Russian Navy : Discussions and Updates

Fox

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#1
A nice open source analysis from HiSutton regarding the Russian Navy's strategic nuclear torpedo (more a nuclear UAV really) known as Status-6 Kanyon.

H I Sutton - Covert Shores

...



Russian Status-6 Intercontinental, nuclear armed, undersea autonomous torpedo Demystified

Since the US DoD released a Nuclear Posture review citing the ‘Status-6 AUV’ as having been tested, commentators are forced to accept that the Status-6 (NATO: KANYON) intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo is a military fact. Some observers had been watching the developments for some time however. This brief analysis details a selection of my original research into the subject.



Open Source Analysis
A. The OSINT trail starts with the special test submarine B-90 Sarov. Originally laid as an improved KILO Class submarine, she was heavily modified over a protracted construction cycle to serve as a special test submarine. She was commissioned in 2008. A key feature is a very large hangar-like weapons bay in the bow which is much larger than would be needed if she was only intended to test regular sized torpedoes. In the past the Russians had grafted additional test torpedo tubes onto the bows of old diesel-electric submarines – Sarov is a completely different beast and only makes sense in the context of KANYON.


B. Initially B-90 Sarov was involved in testing regular torpedoes. The below photo, from 17th Oct. 2009 shows her being loaded with test torpedo in external tube, presumably in hangar. The weapon appears to be 533mm or 650mm. Geolocated to 64°34'41.69"N, 64°34'41.69"N in Severodvinsk on the White Sea where Sarov is based.


C. In 2009 she was modified with a longer bow with new hangar doors. This suggests that the size of KANYON had increased during development:


D. In 2010 a KANYON test round (likely size and displacement only) and related lifting/loading frame began to be visible in commercial satellite imagery of Severodvinsk. This is the earliest example:


E. Since then the test KANYON round and related equipment has appeared in numerous satellite images and some photos (two better known examples posted here, cross-referenced with early satellite images). The test KANYON round is only 18-19 meters long, compared to the stated length of 24 meters revealed by Russian media in 2015.


F. On 20th Dec 2012 the OSCAR-II submarine K-139 ‘Belgorod’ is re-designated as the Pr.09852 in laying down ceremony at Sevmash (here).

F. In 2013 Russian media reported on a new system under development called Skif (Скиф). The name caused some confusion because KANYON was virtually unknown in the public sphere and it sounded similar to the “SKIFF” missile (SS-N-23) carried by Russian Navy DELTA-IV class ballistic missile submarines.

G. On 27th June 2014 the Pr.09851 Khabarovsk submarine laid down at Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk (TASS). This we now know is designed to carry 6 KANYON rounds.


H. On 26th Dec 2014 Russian media article stating that B-90 Sarov is helping to test a new generation of “robotic means for submarines” (Источник: субмарина "Саров" помогает испытывать роботов для подлодок нового поколения)

I. 9th Nov 2015, the now infamous leaking of the Status-6 strategic nuclear torpedo on Russian TV station (YouTube). And the rest, as they say, is history...


The Status-6 was met with some incredulity in Western media, possibly because it was hard to imagine the concept of operations. The weapon does make some sense when viewed as a second-strike weapon, intended to literally go under missile defenses.
 

Fox

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#2
Mentioned above is the submarine Sarov, a modified test bed for the Status-6 Kayon torpedo.

H I Sutton - Covert Shores

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Sarov Class submarine demystified
The Project 20120 Sarov Class submarine is critical to Russia’s development of the new KANYON (Status-6) nuclear armed nuclear powered strategic weapon. This submarine has kept analysts guessing. Trying to decipher her unique form and curious appendages merely adds to the mystery. She is a boat which is not well documented, and many illustrations of her turn out to be quite misleading. The same can be said of much of the early analysis which still affects write-ups on the subject.


Construction of this submarine started in the final years of the Cold War but like so many other projects she was halted when the Soviet Union imploded. Somehow surviving the scrap merchants, the hull was mothballed and eventually restarted in the mid-2000s. Christened B-90 Sarov (Russian: Б-90 "Саров"), the boat was eventually launched in 2007 and commissioned into the Russian Fleet in 2008.


