Malachite Subs Post Proud Tradition

By Anatoly V. Kuteinikov

The biography of each design bureau is expressed in projects—those that were realized and those that have remained only in designer's sketches. The St. Petersburg Marine Engineering Bureau (SPMBM) "Malachite" has accomplished projects throughout several generations of Russia's multipurpose nuclear underwater fleet.

The history of SPMBM Malachite begins in March 1948, when Special Design Bureau 143 (SDB-143) was organized in Leningrad. The personnel of the Bureau have included engineers with experience in other design bureaus and graduates of educational institutes. The Bureau's mission has been to create—quickly—high-speed submarines with new types of power installations. Development of antisubmarine forces, equipped with radar tracking systems, determined the development of underwater shipbuilding in the 1950s and enabled the conversion of submarines into durable and speedy underwater ships.

Soon after its formation, SDB-143, led by Chief Designer Alexei A. Antipin, began to develop a submarine with steam- and gas-turbine power installation—Project 617, designated the Whale class by NATO. The only Project 617 was constructed at Leningrad Shipbuilding Yard 196, and went on sea trials in the summer of 1952. For the first time, a Russian submarine was capable of maintaining an underwater speed of 20 knots for six hours. Such a sub could—without surfacing—overtake the enemy, attack, and escape from antisubmarine forces. However, steam- and gas-turbine installations, as well as diesels, working on closed cycle were far from meeting the requirements of a high-grade submarine. They did not operate smoothly and had limited energy resources and a high risk of explosion and fire.

In the early 1950s, development of science and engineering allowed creation of small-sized ship nuclear reactor. Work on creation of the first Soviet nuclear-powered submarine began in 1952. In Moscow, under the scientific management of academician Anatoly P. Aleksandrov, a design group was organized. Development of power installation was headed by Nikolai N. Dollejal, and other work on the first native nuclear submarine design was assigned to SDB-143 and its chief, Vladimir N. Peregudov.

Originally, the first nuclear submarine was developed to carry the T-15—a large, 1,500-mm. torpedo that had a powerful thermonuclear warhead and was intended for striking coastal targets. However, during development of the technical project, the purpose of the submarine was changed, and the submarine was developed further with 533-mm. torpedo tubes. There were many developments during the project, including the introduction of nuclear power to a submarine, breakthroughs in hydrodynamics, creation of new construction materials, a focus on ensuring habitability, and steps forward in weapons and radio-electronics. In fewer than 18 months, the submarine's design was completed, and construction of the submarine began at Yard 402 (today, the industrial association "Northern Machine-Building Enterprise") at Severodvinsk. In the summer of 1958, the experimental nuclear submarine K-3 (November class), later named the Leninsky Komsomol , went on sea trials, and in December 1958 entered the fleet. Thus, the first Soviet nuclear underwater ship was created in six years—from concept to delivery. Such a project took the United States about nine years.

The new power installation radically changed the image of submarines. In comparison with existing Soviet diesel-electric submarines, the K-3 was one-and-a-half to two times faster underwater, had a range 60 to 75 times greater, and could submerge one-and-a-half times as deep.

Using accumulated experience, relatively small changes were introduced to the original project. Twelve submarines were constructed following the design of Project 627A—forming the foundation of the Soviet nuclear underwater fleet. Building on the design of Project 627A in 1962, submarines including the missile nuclear submarines of Project 658 (Hotel class) and Project 659 (Echo I class) were developed at CDB-18 (today's Rubin Central Design Bureau).

The Soviet nuclear-reactor design engineers had focused on the lead-bismuth alloy, and so did not have to face the problems that the U.S. Navy did in creating Seawolf (SSN-575), which employed chemically active sodium heat.

The submarine K-27 of Project 645—a modification of the Project 627A/November design—successfully completed some independent voyages, encountering few problems with her power installation. However, the nuclear power plant, which used liquid-metal heat exchange, became increasingly complex to operate and required special base maintenance. When the plant failed in 1968, the K-27 was removed from the Soviet Navy. SDB-143 used a liquid metal reactor in a submarine power plant again, during Project 705 (NATO's Alfa class).

In the early 1960s, many reliability problems were resolved, and the submarines of Project 627 and 627A made a number of long voyages. In July 1962, the K-3 executed the first Soviet Arctic submarine voyage and reached the geographical North Pole under water. A year later, the K-181 was in the Arctic and surfaced near the North Pole. In 1966, the K-133 participated in a group global circumnavigation, covering roughly 20,000 miles in 54 days.

