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Bush-Gorbachov Summit, December 1989

This article is being reproduced from the magazine Air Force International (incorporating MODELAID International), January 1990. It was written by Michael Bonello, and is being presented here as it was originally written then.

Almost forty years after the momentous meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt in Malta on their way to Yalta, the tiny island Republic was once again in the forefront of the world's news when it hosted the historic "non-summit summit" between President George Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Credit for choosing Malta as the site for the meeting was claimed by Bush but he did admit that the fact that Gorbachev would be in Italy at the time made it very convenient for the Soviet leader. As soon as the announcement was made, a gigantic logistic machine went into action with Maltese, American and Soviet advisers looking into all the fine details that the average man in the street would never even begin to think about.

Weeks before the meeting Malta was literally invaded by television crews from all over the world who were all looking for special angles and back-ground to send back to their stations. In fact, over 1,200 newsmen from the West and 800 from the Soviet Union covered the meeting.

The major change from recent summit meetings between the superpowers was the fact that both provided a warship for the meeting. It had been planned to alternate the venue over the two days of talks but freak stormy weather diverted the venue to the Soviet liner Maxim Gorky which was firmly moored in Marsaxlokk Harbour. The Gorky had arrived two days previously with Soviet experts and pressmen.

The American cruiser was USS Belknap (CG26) which was commissioned in 1964. The Soviet cruiser was the Slava, which was commissioned, in 1983 and is the lead ship of the Slava class of missile cruisers. Its primary role in combat is that of leading surface battle groups against NATO aircraft carriers and sea lines of communications in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Slava's armament is awe-inspiring - she carries twin SS-N-12 55Okm -range anti-ship cruise missiles, which can carry a conventional warhead or a 350 kiloton nuclear bomb. These missiles, code named Sandbox by NATO, have a maximum speed of Mach 2.5. The Slava is also equipped with eight SA-N-6 air defence missile launchers with 64 missiles in store. These missiles, code named Grumble, can also carry conventional warheads or a 25 kiloton nuclear bomb. Other armaments are 40 SA-N-4 Surface-to-Air missiles fired from two twin launchers, these Gecko's, as they are known, carry a 50kg High Explosive Fragmentation warhead at a speed of Mach 2. As if all this was not sufficient, the Slava is also equipped with a twin-barrel 13Omm OP gun, six ADG6-30 3Omm CIWS mountings, two antisubmarine 12 barrel rocket launchers and two quintuple 533mm antisubmarine torpedo tubes. The Slava's flying armament is a Kamov Hormore B missile targeting/ELINT helicopter which uses its radar to provide targeting and guidance data for ship-launched cruise missiles. The KA-25 is the only helicopter in the world in large scale service to use contra-rotating main rotors.

The US counterpart, the USS Belknap, is by comparison, a poor cousin. The cruiser was badly damaged by fire in November 1975 when it was involved in a collision with the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean. It was subsequently towed back to the US for rebuilding. As the flagship of the US Sixth Fleet, the USS Belknap has a luxurious suite of cabins as well as a conference room. She is armed with quadruple Harpoon SSM launchers with eight missiles that do not carry nuclear warheads but only a 227kg blast fragmentation HE warhead. It flies at Mach 0.85 and has a 16Okm range. The Harpoon anti-ship missile is designed to penetrate the target before exploding in order to cause maximum possible damage, somewhat similar to the High Explosive Squash Head shells used in the anti-tank role in the past. The cruiser also carries a twin Standard SM-2-ER/ASROC SAM/ASW launcher with Standard missiles and 20 ASROC missiles, the former being for long range defence with a speed of mach 2.5 and a range of 150 km. The ASROC anti-submarine rocket can carry either a Honeywell Mk 46 acoustic homing torpedo or a 1.5 ton yield W44 warhead on a Mk 17 nuclear depth charge. In addition to these missiles, the Belknap has a 127mm DP gun, two 2Omm Phalanx CIWS mountings and two triple 324mm Mk 32 ASW torpedo tube mountings with 12 Mk 46 torpedoes. The flight deck on the rear of the cruiser takes a Kaman SH-2D Sea Sprite multi-role helicopter.

President Bush arrived in Malta at 09:40 hrs on Friday, December 1. He flew from Andrews AFB in Air Force One, a Boeing VC-137C serialled 72-7000. The Presidential Flight is based at Andrews AFB in Maryland and all aircraft are assigned to the 89th Military Airlift Wing. The wing consists of a Beechcraft C-6A, three C-9C Skytrain IIs, two C-12As, three C-20A Gulfstream IIIs, four C-135B Stratotankers, five C-137B/Cs, nine UH-1N Iroquois helicopters and four CH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters. Air Force One was delivered to 89th MAW in October 1973.

After the usual ceremonial on arrival President Bush flew for talks in Valletta in a VH-3D helicopter and less than an hour later he was winging off to the USS Forrestal, escorted by two CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters. The aircraft carrier was operating some sixty miles to the west of the island of Gozo.

The object of the visit was to praise the US Navy for its role in preserving peace. On the Forrestal Bush watched a demonstration of launchings and recoveries of aircraft. After lunching with the enlisted men, President Bush made a symbolic presentation of a piece of the Berlin wall and noted that while his generation had been called upon to win World War II, today's sailors are charged with preserving peace. "And lasting peace is not an accident. Lasting peace takes planning and patience and personal sacrifice. Lasting peace stems from strength that is moral and intellectual, economic and military" said Bush.

