The Republic Navies

By Norman Polmar

Admiralty : The St. Petersburg submarine yard was created a quarter-century ago by merging the Admiralty and Sudomekh yards into the United Admiralty Association. It now constructs only specialized nuclear submarines and nonnuclear attack submarines.

In its building sheds along the banks of the Neva River are a small, 730-ton special-purpose nuclear submarine of the Paltus class (SSAN), the first improved SSK of the Lada class intended for Russian service, and the similar SSK of the Amur 1650 design intended for foreign sale. These are in addition to the Kilo launched in June 1998 that is being fitted out for delivery to China.

Komsomol'sk : Located on the Amur River in the Far East, some 280 miles inland from the Pacific coast, the Komsomol'sk shipyard has two unfinished SSNs of the Akula I design in its construction buildings. These were intended as the last nuclearpropelled submarines to be built at the yard.

The fourth shipyard that constructed nuclear submarines, the Krasnoye Sormovo yard, inland on the Volga River, no longer builds military submarines. Its last delivery is believed to have been a Kilo-class SSK for India in December 1997. An additional, unsold and unfinished Kilo is in the yard.

Work at all of these yards has been intermittent over the past few years. At Severodvinsk, the city periodically has cut off electric power to the Sevmash yard for lack of payment, and from 3 to 8 September, the Sevmash management closed the yard's gates to prevent a work stoppage by the workers.

The yards have been forced to lay off thousands of workers, and those who remain are not paid on a regular basis. Equally critical, components and equipment for submarine construction are not being delivered. Many factories will not deliver orders without payment, others have ceased operation, and some simply have stopped making specific military material.

Accordingly, the future status of the submarines now on the building ways is questionable. Little if any work is being done on the Yuri Dolgorukiy , laid down two years ago, because of cancellation of her SS-N-28 ballistic missile. Construction is now halted because of the need to redesign the submarine to carry an earlier missile. It is not clear whether the SSBN—only a few percent complete—will be modified, or if an entirely new design will be constructed.

Some sources have cited a completion date of 2004 for the Yuri Dolgorukiy . Even that date seems unrealistic, but the recent appointment of Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister may signal "a major turning point in economic policy. . harking back to the Soviet Union's centrally planned and heavily militarized economy." Primakov's economics chief is Yuri Maslyukov, a communist legislator and the last head of Gosplan, the Soviet central planning agency. He has promised priority funding for the SSBN program and has said that there must be at least "several" Borey-class submarines in operation by 2010.

These submarines will be needed if the Russian Navy is to maintain a viable strategic submarine force. If the Yuri Dolgorukiy could be completed by 2004, she would join probably one Typhoon and perhaps ten Delta III/IV submarines, i.e., a total force of 12 submarines carrying just under 900 warheads. (By comparison, the U.S. Navy is expected to have 14 SSBNs with 1,747 warheads, based on START II strategic force limitations.

The situation with respect to other Russian submarine programs is equally perplexing. At least one SSGN of the Oscar II class remains under construction at Sevmash. The Oscars are large submarines armed with 24 SS-N-19 long-range, antiship missiles. Originally, the program called for 16 submarines—one for each U.S. attack carrier. Eleven have been completed; others are in various stages of construction at Sevmash, but at most, only one is likely to be completed. Significantly, the Sevmash yard and the Rubin Central Design Bureau, which designed the Oscar class, have proposed adopting the unfinished SSGNs for commercial use. Before one dismisses such proposals out of hand, it should be noted that a Victor III SSN delivered a load of potatoes to the Yamal peninsula in northern Siberia during a 1995 test of employing submarines in a cargo role.

Rubin, the Malachite Central Design Bureau in St. Petersburg, and the Lazurit Central Design Bureau in Nizhny Novgorod (Gor'kiy), which previously designed both nuclear and conventional submarines, have proposed several cargo submarine projects, especially for transporting oil in Arctic regions. These bureaus also are working on underwater gas and oil exploration, extraction, transport, and support systems, including submarine "vehicles."

