class submarine rescue ship "Mikhail Rudnitsky" was highly likely enroute St. Petersburg to collect Project 18270 Bester class Deep Sea Rescue Vessel (DSRV) "AS-36" from the Kanonersky shipyard.
Mikhail Rudnitsky which departed homeport Severomorsk on 10 March 2021, was noted north of North Cape on 11 March heading west and had entered the North Sea, 70NM north west of Stavangar, by the forenoon 15 March. The Auxiliary Shipping Forecast is fortunate to work in cooperation with perhaps the foremost maritime OSINT imagery analyst, Frank Bottema (Twitter: @OSINT_1), who was able to pinpoint Mikhail Rudnitsky at several points during her southerly voyage.
|Mikhail Rudnitsky in the Barents Sea, 10 March 2021|
(Frank Bottema: @OSINT-1)
It is highly likely Mikhail Rudnitsky is enroute to the St. Petersburg area to collect Pr.18270 Bester class DSRV AS-36 which has been undergoing modernization at Kanonersky Shipyard since at least May 2020.
Speaking in November 2020, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Nikolai Evmenov, indicated that AS-36 would receive upgrades to significantly increase its ability to render assistance to submarines in distress including a new positioning system, search sonar, television & upgraded life support systems. This work was scheduled to be complete in 2021. Interestingly, back in November 2017, experts from the Lazurit design bureau in Nizhny Novgorod which had prepared a technical project for the modernization of AS-36, indicated that the upgraded version would be to Bester-3 standard.
|Mikhail Rudnitsky heading southbound under the Great Belt Bridge |
at 160922Z MAR 21
It is unusual for this class of vessel to leave the confines of the Barents Sea and White Sea however, Mikhail Rudnitsky is one of two Northern Fleet submarine rescue ships which are based in Severomorsk. Sister ship, Pr.05461 "Georgiy Titov" was recently filmed conducting in-water harbour work-up activity with Northern Fleet Pr.1855 PRIZ class DSRV "AS-34" in Severomorsk and is likely providing on-station cover whilst Mikhail Rudnitsky is out-of-area. It is worthy of note that in 2017, AS-34 conducted a deep dive from Mikhail Rudnitsky to a depth of 1005 metres.
|Mikhail Rudnistky off North Cape, 11 March 2021|
(Frank Bottema: OSINT_1)
The SAR department of the Russian Navy Northern Fleet, headed by Captain First Rank Vladimir Gorban, recently celebrated their centennial anniversary. In addition to two submarine rescue ships in Severomorsk a smaller detachment of SAR personnel is based at Severodvinsk to cover the White Sea area of operations.
Mikhail Rudnitsky was noted to have arrived at Khronstadt Naval Base by the 20 March 2021.
Alternatively, Mikhail Rudnitsky may be entering the Baltic Sea to conduct DSRV training operations with Kilo Type 636.3 class submarines that have completed build or maintenance at Admiralty shipyards in St. Petersburg.
Russian Navy Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) Kilo T636.3 conventional diesel-electric submarine SSK B-274 "Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy" & B-603 "Volkhov" which have both been accepted into the Russian Navy are yet to complete their delivery voyage to the PACFLT. Both units, which conducted an inter-base transit from Khronstadt to Baltiysk 11-16 March 2021, are scheduled to conduct L2 certification training in the Baltic Sea & may conduct DSRV training with Mikhail Rudnitsky before beginning their interfleet transit likely in May 2021.
Similarly, Algerian Navy Kilo T636.3 SSK-021 "Messali el Hadj" which conducted post maintenance sea trials in the Baltic 17 February to 5 March 2021 and returned to Admiralty shipyard, may also be a candidate for DSRV training operations. Although a vital part of a submarine's operational certification, DSRV operations are not as common as submarine escape training however, the customer may have specified this type of serial ahead of delivery.