It was immediately clear that she was special, and there was at the time a lot of speculation and the euphemistic descriptions given to special submarines only added to the aura of mystery. The excitement is largely because she bears no real resemblance to the boat that was originally planned. As laid down, she was a Project 877 KILO Class diesel-electric attack submarine (SSK), but as finished she is a Project 20120 nuclear-electric sub. That propulsion arrangement is one of the things that makes her so unique and interesting, there isn't even designation for it.




Arrangement
One of the first misinformations on the internet is her size. Because she was based on a KILO Class submarine hull her length is generally quoted as 72m (236ft) long and 9.9m (32ft) wide. In fact she is nearer to 98m (322ft) long. This is immediately apparent from satellite imagery and from photographs of her tied up alongside a KILO Class boat. The extra length fits with the addition of the nuclear reactor section immediately aft of the sail. The sail itself is also much larger than on the KILO and now contains an escape capsule section like on recent Russian nuclear submarines.








The main curiosity is the forward section, which has a pronounced overbite just below the waterline. The receding chin seems to follow the same profile as the KILO class, with the upper section being an extension. There is no provision for torpedo tubes but the protruding nose features a large square cut hanger door where the torpedo tubes would ordinarily be. Along the waterline are large sponsons which seem to contain small diameter (~1.5m) pressure hulls. They appear to be double-hulled like the rest of the boat and have crew access hatches at the aft end. One possibility is that these contain compensation tanks for the heavy test payload.

Behind the hangar doors there this room for multiple large diameter torpedo tubes or one KANYON nuclear propelled torpedo. The KANYON is much larger than regular torpedoes at 24m length and 1.5m diameter.


The ‘knife’ stern is reminiscent of the old TANGO Class SSKs and earlier boats which owe their linage straight back to the German Type-XXI of WW2. She appears to have a single screw like the KILO and more modern boats. The aft casing runs all the way to the stern, running along above the rudder with the steering mechanism in the casing. This is old-fashioned and seemingly a backwards step from the KILO, looking very much like a late-1950s boat. There are no rear firing torpedo tubes so this arrangement is hard to explain when all other modern boats of her size have the classic pointed tail with the screw behind the control surfaces. Possibly the enlarged stern allows for additional trim and ballast tanks to balance the bow.
 

Fox

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#3
Sarov is just a test platform though. The likely host of the Status-6 Kanyon is the new Project 09851 'Khabarovsk'.

H I Sutton - Covert Shores

...

KANYON (Status-6) strategic weapon

The leaking of the Status-6 (‘KANYON’) strategic nuclear torpedo on Russian TV on 9th November 2015 was met by many in the West with incredulity. However the fact remains that the weapon was not unexpected among the few observers watching the development of certain large submarines by Russia. We knew that Russia was developing an over-sized forward firing weapon because of the Sarov submarine (see old COVERT SHORES article). And the project 09851 Khabarovsk and Project 09852 Belgorod were being followed and talked of as probable launch platforms for a new weapon. And the KANYON system had been revealed in Western Media two month earlier, citing Pentagon sources. Most recently the same media source has claimed that the weapon has been test fired from Sarov.


There are many details of the system which remain unanswered, and the rationale behind the weapon can be debated ad-infinitum. But is it a real project? Yes it is. These submarines are real and they are far too expensive to play such a ruse.

KANYON: Status-6 torpedo
The Status-6 (Статус-6), aka KANYON, has been described as an unmanned midget submarine, but it is better thought of as a massively-large nuclear powered and nuclear armed torpedo. It is enormous: 1.6m (5.5ft) in diameter and about 24m (79ft) long. To put that into perspective, it is about 27 times the volume of a regular 533mm (21”) heavyweight torpedo.