SDB-143 Introduces Missiles to Submarines

Such efforts are widely known, but it is not as well known that SDB-143 also was one of the pioneers in introducing missiles to submarines. In the mid-1950s, Malachite Bureau worked on a submarine to carry cruise missiles (system P-20 on Project P-627A, chief designer G. Y. Svetaev). Supersonic airplane projectiles, now referred as cruise missiles, which had a range of flight of 3,500 km (5.4 times greater than the range of flight of ballistic missiles of first-generation nuclear submarines), were created under the management of well-known airplane designer S. V. Ilyushin. SDB-143 quickly resolved the difficult engineering problems of accommodating a new kind of weapon on a submarine. Work on modifying the Project 627A design to carry P-20 missiles was completed at the end of 1957, and Yard 402 in Severodvinsk began constructing the prototype. After this design, SDB-143 worked on a number of projects to be armed with P-20 cruise missiles. The first submarine of this type was scheduled to enter the fleet in 1962. But in 1960, the government revised priorities toward development of the missile weapon, and the highest priority was placed on fast-progressing ballistic missiles. The construction of the missile version of Project P-627 was terminated.

In 1954, at CDB-16, which in 1974 became part of SPMBM Malachite under the management of academician Nikolai N. Isanin, together with the missile design bureau headed by Sergei P. Korolev, began work on underwater ballistic-missile carriers. On 16 September 1955, a ballistic missile was launched from a submarine of Project B-611 (Zulu IV class) for the first time in the world. Soon several converted diesel-electric submarines of Project AB-611 (Zulu V class) joined the fleet, and in 1959, the fleet began receiving ballistic-carriers of Project 629 (Golf class) armed with new missiles of increased range. Twenty-three submarines of this type were constructed between 1959 and 1962, and they were the bedrock of strategic nuclear forces of the Soviet fleet. Malachite Bureau experimented on subsequent generations, including underwater-launch missiles.

Developed quickly—thanks to the efforts of Soviet industry—by the early 1960s the Soviet naval fleet was oceangoing, nuclear-powered, and missile-carrying. Nuclear submarines were the main attack force of the fleet. During the same time frame, the United States managed in an equally brief period to create Polaris. From 1959 to 1967, the United States produced 41 nuclear submarines, each capable of carrying 16 ballistic missiles.

A New Type of Submarine

Having solved many problems by the end of the 1950s, SDB-143 began to develop nuclear submarines of a new type—submarine hunters. Project 671 (Victor class) was developed under the management of chief designer Georg N. Chernishov. It was the first one-shaft submarine in the Soviet fleet that was optimized for speed, with an original bow configuration that housed large-sized acoustic sensor array and torpedo apparatus.

Many basic design decisions were realized in Project 671, providing for significant improvements in tactical and technical elements and the overall technology of submarine construction, including:

  • Block configuration of reactor and steam-turbine installation, ensuring effective reduction of vibration-noise parameters
  • Use of new high-strength steel, allowing greater depth of submergence
  • Use of alternating current with feed from autonomous turbo generators
  • Development of automatic- and remote-control systems

In 1959 and 1960 at SDB-143, studies of functional control charts for the Project 671 systems were executed, control algorithms were developed, the nomenclature of sources of information and remote-controlled equipment were determined, and configurations of display and control panels were offered. The automation of control of technical facilities and movement was fixed and was introduced and improved on subsequent submarine generations.

Designers at the Malachite Bureau created a reliable battle submarine, able to act in any region of the world's oceans—including the Arctic—with increased speed and immersible depth Submarines of Project 671 were constructed in Leningrad at the "Admiralteisky" shipyard; the first unit entered the fleet in 1967. By 1974, 15 submarines of this type had been constructed.

In 1969, the fleet received the only submarine of Project 661 (Papa class-chief designer Nikolai N. Isanin), armed with "Ametist" cruise missiles. It was during the design of this submarine that the technology of manufacturing a titanium alloy hull and a new missile complex were achieved. This submarine won a "blue ribbon" award, and its underwater speed record—44.7 knots—remains unsurpassed.

In the mid-1960s, the need for increased acoustic secretiveness was realized. Steady and consecutive introduction of measures for noise reduction and for acoustic protection began. During construction of Project 671, the acoustic field level was decreased several times. This submarine was modernized and updated with new weapons and equipment.

Beginning in 1972, the fleet received submarines of Project 671RT (Victor II class). They had more powerful torpedoes and missile weapons of increased caliber, and a further decreased acoustic field. And, from 1978 to 1991, the fleet received 26 updated subs of Project 671RTM (Victor III class)—ships with the most modern electronic countermeasures, automated system of battle control, and advanced torpedo and missile weapons. A system of strategic cruise missiles similar to the U.S. Tomahawk was tested on one of these submarines. The ships since have been transformed into multipurpose submarines, capable of performing practically any battle task. The noise level is dozens of times less that that of the first submarine of Project 671RTM. Also, electronic countermeasures were tested fully on submarines of Project 671, and this later formed the basis for creation new systems for third-generation submarines.

