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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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