The weapon is designed to strike coastal cities and strategic targets, e.g. New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and bases like Groton CT and San Diego. The warhead is reported as a 100 megatons (which is credible) nuclear device with a ‘dirty’ shell (reportedly Cobalt, but likely Uranium) to maximize the radioactive fallout. The payload is similar to the warheads used in ICBMs (Inter-continental Ballistic Missile) but only one is carried on the torpedo. It could therefore be compared to a city being hit by a single MIRV (Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle) except that it explodes under or on the surface of the water. The effect is likely to be much more localized than an air-burst, but with greater local contamination spread by a radioactive ‘rain’. The explosion itself may be some way out of the target city due to geography and obstacle defenses but a shoreline city like New York would wiped out by a single hit. Performance variables:

Depth: The stated running depth of 1,000m is credible and places it below current countermeasures. The problem of building torpedoes and/or depth charges to hit it are not insurmountable but will take investment and renewed focus.

Speed: The claimed speed of 100 knots (185 kph) is incredibly fast for a torpedo. The leaked cutaway drawing shows that there is a nuclear reactor coupled with a steam turbine driving a propeller shaft so we know that it is not a rocket type weapon. At these speeds there would be vibration and stability problems for the designers to overcome. For the moment 100kt seems too fast but we will have to wait and see if the specifications become more realistic.

Range: The leaked document claims that the weapon can be launched from as far as 10,000 km (5,400 nm) away. Given its nuclear powerplant this seems credible. Even at an incredible 100kt, it would take 4 days to reach its target at maximum reach. Operationally we would expect ranges to be far shorter, but still undoubtedly an extremely long ranged weapon. It also seems likely that some of the distance would be accomplished under ice adding additional complexity both to navigation and to NATO countermeasures.

Health warning: The speed parameter seems unrealistic and the range is not operationally necessary. To put it nicely, most people exaggerate their projects to their bosses. I’d wager that they are lying to Putin and themselves as much as to the West. This does not mean that the project is not (at his stage) real.


Specification
Length: 24m (79ft) (estimate)
Diameter: 1.6m (5.5ft)
Weight: TBC - heavy and negatively buoyant
Speed: Stated as 185 kph (100kt)
Endurance: 10,000 km (5200 nm) and ~100 hrs
Maximum Operating depth: 1,000m (3,000ft)
Crew: unmanned
Warhead: Nuclear with shell (reportedly Cobalt but likely Uranium). Payload to be confirmed but speculated to be as high as 100 megatons.
Powerplant: 1 x nuclear reactor driving a pumpjet.
Sensors: Long range internal guidance, possibly with external update/abort. Obstacle avoidance sonar.

T-15
It is not the first time that Russia have begun development of massive nuclear armed torpedoes. The T-15 design was developed in the early 1953s and had essentially the same dimensions as KANYON. The torpedo was also to be armed with a 100MT warhead similar to the Tsar Bomb which was the largest nuclear test in history (limited to 58MT yield for testing purposes but conceptually100MT):


The T-15 was to be fitted to Russia’s first nuclear powered submarine, the Project 627 NOVEMBER class. A single tube was to be mounted in the nose. In the event the project was abandoned in favor of fitting conventional torpedo tubes so that the submarine could be used as an attack submarine. The nuclear deterrent switched to ballistic missile submarines introduced from the late 1950s.


Trail of radioactive contamination
It is not feasible that the structure of the torpedo contains shielding for the reactor so the device must leave a trail of radioactive contamination behind it as it runs. This is true even in test runs.

The lack of shielding also means that the reactors cannot be test-run while inside the launch tube. Maintenance is thus much harder than on the ICBMs carried in other strategic submarines, and the weapons are essentially sealed containers.

Launch platforms

Project 09851 Khabarovsk. Dedicated launch platform capable of carrying six KANYON rounds. Expected to be completed c2020 or later
Project 09852 Belgorod. Large Special Mission spy submarine based on OSCAR-II SSGN, capable of carrying six KANYON rounds, possibly as seondary capability. Still unde construction.
Project 20120 Sarov. One-off test submarine capable of carrying a single KANYON round.