The SSN construction situation also is unclear. The lead submarine of the fourth-generation SSN, the Severodvinsk , languishes at Sevmash. This is an advanced submarine design from the Malachite Bureau, with provisions for state-of-the-art sensors and weapons. The Severodvinsk has been on the building ways for six years; work apparently stopped in the fall of 1996, prior to launching, and her completion is doubtful.

Malachite now is completing the design of a more advanced SSN. This later submarine may incorporate features found in the research submarine Forel (given the NATO name Beluga), a highly advanced craft designed by Malachite for hydrodynamic and acoustic research. This craft is optimized for controlling the boundary layer to decrease drag. The craft's shape, arrangement of control surfaces and propeller, and use of polymers give promise of high performance.

There also are two Akula II SSNs reported under construction at Severodvinsk. An estimated 13 Akula-class submarines have been completed, with one being an Akula II, having noise levels equivalent to or quieter than contemporary U.S. submarines. Work is said to be continuing on at least one of these SSNs at the Sevmash yard.

Another two Akula SSNs are on the building ways at Komsoml'sk in the Far East, but little progress has been reported on these boats since the fall of 1995. Thus, of four Akulas considered "under construction," it is likely that only one or at most two of the improved boats at Sevmash will be completed.

The third submarine building yard—Admiralty in St. Petersburg—has had the third unit of the Paltus class on the ways for several years. This small, nuclear submarine is a deepdiving craft; Western estimates are that it can operate below 3,000 feet, performing research and ocean-engineering missions. The Paltus-class submarines (two are in the fleet) are the follow on to three similar deep-diving Uniform-class craft and the now-stricken single X-Ray SSAN. All of these were designed by Malachite and built by Admiralty/Sudomekh. The extensive resources devoted to this program indicate the significant Russian interest in special activities in the deep-ocean environment.

Also being built at Admiralty are diesel-electric attack submarines. The Kilo launched for China probably is the last of this successful Rubin design to be built. Twenty-four have been completed for the Soviet/Russian Navy, with the last three units, known as Project 636, reported to be faster, quieter, and have more electrical power than the earlier, Project 877 models. Another 19 variants have been delivered to Algeria, China, India, Iran, Poland, and Romania. Improved Kilo SSKs still could be built for foreign transfer.

Two follow-on SSKs were begun at Admiralty on 26 December 1997, the Amur 1650 design, intended for foreign transfer, and the Lada-class submarine St. Petersburg for the Soviet Navy. Both were designed by Rubin, based on a similar modular concept, and are being paid for largely with private funding.

The modular concept will permit similar components to be used in different size submarines, offering several weapon and sensor options, with either diesel-electric or a combination system that provides closed-cycle oxygen/hydrogen propulsion. The Lada will have a surface displacement of 2,700 tons. Rubin has put forth five variants of the Amur for purchase, the model 1850 being the largest—1,850 tons surfaced and 2,600 tons submerged.

Russian naval, shipbuilding, and design bureau officials all hope that the new government under Yevgeny Primakov will actively support a rehabilitated submarine program. More realistically, the Russians hope that success with foreign sales of the Amur/Lada submarines, and the potential sales of the commercial undersea projects, will contribute to maintaining a viable submarine industrial complex in Russia.

A senior Russian submarine designer, A. M. Antonov of the Malachite Bureau, recently wrote:

An analysis of ongoing trends shows that with the end of the "Cold War" and given the newly forming systems of threats the role of general purpose forces, equipped with precision missile armament, including multipurpose submarines, will increase.


Norman Polmar is an analyst, consultant, and author specializing in naval, aviation, and science and technology issues. He has been a consultant or advisor on naval-related issues to three U.S. senators, the Speaker of the House, and the Deputy Counselor to the President, as well as to the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has written or coauthored more than fifty published books and numerous articles on naval, aviation, technology, and intelligence subjects.

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