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Ccal machinery that might cause sparks and start fires. Numerous tu»- °c^s within the turret and fh
^°H}a Explosion Kills 47
(,at ,Ur‘ng a naval exercise off Puerto Rico on 19 April, the U. S. Navy p0^owa (BB-61) suffered a turret explosion, killing 47 sailors. tuQer ‘n the breech of the number-two gun (of three) in the number-two The exP'ot*ed prematurely, apparently before the breech was closed. berresuhing gas explosion inside the turret killed those in the gun cham- ar>d caused a fire that spread down the upper powder hoist, last Ch exPl°s*°ns are extremely rare, but by no means unknown. The tty SUch experience in the U. S. Navy was an explosion in the number- turret of the cruiser Newport News (CA-148) in 1972. assi 6 *ar®e nurnher of men killed in the Iowa reflects the large crew tUrrS7ed to the turret. So many men are required because much of the e|e„^*.s operation is necessarily manual, specifically to avoid the use of ‘he tUrr .
et- The interlocks are a classic and unavoidable safety feature in a f^fn turret.
•tirret,se^‘ately after the explosion, much was made of the 16-inch gun V j, ancient technology,” which was thus implicated in the explo- NitjCa. Seems more likely that those attacking the technology had a 'l>e (j . aSenda in mind. After all, the 16-inch gun is a major means for C(-l States to impose its will in areas of the Third World, such as
Sole Soviet Mike Sinks
The sole Soviet Mike-class nuclear-powered attack submarine burned and sank on 7 April about 300 miles off the Norwegian coast, on what appears to have been a routine patrol. The Soviets blamed an electrical problem for the fire. Reportedly the submarine suffered an explosion while cruising at a depth of 300 feet, managed to get to the surface, and then foundered. In response to Norwegian queries concerning possible radioactive contamination, the Soviets stated that the submarine’s reactor had been shut down before she sank, and that she had two nuclear torpedoes and ten conventional ones on board. They also stated that, of a crew of 69, only 27 survived. Many of them were apparently in poor condition, because Soviet spokesmen stated that they could be interviewed for only a few minutes at a time (and, therefore, little could be known about the accident). The Soviets also stated that some of the seven “special devices” on board the submarine might explode as she sank, rupturing her hull. Reports on the depth of water in which the Mike sank varied from 4,500 to 6,500 feet.
Little is known of the Mike; she operated infrequently and appears not to have been reproduced. She has generally been described as an experimental submarine similar in function to the Soviets’ unique Papa-class missile submarine of 1970. In each case, it is difficult to say whether the submarine was built to test some design concept or whether it was a failed class prototype. Considerable time elapsed between the completion of the first Alfa-class submarine in 1971-72 and the entry of the next into active service in 1979. Between 1972 and 1979, the first Alfa must have appeared to be a one-off prototype just like the Papa and the Mike.
The Mike reportedly has a thick titanium hull and two liquid-metal- cooled reactors, and might be described as an application of Alfa technology to a less specialized submarine. The Alfa is usually described as highly automated, with an unmanned engine room. She reportedly was conceived as a submarine interceptor, to attack missile submarines relatively close to the Soviet coast. That interpretation explains her very high submerged speed (to connect with the target before it gets too far from the initial datum) and her very small crew (she would not need much endurance for the interceptor mission). As in some other Soviet projects (such as the MiG-25 Foxbat fighter), the Alfa is a fossil of an earlier military situation, preserved by the inertia inherent in the Soviet planning system. By the time the first one had been completed, U. S. missile submarines were no longer anywhere near the Soviet coast. The relatively short endurance designed into the Alfa would have been a great handicap in a submarine force operating relatively far from home.