Project 09851 Khabarovsk submarine
The main launching platform of KANYON is likely to be the new Project 09851 'Khabarovsk' (пр.09851 "Калитка-СМП" "Хабаровск") submarine. This boat is similar to but smaller than the Project 955 'BOREI' (пр.955 "Борей" - BOREI) SSBN with was as designed by the famous Rubin design bureau. Certain design features allow us to estimate the dimensions of the boat (see specs below). Working off a similar hull diameter to the BOERI we can estimate the submarine's length as 120m versus 160m for the BOREI. This makes sense as the Khabarovsk does not require the missile section behind the sail. And it is even possible that it shares many components and even hull sections with the SSBN. The stated displacement of 10,000 tons makes it massive, but is much lighter than the 13,000 ton BOREI.


The leaked graphic strongly hints toward the Khabarovsk having two side-by-side hulls in the bow. This is a highly unusual arrangement but is actually not dissimilar to the Project 20120 SAROV submarine used to test the Status-6. The basic reason behind this arrangement is that the torpedoes have to fire forward, and are carried externally to the occupied pressure hulls. Therefore a stack of six massive torpedo tubes occupied the space where the forward pressure hull would ordinarily be, thus shifting occupied space into smaller hulls either side.


The regular 533mm (21”) and/or 650mm (25.5”) torpedo are most likely carried in the flank hulls although the question remains as to how they are reloaded. Alternatively they may be carried further aft in flank tubes angled outward to avoid the bulbous bow.

Project 09851 submarine specification
Displacement: 10,000 tons surfaced
Length: 120m (estimate, see analysis)
Diameter: 13m main hull, 16m across forward section (estimates, see analysis)
Speed: TBC but almost certainly over 20kt
Endurance: Unlimited. At least 60 days supplies
Maximum Operating depth: TBC - likely 400-500m
Crew: TBC
Powerplant: 1 x nuclear reactor (probably ОК-650В) driving a single pumpjet.
Armament: 6 x Status-6 nuclear torpedoes. Unspecified capability to launch regular torpedoes and decoys.
 

Vicky

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#4
10000 km Nuclear powered Nuclear Torpedo...................................... How is it even possible? Have heard about Nuclear propulsed satellites, but most of them are not a bragging success to talk about? What about its guidance? Normal missiles are radar guided. How will this Torpedo be guided for 10k km under water in depth of 1000m? Even Subs at a depth of 300m have to come to near top for communications.
 

Fox

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10000 km Nuclear powered Nuclear Torpedo...................................... How is it even possible?
I think this is probably accurate given a nuclear powered vessel technically has an unlimited range, but in practice that's limited by the need to take on provisions or swap crews. A nuclear powered torpedo wont have those limitations and thus its range can be indefinite, barring the necessity of maintenance. This is similar in practice to something like the American "Flying Crowbar" cruise missile concept. The missile's nuclear propulsion not only gave it a speed of +4.2 Mach, but a mammoth range of 182,000km.

The program was cancelled, but working engines were produced.



Similarly a nuclear propelled torpedo could have ranges that high and higher speeds, higher still if it has room for a cavitation generator.

How will this Torpedo be guided for 10k km under water in depth of 1000m? Even Subs at a depth of 300m have to come to near top for communications.
It wont be. 1000m might be its maximum depth, but not its operational depth due to a lack of uniform ocean topography. At its deepest the Norwegian Sea is over 3700m, the Baltic is just half that, but it averages just 200m deep. It not like Status-6 is going to be at 1000m always, the ocean just doesn't allow that.

As for guidance, and I do work AUVs for a living so this is somewhat my actual professional views, it's best not to think of Status-6 as a torpedo per-say, but more as an AUV. Sonar, perhaps mid-course updates from Russian AUV or submarine relays or MPAs like the TU-95



Generally speaking the guidance isn't going to be anything too unwieldy or mystifying, just more of the same as we see on current large displacement AUVs and submarines. Hard lines are preferred on smaller AUVs, but the larger ones have sophisticated guidance packages, flank sonars and other goodies that keep them safe while transiting over vast distances. During searches for downed aircraft in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, MH370 for instance, it wasn't uncommon to see large displacement AUVs rack up thousands of kilometers of distance over the span of the search.