As is customary when the US president travels aboard, one of the four Boeing E-4B National Emergency Airborne Command Post aircraft accompanied the President but did not land in Malta, being stationed at nearby NAS Sigonella, Sicily. The aircraft is kept in a state of readiness and in case of war it provides the necessary communications lifeline between the President, the Department of Defence, the State Department and the White House. Alongside the E-4B at Sigonella was a C-9A Nightingale Ambulance aircraft which carries a fully equipped hospital complete with a blood bank for the President's use.

Mikhail Gorbachev, accompanied by his wife Raissa, left Milan, Italy in a hurry as fog was rapidly descending and was threatening to close Malpensa airfield (Linate was already closed due to fog). Cutting short a Press Conference which was being transmitted live, the Soviet leader and his delegation flew in an II-62M four-engined airliner of Aeroflot serialled CCCP-86540 and arrived at Luqa airport just after 2300 hrs.

Unfortunately Malta's sunny weather did not live up to its reputation and at about the time that Gorbachev arrived, a storm of tremendous proportions whipped up. President Bush as an ex-navy man was perfectly at home on the storm lashed the Belknap, but President Gorbachev, a lawyer and agronomist by profession, decided that he would be happier on board the liner Maxim Gorky and this is where he spent his first night. By the next morning, December 2, the first day of the talks, the storm had still not abated and therefore in deference to the Soviet President the first round of talks were held on the Gorky, where the crew had worked all night to provide the necessary facilities.

Sunday December 3, although still cloudy and wet, was not so stormy and Bush was able once again to attend the final rounds of talks that were also held on the Maxim Gorky. In all, the two Presidents spent eight hours in talks, and subsequently both Presidents gave a joint press conference in which they confirmed that the "non-summit" summit was an unqualified success and that they were both hopeful that the Malta meeting would be the start of a lasting era of peace.

Of course during the days preceding the summit Luqa airfield was a hive of activity with the coming and going of several aircraft that had never been seen here before.
Summit aircraft

The following is a list of all the US aircraft seen at Malta.

26.11.89 Beech UC-12M   Sigonella  
05.11.89 B. VC-135B 62-4126    
11.11.89 B. VC-137B 58-6972    
26.11.89 Gr. C-2A Greyhound 162159/JM/22 VR-24  
26.11.89 Gr. C-2A Greyhound 162176/JM/20 VR-24  
17.11.89 Gu. C-20A 30500 58th MAS  
  Gu. C-20B 50049 58th MAS  
29.11.89 L. C-5B Galaxy 50007 436th MAW  
16.11.89 L. C-5B 87-0030 60th MAW  
17.11.89 L. C-130E 63-7875 435th TAW  
26.11.89 L. C-130F 149801/JU/03 VR-22  
29.11.89 L. C-141 40619 437th MAW  
24.11.89 L. C-141B 50270 437th MAW  
29.11.89 Si. CH-53E Sea Stallion 161536 HC-4  
29.11.89 Si. CH-53E Sea Stallion 161537 HC-4  
29.11.89 Si. CH-53E Sea Stallion 161538 HC-4  
29.11.89 Si. CH-53E Sea Stallion 161539 HC-4  
29.11.89 Si. CH-53E Sea Stallion 161541 HC-4  
29.11.89 Si. VH-3 Seaking 159354 United States of America  
29.11.89 Si. VH-3 Seaking 159356 United States of America  

The following is updated information on some of the ships and aircraft mentioned in the article.

USS Belknap (CG-26)

Decommissioned on 15 February, 1995, this ship was used in a US Navy "Sinkex" exercise, where the ship is sunk during the testing of a missile or torpedo. This took place on 24 September, 1998, off the East coast of the United States.


The Slava (Glory) which was commissioned in 1982, was renamed Moskva (Moscow) in 1995. Overhauled between 1991-98, she was involved in the 2008 South Ossetia War.

Maxim Gorkiy

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ship was transferred to the Sovcomflot, whilst remaining on charter to Phoenix Reisen. The charter ended in November 2008 due to the high fuel costs.

In 2008 plans by Orient Lines, to rename it Marco Polo II and put it in service came to nothing.

After being laid up in Greece, where plans to convert here to a static hotel ship also came to nothing, the Maxim Gorkiy was purchased for €4.2 million and taken to a scrapyard in Alang, India in February 2009, and eventually broken up.

Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

Originally designed for both military civilian use, the C-141 made its first flight on 17 December 1963.

Deliveries of the first aircraft to the Military Air Transport Service took place on 19 October 1964, to the 1707th Air Transport Wing, Heavy (Training) located at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

Delivery to an operational unit was on 23 April 1965, to the 44th Air Transport Squadron, 1501st Air Transport Wing at Travis AFB, California.

On 8 January 1966, the Military Air Transport Service was disestablished, and all C-141s were transferred to the Military Airlift Command.

On 16 September 2004, the Starlifter was retired from USAF service, being confined to Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard Units.

A little over a year late, on 25 September, only eight (8) aircraft remained in service with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB.

The C-141 Starlifter was officially retired from military service in 2006.

Although the aircraft had also been design for the civilian market, and was awarded an FAA type certificate on 29 January 1965, none are known to have served with civilian airlines. Slick Airways and Flying Tiger Line, who were going to order four aircraft each, cancelled their orders.


All the other aircraft mentioned in the article are still in service with their respective operators as of February 2016.
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