The last Alfa was completed in 1983; the Mike entered service in 1986. Official U. S. sources rate her displacement at 4,400 tons surfaced and 6,400 submerged, compared to 2,900 and 3,680 for the Alfa. The extra displacement could reflect increased internal volume for more crewmen and for more space in which to maintain vital systems, such as machinery, during a patrol. According to the Soviets, the Alfa has a crew of only 45, all of which are officers. Given her greater size and probably more conventional configuration, the Mike’s crew had been estimated at 95. Now the Soviets have stated that the Mike carries a crew of 69, suggesting that she is either highly automated or that she has a relatively simple combat system. The former hypothesis seems more likely. It is striking that the Soviet-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine requires a crew of about 54 (14 officers and 40 enlisted men), according to Indian Navy operators.
When it first appeared, the Mike was generally presented as a follow- on to the Alfa, and it is unlikely that the Soviets would lightly abandon
l,n8s I June 1989
a' must have been an immense investment in the technology of weld- ^ toSether thick titanium hulls. A Mike might take much longer to ?m°*e l^an 'he much smaller Alfa, so a second Mike (or Mike succes- 1 may still be under construction. The Mike lacks the stem antenna ^ °fthe Victor 111 and later attack submarines, which suggests that her of n's °* a somewhat earlier vintage, perhaps contemporary with that the Victor II, which entered service in 1972-78. er ]]not*'er interesting point is the torpedo load-out. Submarines are genT y cramped for space, so they often carry relatively few weapons. wVe torpedoes in a 4,400-ton submarine is, however, fewer than one jo . exPect- It is not clear what the seven “special devices” are. The teer-etS tendt0 answer questions accurately, but very explicitly, volun- no "8 no extra information. In Western parlance, “special” often (but WasaIways) means nuclear, so that one might suggest that the submarine nia Carrying seven nuclear warheads, either for torpedoes or for antisub- asnne missiles such as the SS-N-15. In that case, her capacity might be he®reat as 19 weapons, which would be closer to Western standards for pracSlze- On the other hand, it is unlikely that standard Soviet operating Ca1Ce *s to carry so large a nuclear load in relation to total weapon V city, if a typical Soviet submarine does indeed carry only 12-19 Hot P°ns’ 'ha' fact would be significant operationally. The Soviets are 48 Crec*‘ted with having dual-purpose torpedoes such as the U. S. Mk- ■ s« they must divide a small number of weapons into ASW and anti- “sn a)ternat‘ves- They may also use a torpedo-sized decoy (is this the alteCla* device?”), which would take up valuable slots. Yet another ]aurnative would be to identify the “special device” as a submarine- ^hed missile, nuclear or nonnuclear, ttiish £ po88'ble conclusion would be that individual Soviet submarines Vol ih n°l able t0 attack many targets, and therefore that the Soviets °cea reserve any high-performance submarines released into the open mi-. 'n wartime for particularly valuable targets, such as carriers. It lara he relatively difficult for the Soviet submarine force to prosecute a
,eae 8ca'e antishipping war if indeed its nuclear submarines carry so few which nS Admittedly the information on the Mike is a slender reed on
l° rCSt 8UC^ a hypothesis, but such a limited torpedo capacity 1^ drastically change our perception of the Soviet submarine force. NavJ aCCident hself appears to be one more example of the Soviet class S • ad Other recent examples are the sinking of the Yankee- wat f.'ssile submarine in 1986, the sinking of a Charlie (in shallow dcstn ln (apparently because of carelessness in diving), and the 1984 r°n op t*le large Northern Fleet weapon depot at Severomorsk in Rep ' lae total extent of Soviet accidents has not been made public. SubmrtedIy’ a O- S. official statement states that there have been 200 c0nsjanne incidents since 1974, but this may include many that would be traced m'nor if °ther navies. If the string of recent accidents can be of slo carelessness, then perhaps that in turn is yet another reflection of s. ere Soviet demographic problems and of the absence of any cadre How (,'0r enhsted men (nearly all sailors are draftees). The Soviets are to bui|?lnn‘n8 to recruit and train petty offices, but it takes many years teaS()n UP an appropriate bank of experience. It is even possible that one rienc , or 'he current willingness to scrap older submarines is that expe- . fen are in short supply.