I consider the Status-6 program feasible just from a professional point of view, there's nothing about it we couldn't do with a scaled up AUV either, we just don't have the need or budget Russia does.
 
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Vicky

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#6
I think this is probably accurate given a nuclear powered vessel technically has an unlimited range, but in practice that's limited by the need to take on provisions or swap crews. A nuclear powered torpedo wont have those limitations and thus its range can be indefinite, barring the necessity of maintenance. This is similar in practice to something like the American "Flying Crowbar" cruise missile concept. The missile's nuclear propulsion not only gave it a speed of +4.2 Mach, but a mammoth range of 182,000km.

The program was cancelled, but working engines were produced.



Similarly a nuclear propelled torpedo could have ranges that high and higher speeds, higher still if it has room for a cavitation generator.



It wont be. 1000m might be its maximum depth, but not its operational depth due to a lack of uniform ocean topography. At its deepest the Norwegian Sea is over 3700m, but the Baltic is just half that, but it averages just 200m deep. It not like Status-6 is going to be at 1000m always, the ocean just doesn't allow that.

As for guidance, and I do work AUVs for a living so this is somewhat my actual professional views, it's best not to think of Status-6 as a torpedo per-say, but more as an AUV. Sonar, perhaps mid-course updates from Russian AUV or submarine relays or MPAs like the TU-95



Generally speaking the guidance isn't going to be anything too unwieldy or mystifying, just more of the same as we see on current large displacement AUVs and submarines. Hard lines are preferred on smaller AUVs, but the larger ones have sophisticated guidance packages, flank sonars and other goodies that keep them safe while transiting over vast distances. During searches for downed aircraft in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, MH370 for instance, it wasn't uncommon to see large displacement AUVs rack up thousands of kilometers of distance over the span of the search.



I consider the Status-6 program feasible just from a professional point of view, there's nothing about it we couldn't do with a scaled up AUV either, we just don't have the need or budget Russia does.
But again that's a lot of work right. If Russia plans a trans atlantic shot from North Sea or Artic to New York, the torpedo has to do various course correction. As you pointed out, sea depths vary, sea mountains stand out(which I believe it can evade if it has sonar). It has to carry a lot of goodies that a submarine carries, all on a miniature level.

But Guidance. If an Russian aircraft or AOV or relays guides it from time to time its not exactly going to make the launch stealthy or a secret allowing counter measures to be taken. Even the AOV's for MH370 was controlled from ships nearby.

But Russia has done truly engineering miracles in the past. But its possible and if they indeed made a working weapon, its an weapon worth to be threatened with.
 
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#7
Pr617_AIP_submarine

When in May 1958 CIA intelligence analysts poured over a set of spy photographs of Soviet submarine construction they noticed that one submarine was different to the rest. Russia had a massive submarine building program underway and the backbone of the new fleet was the Project 613 W-Class (aka WHISKEY Class per the NATO phonetic alphabet). 236 WHISKEYs were built between 1949 and 1958 representing the single largest class of submarines ever built. The photograph in question was a waterline shot of the boat in the water and was probably taken by a spy with access to the Lenningrad Sudomekh 196 ship yard or adjacent area. The subsequent report was classified TOP SECRET CHESS indicating that it also included U2 spy plane imagery. The submarine in the photo was labeled “W-45”, presumably indicating that it was the initially categorized as the 45th WHISKEY in the set.

The analysts soon realized that they were dealing with an entirely new class of submarine. What was undetectable in the photo was that it was equipped with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP). This meant that it was capable of very high underwater speeds because it did not have to reply on its batteries while underwater. The submarine was (I am confident) the unique Project 617 WHALE Class:

Pr617_CIA1.jpg


NATO broke from the strict use of the phonetic alphabet and gave it the codename WHALE Class. This also highlighted the confusion with the WHISKEY Class.

