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

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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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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…

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