hold >rt ^rom ^er i'f" and' perhaps, her reactors, the Mike is unlikely to lies at °tlc technology. However, her remains are worth visiting. She rtiersu-,]3 t'lat *s accessible to Western, and probably Soviet, sub- cUrrentes' ^he possible prizes would be the weapons (which would be cbine< stypes)’ sonars (and, as important, their displays), the code ma- SUbitiar ' 3n^’ Poss*t>ly, technical manuals (if they escaped the fire). The Hen !nc alntost certainly cannot be raised, and she probably broke up Way . e bit the bottom: She would have attained a high velocity on the br^es r' S°v*ets likely plan to visit the wreck to destroy any Norestern intelligence agencies may covet.
'ng y Presented the Soviets with a ten-point questionnaire concem- keport ^ike s reactor, justified by the threat of nuclear contamination, factor hmd'cate that one of the questions was how much plutonium the tlteiuje| Produced during its two weeks of operation. The reactors
"alikoi Ves are Pr°bably cooled with liquified lead-bismuth, and thus are ». c‘y to
1)161 • U1
"lent 7 tde *'re began in compartment seven and spread to compart L*1°'VleH canno' easily be interpreted, because there is no unclassified ^ffd o °b 'be layout of the submarine or even of the meaning of the t'0re |j£,yPartment as the Soviets use it in this context (e.g., it may be e our use of the word “station” in describing an area of a ship).
nt ~~ Present an explosion or violent reaction risk. A Soviet state' 'bat the f
SWATH Takes Shape
Work continues on the Victorious (T-AGOS-19), a small water-plane area twin-hull (SWATH) ocean surveillance ship for the U. S. Military Sealift Command. Three more of this design will be built, to be followed by a new SWATH class with 60% more displacement.
New Soviet Missile Unveiled
Had the Mike not been sunk, another Soviet development might have received more publicity. Last fall a new East German fast attack craft appeared in the Baltic, armed with quadruple missile canisters on her stem. The missile probably is of Soviet origin. Although no NATO reporting designation has been released, it may be the SS-N-25 (the highest publicly released number assigned to date is SS-N-24).
The new missile breaks with the previous standard Soviet practice of using very large warheads, which require very large missiles to carry them. Reducing missile size doubles the number of weapons a fast attack boat can carry, and thus greatly improves the boat's chances of overwhelming its target. The smaller the missile, the easier it is to operate in the sea-skimming mode. Until the advent of the new missile, the Soviets had no true sea-skimmers. Other Soviet low-flying missiles are reported to have minimum altitudes as great as 100 feet. Now there may be a Soviet equivalent of the lower-flying Exocet or Harpoon. Depending on the method of propulsion and the sophistication of the guidance, the missile might be suitable either for stream attacks, which strain the defending system’s rate of fire, or for way-pointed attacks from many directions, which can be countered only by systems capable of conducting several simultaneous engagements.
The advent of the new missile is sure to affect the choice of weapons for the new NATO frigate. The frigate project already calls for an antisaturation system, but the character of the new weapon may demand a more elaborate or expensive one. The alternative approach would be to accept that some missiles will inevitably penetrate all defenses, and to design a ship to fight despite such hits. That becomes less difficult as the size of the missile warhead shrinks, as in the case of the new Soviet weapon compared to, say, the Styx or SS-N-22.
In the past the Soviets have not provided their submarines with a torpedo-tube-launched antiship missile comparable to, say, the subHarpoon. The likely reason has been that they want to keep their very heavy warheads. If, however, they find small warheads acceptable in coastal attack craft, then perhaps there will be a submarine-launched version. In that case every Soviet submarine would present the kind of open-ocean pop-up threat hitherto associated only with the relatively ineffective Charlie.
It may be that the new weapon is associated largely or completely with the Baltic, where the most likely targets are destroyers or smaller ships. In that case, Soviet submarines will not carry the new missile, because they are expected to hunt bigger game.