Walter AIP

The Soviets got the technology for the Project 617 submarine’s Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) from captured German Engineers who had worked on the Type- XVII submarine or other German AIP projects. These used decomposing hydrogen-peroxide to produce steam, which in turn drove a turbine and drove the propeller. This process did not require a fresh air supply so the motor could be run while the submarine was submerged. Additionally, the violent reaction produced enough power to allow very high top speeds. The man behind this ingenious propulsion system was Professor Hellmuth Walter who was born in Germany in 1900 and trained as a marine turbine engineer.

Walter first patented the basic idea of AIP in 1925 and approached the Electrical-Chemical Works in Munich in April 1933. Gradually his ideas were taken seriously and he was able to build an experimental submarine called V-80 in 1939. This was capable of an incredible 23 knots submerged (some sources say 28 knots) compared to the typical 6-8 knots of regular submarines. The outbreak of war slowed development but eventually an operationally capable boat was produced, the Type- XVII u-boat. Walter engines were also proposed for a range of small ‘K-Craft’ (midget submarines).

AIP_Walter1.jpg


AIP_Walter.jpg


Unlike Britain and US, Russia did not capture any Type-XVII u-boats or drawings of the Walter Plant, so progress on a submarine with a Walter plant was markedly slower than in the West. The project to develop the submarine started in about 1947.

On both sides of the Iron Curtain interest in the Walter AIP system was primarily focused on the very high underwater speeds which could be achieved. The British and US had the advantage of capturing several scuttled or unfinished Type-XVII u-boats. One was put into service with the Royal Navy as HMS Meteorite where the Hydrogen-Peroxide fuel was termed High-Test Peroxide (HTP). HMS Meteorite was followed by two experimental submarines, HMS Explorer and HMS Excalibur (below left). And in America the midget submarine USS X-1 (below right) was fitted with a Walter AIP.

AIP_1950s.jpg


The Soviets did however have a submarine which used a different form of AIP. The Project 615 QUEBEC Class employed stored liquid oxygen (LOX) to run one of its three diesels in AIP mode. This system had actually been tested by the Soviet Navy in 1939 but development had stopped due to the War. The postwar QUEBEC class were small submarines of 460 tons and were armed with just four torpedo tubes without reloads. 30 boats were built but the class suffered issues with the stored oxygen and two boats were lost. Due to frequent mini-explosions in the engineering space the type was known as Zippos after the lighter. Although the USSR continued to build diesel-electric submarines after the advent of nuclear power, the QUEBEC Class was the only type with LOX AIP. The QUEBEC Class was capable of 16 knots submerged speed, which was respectable but no match for boats with Walter AIP.

Design

Like most new Russian submarine designs in the immediate postwar years the WHALE Class featured a streamlined double-hull with a boat-like bow and a knife stern. This was heavily influenced by the German World War Two Type-XXI submarine, widely considered the most advanced submarine of the war.

Specification
Displacement: 1,500 tons submerged, 950 tons surfaced
Length: 62.2 m
Beam: 6.02 m
Speed: 20 kt max submerged, 11 kt surfaced
Operating depth: 170 m
Max depth: 200 m
Crew: 51
Endurance: 51 days
Armament: 6 x 533mm (21") torpedo tubes plus 6 reloads

A strong indication that the WHALE was intended for series production was that she was equipped with six heavyweight torpedo tubes in the bow. A sonar was carried beneath the bow in the same position as on the WHISKEY Class and earlier German Type-XXI (not the bulbous section at the base of the bow in the photographs). Unusually the bow had a serrated leading edge suggesting that it was intended to cut through defensive nets. This feature appears dated in a Cold War design.

Pr617_bowBuild.jpg


Pr617_bowdetail.jpg


Pr617_bow.jpg


Uniquely, the WHALE was initially designed with an early form of pumpjet propulsion, visible in the below images. This was apparently replaced with a conventional propeller before the boat was launched.

Pr617_stern.jpg


Pr617_Screw.jpg


Fate

Hydrogen Peroxide can be a dangerous fuel. Despite the Germans never reporting any submarine accidents attributed to the use of this fuel, in the post war years there were several, although some related to its use in torpedoes rather than the submarines themselves. USS X-1’s hydrogen-peroxide plant exploded on 20th May 1957.