Another important achievement for SDB-143 and for submarine building as a whole was the nuclear submarine of Project 705 (Alfa class). The history of this ship begins in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Malachite Bureau, focused on the concept of a small-displacement, high-speed, highly maneuverable underwater submarine hunter. A group of young and talented designers, led by Anatoly B. Petrov, put forward a cascade of new ideas that in many respects were revolutionary. The scientific chief of the project was academician Anatoly P. Alexandrov. The brightest of the Russian academicians participated in creation of this design, including A. I. Leipunsky (atomic engineering), V. A. Trapeznikov (automation), and A. G. Iosifian (electrical equipment). In a very short time, a huge complex of scientific, test, and design works were completed, allowing execution of the design of a new submarine with unique characteristics.

A small nuclear-power installation with liquid-metal heat-exchange technology ensured that the submarine could attain a speed of more than 40 knots. Full automation called for only one-third as many crew as there were on a first-generation nuclear submarine. Torpedo weapons—ensuring the ability to fire in the full range of depths—a nonmagnetic titanium hull, and small-sized electric equipment were created.

Technically, the submarine of Project 705 was significantly ahead of its time. A number of parameters achieved on Project 705 are still unsurpassed in the world. But differences between the level of scientific development and manufacturing, as well as an imperfect nuclear power plant and other equipment, had a negative effect on the submarine's fate. Nevertheless, many design goals that were achieved on Project 705 were introduced successfully on ships of the following generation. Certainly, the mere creation of such a ship was an important step forward in shipbuilding.

Projects 671 and 705 demonstrated that SDB-143 is an independent, highly professional institution with huge creative potential, capable of solving the most difficult problems of submarine building, and of supplying the fleet with first-class multipurpose submarines for several generations.

In the 1960s, a special project was developed, intended for full-scale tests of control systems of the boundary layer and new propulsion equipment, and to resolve maneuverability questions. In 1987, the laboratory submarine of Project 1710 (Beluga class, chief designer G. P. Moskalev) entered the fleet. Subsequent years of intensive tests determined results for perfection of hydrodynamic and acoustic characteristics for future submarines.

In 1985, the fleet begun to receive new, multipurpose Project 971, Bars-class (NATO's Akula-class) submarines. They were designed, from the very beginning, with a focus on improving the acoustic qualities of the ship. Indeed, the Bars -class submarines' acoustic qualities are competitive with those of the United States' updated USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) class. These submarines received all the most advanced achievements of Soviet science and engineering. The best qualities of Projects 671 and 705 were combined successfully, to a large extent because of the work of their chief designer, Georg N. Chernishov.

Bars -class submarines have the most modern hydro-acoustic equipment, with a range of target detection that is several times greater than that of Project 671RTM; they have powerful torpedo and missile weapons to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. The Bars is the most universal Russian multipurpose submarine of the third generation. In comparison with second-generation submarines, Bars submarines are several times more efficient in battle.

During the creation of the Bars -class submarines, a technology using zone blocks of internal bearing structures was introduced. The main equipment and all communications are installed on these structures outside the ship; then a zone block, assembled in shop, is "rolled" into the pressure hull and incorporated with the ship mains. Such technology reduces labor, increases the quality of assembly, and reduces the submarine's noise field. Bars -class submarines have excellent speed and maneuverability characteristics. These beautiful—and dangerous—ships are the pride of the modern Russian fleet. Having inherited the name of one of the World War I classes of Soviet war submarines, modern Bars submarines bear the Russian flag.

Malachite Bureau is also one of the pioneers of exploration of the depths of the world's oceans. The deep-water vehicles and research submarines created at the bureau work successfully at significant depths. To explore the coastal shelf, especially in the Arctic region, Malachite was an initiator of the development of an underwater transport system. The bureau developed many preliminary designs of underwater tankers, underwater containerships, and underwater auxiliary vessels to explore the concept of merchant navigation under the ice by means of underwater transport ships. The study of such ships continues and has good potential. Malachite Bureau also is working on intensive design developments of various underwater means for research including investigation and exploration of useful mineral shelf resources and oil and gas deposits.

Today, Russian submarine building is facing difficult times. The economic crisis and the breach of relations with industrial-military enterprises of the former Soviet Union have created serious obstacles to working to our scientific and technical potential. But even under these conditions, Malachite continues to function at the apex of Russian shipbuilding. Fourth-generation multipurpose submarines are under construction that will be competitive with their foreign contemporaries. Malachite Bureau has developed a good number of nonnuclear submarine designs with air-independent power installations, including those of the "Kronverk" family that have displacements ranging up to 2,000 tons.

The creative potential possessed by Malachite allows us to hope that in the 21st century, the bureau will ensure the capability of the Russian Navy to maintain its presence in oceans and seas for the state interests of Russia and that it will promote Russia's industrial growth.

Dr. Kuteinikov , general designer and director of SPMBM Malachite, has worked there since 1956, first in the Project Department, and later as Deputy Head Engineer of the nuclear submarine project and Head Engineer of the Bureau.


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