Russian tug off Florida: supporting nuclear attack subs or observing SpaceX launch?

Apr 17 2014 - 19 Comments

A Russian tug has been operating off Florida for some weeks. What is it doing over so far from home?

The Russian “Nikolay Chiker” is an ocean tug that has often deployed alongside Russian Navy’s high value assets. According to Information Dissemination, the ship accompanied Russia’s spy ship Viktor Leonov to Cuba last month, before moving off Florida, where it was parked on Mar. 15, ahead of the launch of Dragon spacecraft (Space Shuttle Orbiter replacement) on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket scheduled of Mar. 16 from the SLC-40 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

However, the SpaceX launch was delayed and, since then, the ship has moved back and forth along U.S. East coast: it headed southbound, has made a port visit to Curacao, then it has operated in the Caribbean Sea and eventually returned more or less where it was on Mar. 15 and it is right now: off Cape Canaveral.

The fact that the tug moved off Cape Kennedy in the days of the scheduled launch of SpaceX and returned there in anticipation of the new launch window suggests that the “Nikolay Chiker” is somehow interested in observing the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft on the company’s third commercial resupply mission and fourth visit to the space station.

However, there’s someone who suggested that the ocean tug is actually supporting Russian nuclear attack submarines monitoring U.S. Navy East coast bases.

Hard to say.

For sure the Russian tug is not there by accident. During the Cold War, Russian and Americans have monitored each others special special operations, military exercises, invasions, maiden flights etc. This is not changed with the collapse of the USSR. On the contrary, close encounters (as the one in the Black Sea) and reciprocal snooping are probably going to increase.

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  • Vlad Lenin

    Can’t see why they would be interested in SpaceX… I would be scared of getting hit when they try to test that reuseable 1st stage. But collecting intel is collecting intel I guess. Now for last weeks’s Atlas V launch with a spy satellite, heck yeah they should have been all over that. I suppose they could be watching any subs hanging out at Port Canaveral? Why not just take a quick trip up to Kings Bay, Georgia too?

    • Ed

      Perhaps they want to nick that first stage? :P I really don’t get it either – isn’t that spacecraft headed for the ISS? Surely a lot of info has been shared, what more can they learn from observing it?

    • phuzz

      Space X do fly payloads for the US government, but I’d have thought they’d be less interested in the upcoming flight to the ISS, and more interested in the NRO launch from Cape Canaveral the other day:

      • Jack Frost

        Can you say “NRO” now?

  • TJ

    Nikolay Chiker could also be hanging around for a possible X-37B landing at Cape Canaveral? Next week will mark 500 days in space for the X-37B. The US is intending to have the facilities at Cape Canaveral to recover the X-37B.

    Nikolay Chiker is also sending Morse Code back to various head quarters in Russia. Every six hours she sends a weather report that contains the latitude and longitude course and speed. She is also using the Morse to set up secure communication links.

    I picked up Nikolay Chiker this morning here in the UK on 12464 Kilohertz sending weather back to Russia. Call sign RAL48 17061 99282 70802 22200 @0609 GMT

    I stripped out the full weather transmission to leave the coordinates.

    28.2N 80.2W Hove to

    The Russian military still makes extensive use of Morse Code. The following is a recording of Nikolay Chiker sending weather on March 15th, 2014 as she was positioned off Florida.

  • Sideshow

    The Nikolay Chiker is the same tugboat that towed the Russian aircraft carrier Varyag to China. The Varyag is what became China first aircraft carrier the Liaoning,-towing-and-salvage/tsavliris_complete_three_month_varyag_tow

  • Flyn_Bryan


  • 1_Human_Being

    I can assure you that if it is supporting Russian subs, we know and it has nothing to do with aircraft or ships. Google SOSUS and you will understand what I’m talking about…

  • Mader Levap

    Obvious troll is obvious.

    • R.Lopaka

      Obvious TRUTH hurts does it?

  • Beomoose

    The previous Administration cancelled the Shuttle, this one is running a contest between 3 potential crew vehicles plus a heavy lift vehicle. With adequate funding from Congress, the gap would already be over but hey that’s Congress. And US did not cancel human spaceflight, it has continued on ISS with an assist from Russia.

  • BenjaminBrown

    FU. Bush cancelled the shuttle program, NOT Obama. By the time Obama got into office the cancellation of the shuttle was already under way. Obama cancelled the Constellation program, which was a pork project of the highest caliber. Nor would it have restored NASA’s human space flight capability any faster. The Ares I with Orion wouldn’t have launched until 2019 at best, and the Ares V/SLS with Orion wont launch until 2021 at the earliest.

    Now? Has Obama been kind to NASA? Nope. Robotic planetary exploration has been cut by the President’s budget for the past three years. Indeed, the future of planetary science done by NASA past the 2030’s is unclear.

    That being said, if Congress had funded the commercial program fullly since 2011, we’d more than likely have the capability to launch into space by now. Instead, Congress has favored the pork project SLS which is basically the Ares V from the cancelled Constellation program. Which I’ll remind you again, wont launch until 2021 with humans in Orion at best. Even then, it will only launch ONCE per year because its so expensive.

    As for the Muslim outreach bullshit? Anyone with a working brain knows its a bullshit statement that doesn’t go beyond one stupid interview. Then again, I’ve never liked Bolden. We should have a NASA administrator that fights for NASA, not a yes-man like Bolden.

  • C Wilkinson

    If the Russians are returning to the area off KSC during the CRS-3 launch windows, it stands to reason this is what they’re interested in. In the early 90s, DARPA and the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars) developed plans to use a very large reuseable booster system to loft the elements of the SDI system into orbit. The early rocket tests for that idea were the Delta Clipper program in New Mexico. The paranoid Russions may see SpaceX’s reuseable booster within that context and as a strategic tool for the US’s intent for dominance in space. Finally, the Russians currently launch some of the cheapest flights for satellites in the world and SpaceX has threatened their dominance with their own very low cost Falcon 9 booster. Naturally they’ll want to learn their methods and secrets.

  • root user

    What we do know is they’re drinking lots of vodka and playing cards.

  • 2eurocents

    I hope you’re all good and paranoid. It helps.

  • TJ

    She’s probably in support of SSV-175 Viktor Leonov? Viktor Leonov was reported to be off Florida last month along with Viktor Leonov. Morse call sign RMMA is claimed to be Vikor Leonov. No weather from RMMA but plenty of Morse message and set ups of encrypted communications.

    Viktor Leonov was recently in Cuba.

  • Varuka Salt

    Insanity and racism. Amazing how often they go together.

  • Jack Frost

    Probably just got done towing some russian “warship” to Cuba for a static display and are waiting for orders to retrieve it and town it back to russia.

  • B Jones

    The Russian Tug is a recovery vessel specializing in Salvage of say, the first stage floating out there if Space X can’t get to it. Lot’s of info gained by taking it back to Russia. Fine, why else then geniuses…