The sole WHALE Class boat, PL-99, suffered an engine compartment explosion on 19th May 1959 while on exercise in the Baltic. Her captain managed to surface her and she was able to limp to Liepaja. She was later taken to the major Baltic Fleet base at Kronstadt where repairs started.

During this time a Western merchant vessel (likely Norwegian) visited Kronstadt. Some of the crew were working for the CIA and they recorded the many warships and submarines that they saw. Among those was a mysterious submarine with box like structures and a cylindrical structure on the sail. This appears to have been PL-99 undergoing inspection repairs.

At about the same time the success of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear powered submarines cast significant doubt over the usefulness of Walter AIP. The nuclear submarines were faster and had a virtually unlimited range. It was decided not to bring PL-99 back to service and work on the project ceased.
 
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BMD

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#8
H I Sutton - Covert Shores

Alfa_Class_Submarine
Tue 01 May 2018By H I Sutton


Russian ALFA Class interceptor submarine
At the height of the Cold War NATO submariners found themselves confronting a Soviet submarine which not only greatly out-performed their own boats, but which could operate beyond the reach of their weapons. This untouchable submarine was designated the A-Class (‘ALFA Class’) by NATO, and Project-705 Lyra by the Russians.

Original Artwork, CLICK for HIGH RESOLUTION:


At 41 knots and 400 meters the ALFA Class pushed the boundaries of both speed and operating depth. Speed was a key attribute of nuclear powered attack submarines, enabling them to maneuver into a firing position much more easily compared to slower diesel-electric submarines, and to escape more easily after the attack thus living to fight another day. This meant that a nuclear-powered attack submarine could expect to make multiple attacks against enemy surface groups, ultimately expending all its torpedoes before being effectively countered. US Navy first generation Skipjack Class submarines were in this camp and could obtain an impressive 33 knots. As far as NATO was aware the ALFA was the fastest submarine in the world although actually the single Project 661 PAPA Class submarine reached a speed of 44.7 knots.

In terms of depth it could operate where other submarines would consider their test depth (i.e. deeper than they should operate). These depths were below the reach of NATO anti-submarine weapons of the time, although naturally they caught up in later years in order to counter the ALFA. And thanks to a pneumatic launch system it was the first Russian submarine which could launch its weapons from the full spectrum of operating depths. Thus it could theoretically sit below the reach of NATO weapons while launching its own weapons.



There were other aspects of outstanding performance as well. The relatively small boat (it was considered the smallest nuclear powered submarine) had a very powerful propulsion system, large control surfaces and a streamlined sail which did not provide very much resistance when the submarine turned (unlike on NATO submarines where the Sail acted as a wing at high angles of roll). This was combined with a very high reserve buoyancy of around 30% (compared to ~11% for NATO boats). Consequently the ALFA could change direction and depth very quickly, making it a particularly difficult target.


Seven ALFAs were built, with the first (K-64) being commissioned in 1971 and acting as a test platform for the production boats which joined the Northern Fleet from 1977. Three boats built at a different boat yard than the first boat (N 402 Northern Machine-Building Enterprise at Severodvinsk versus Sudomech Plant / Leningrad Admiralty Association in Leningrad) were built to a slightly modified Project 705K standard which had a larger reactor compartment for improved cooling.

The boat featured very high levels of automation even by today’s standards. Instead of a crew of ~100 men per NATO boats, it was crewed by just 32 men. Originally it had been planned that it would only require16 people, but later due to Navy requirements the crew wasincreased to 29 men (25 officers and four warrant officers). Finally in operational service the crew was increased to 32 people. Reducing the crew led to more stringent requirements for reliability of equipment and meant that many maintenance tasks could not be performed during the voyage. Thus a new operating concept was required which saw the ALFAs spending most of their time in port, rushing out to intercept enemy surface groups or submarines. The ’Interceptor submarine’ was born.

The tiny crew, made up of nearly all officers, lived in the central compartment of the submarine. The forward section containing the weapons system and electronics was only accessed for maintenance, as was the rear reactor and propulsion compartments. Torpedo loading was completely automated for example. This would have increased crew survivability in the case of war because the forward and aft compartments could be sealed off during operations. It was also the first submarine to be equipped with an escape capsule, which is now a standard feature of Russian boats.

The concept of a very small, very fast interceptor submarine was not new to Russian designers. In some respects, the ALFA Class was the follow-on to the unbuilt Project-673 design:
The secret to the ALFA’s exceptional performance was its lightweight Titanium hull. Other submarines (again, except the PAPA Class), were constructed of steel which was heavier and less resilient to stresses. The Titanium hull was incredibly expensive and required specialist technologies and skills to be established. For many years NATO was unsure of the ALFA’s construction although there was a camp in Western intelligence which suspected that it was made of something other than steel. In the end some incredible detective work by CIA and Navy intelligence officers yielded the answer – see CIA.gov





The innovative hull construction was merged with an exotic reactor type. Instead of a pressurized water system, the reactor was cooled by a liquid metal, lead-bismuth. This had a much smaller, had a higher energy efficiency (approximately 1.5 times the pressurized-water reactor) and were safer because the lead-bismuth quickly solidified in the case of a leak, shutting down the core.


This last feature of the lead-bismuth reactor was also its Achilles’ heel. If the temperature of the reactor dropped below 125 °C (257 °F) then the reactor solidifies and cannot be brought back. Ever. This happened to the lead boat, K-64, in 1972, resulting in an early departure from service.

A less obvious weakness, unbeknown to the Soviets when they designed the ALFA Class, was that there was a reason why NATO submarines were no longer pursuing speed as the most critical factor. The British Churchill Class boats could only achieve 28 knots compared to 29 knots of the previous Valiant Class, and the US Navy’s Sturgeon Class boats could only do 26 knots. NATO had switched its focus to stealth with boats having to feature raft mounting and other space-consuming features. The ALFA Class was incredibly noisy by comparison, although in some cases its great operating depth allowed it to slip beneath water layers which reduced passive sonar effectiveness.

The first boat, K-64, was formally decommissioned in 1974, and the operational boats being retired in 1990 with one boat, K-123, lasting until 1996. There were rumors in the Russian press in 2016 that an upgraded version of the ALFA Class would be reintroduced into service although this does not seem likely.



The ALFA Class was undoubtedly an incredible submarine but its unique operating concept was not repeated by the Russians.
 

BMD

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Russia is talking about scrapping its only aircraft carrier, putting the troubled ship out of its misery

Russia is talking about scrapping its only aircraft carrier, putting the troubled ship out of its misery


A photo taken from a Norwegian surveillance aircraft showing the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in international waters off the coast of Northern Norway on October 17, 2016.Reuters
  • Russia may "write off" the troubled Admiral Kuznetsov, the country's only aircraft carrier, if it can't find a way to replace a sunken dry dock and repair the damaged hull of the ship, Russian media reported recently.
  • The Kuznetsov was severely damaged when a crane fell on it at the massive dry dock in Roslyakovo. That dry dock, the only one suited for carrier maintenance, unexpectedly sank last fall while the Kuznetsov was undergoing a major overhaul.
  • Rather than attempt to salvage the sunken dry dock and repair the damaged ship, there is now talk of decommissioning the vessel to invest in alternative capabilities.
Russia is acknowledging that it may be forced to scrap its only aircraft carrier as the troubled flagship suffered a catastrophic shipyard accident last fall.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's sole aircraft carrier, which was built during the Soviet era, was severely damaged in October when the massive Swedish-built PD-50 dry dock at the 82nd Repair Shipyard in Roslyakovo sank with the carrier on board.

The carrier was undergoing an extensive overhaul at the time of the incident.

While the ship was able to pull away from the sinking dry dock, it did not escape unscathed. A heavy crane fell on the vessel, punching a large gash in the hull and deck.