Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part I)

Kazan in the launching dock in 2017

Kazan in the launching dock in 2017

What follows is a translation of Maksim Klimov’s October 22 article in VPK. He writes frequently on naval issues.

“What Do You Ask of an ‘Ash’: Nuclear Submarines Keep the Fleet on Starvation Rations”

“On 25 September the lead nuclear-powered submarine of project 885M ‘Kazan’ went to sea for factory underway trials. This event didn’t go unnoticed in foreign media or ours. Taking into account the fact that the lion’s share of resources allocated to the Navy go to the nuclear submarine fleet, there’s sense in sorting out the real effectiveness of the expenditures.”

“The ‘Borey’ —  ‘Bulava’ program is the megaproject of recent history. A lot of copy about its utility has been ripped up. According to the facts we have, six years after completing state testing of the lead boat and three years after transferring the first series vessel to the Pacific Fleet not a single firing of a ‘Bulava’ SLBM from the Pacific Ocean from ‘Aleksandr Nevskiy’ or ‘Vladimir Monomakh’ has taken place. According to media information, the lead SSBN ‘Yuriy Dolgorukiy’ doesn’t carry a combat load and, evidently, is being used as a floating stand for developing and tweaking ‘Bulava’.”

“Deterrence Deterred”

“We have to bow here to TsKB ‘Rubin’ General Director Sergey Kovalev for preserving the SSBN grouping of projects 667BDRM and BDR, which are today actually carrying out strategic nuclear deterrence missions.”

“In the current state of affairs questions arise as to the utility for Russia of having a naval component of SYaS [trans. Strategic Nuclear Forces]. The problem is all means of the ‘triad’ have their shortcomings and virtues, and the reliability of deterrence is guaranteed by covering the minuses of one with the pluses of the others. In the scope of all deterrence systems it’s sufficient for us to have just one, guaranteed untrackable SSBN. But this, undoubtedly, requires a certain number of them in the fleet’s composition. Because the foundation of strategic deterrence is not range of flight or the quantity of warheads on missiles, but inevitability of a retaliatory strike, the basis of which is the combat stability of naval SYaS.”

“There is an analogous problem with non-nuclear means of deterrence, cruise missiles and their carriers.”

“Taking into account the failure of modernization of third-generation boats a bet has been placed on the grouping of new project 885(M) nuclear subs. It would seem logical since the missile salvo of project 885 exceeds the American ‘Virginias’ and even the Western media is crying about a ‘new Russian threat’. The problem is only that there aren’t enough missiles on project 885 boats for effective deterrence, and the carrier itself is too expensive and low-volume. If we call a spade a spade, creating an effective system of non-nuclear deterrence on the basis of project 885M nuclear subs is far beyond the bounds of the state’s economic capabilities. Moreover, we still have to go to the volley point. This is precisely where the main problems begin.”

“Won’t Hold Up in Battle”

“Traditionally they say quietness is the main quality of a submarine. What does this actually mean? The foreign comparative graphic [trans. link added] of the reduction of noise in USSR (RF) and U.S. submarines is well-known. Comparing this graphic with data on the noise of subs of the first-fourth generations it’s obvious that the given levels for our fourth-generation lag U.S. Navy multipurpose nuclear submarines by not less than 10 decibels.”

“Project 885 ‘Yasen’ is the only modern multipurpose submarine which retains the propeller screw, all remaining ones have gone to water pumpjets. The reason is requirements for significant increases in low-noise speed, up to 20 knots. But as research shows, at the same noise level, the speed of ‘Severodvinsk’ and ‘Kazan’ is, obviously, much lower than that of the American ‘Virginia’ and ‘Seawolf’ [trans. SSN-774 and SSN-21 classes respectively]. And this is an extremely serious tactical flaw, the consequences of which are not fully understood by us.”

“Meanwhile now our ‘partners’ [trans. the U.S.] are developing new ways of detecting submarines. Submarine officers in Severomorsk laid down the flight track of an American ‘Orion’ reconnaissance aircraft on a map of the disposition of our nuclear submarines in the course of exercises. And all ten turning points of its route precisely followed the disposition of our submarines. In fact it didn’t even search, but went to the exact point. The ‘Orion’ went precisely to our nuclear submarine without any tacking, dropped a buoy and went to the next one.”

“The scope of threats from enemy aircraft aren’t recognized by us because domestic anti-submarine aviation is catastrophically behind the foreign level. The concept of even the newest Russian airborne search-targeting systems are from the 1970s. ‘Novella’ (‘Leninets’), as was officially announced, guarantees ‘an increase in the effectiveness of the Il-38 by four times.’ The problem is the Il-38’s capability against low-noise submarines was close to zero.”

“Evading Testing”

“Even in 2010 Rear-Admiral Anatoliy Lutskiy  wrote that it was proposed to equip ‘Yasen’ and ‘Borey’ submarines with torpedo defense systems which had technical tasks for development put together back in the 1980s. Moreover, the results of research into the effectiveness of these means against modern torpedoes attest to the entirely low probability that an evading submarine could escape destruction.”

“Since then two generations of torpedo weapons have been replaced, and there’s obviously no need to talk today about the possibility of effectively employing drifting systems of the ‘Vist’ type or the extremely expensive ‘Udar’ for anti-torpedo defense. The situation has only one solution — conducting objective testing together with new torpedo types. However, the consequences for the pair of them are obviously devastating, so simply no one will allow the testing.”

“What Is To Be Done”

“We aren’t simply investing huge amounts of money in combat systems of dubious effectiveness, but also tearing them away from education, science, and rearmament of the ground forces where there is still a difficult situation with combat equipment. In the Navy betting on submarines keeps surface ship construction on a starvation diet. It has led to the stagnation of naval aviation.”

“During development of proposals for ‘Basic Directions for Development of VVST [trans. Armaments, Military and Special Equipment] to 2030’ the author raised the question of conducting proactive R&D into weapons and countermeasures for fifth-generation submarines. This is acutely important since there are a number of fundamental points regarding the appearance of a weapon which directly influence the construction of submarines. To do it ‘the old way’ is to lay down a growing lag in our submarine fleet.”

“To resolve the critical problems of the Navy’s submarine forces it’s essential firstly to conduct special testing and research exercises. Until they are completed the construction of nuclear-powered subs could be significantly reduced for the redistribution of limited financial resources to higher priority and more critical directions of defense organizational development — surface ships and aviation.”

There’s a lot to think about here. Watch for Part II.

10 responses to “Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part I)

  1. Pingback: Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part I) | Policy

  2. The author is a known loon. All his articles are some kind of vengeance campaign against RFN. It’s usually 80% nonsense

  3. Before impugning an opponent’s motives [or sanity], even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments. — Sidney Hook

    • Ernesto Castillo

      I agree: let’s start with the beginning then “The foreign comparative graphic of the reduction of noise in USSR (RF) and U.S. submarines is well-known. Comparing this graphic with data on the noise of subs of the first-fourth generations it’s obvious that the given levels for our fourth-generation lag U.S. Navy multipurpose nuclear submarines by not less than 10 decibels.” So the author not only assumes real noise levels of actual in-service platforms are publicly available ( instead of just rough approximations) but it’s sources are evidently very well informed and deeply inside the Russian Navy…as it used a commercially available graphic ( correction, freely available, as it’s in Wikipedia already) as valid, trustworthy source. Interesting piece of work for an expert.

      • Ernesto Castillo

        “But as research shows, at the same noise level, the speed of ‘Severodvinsk’ and ‘Kazan’ is, obviously, much lower than that of the American ‘Virginia’ and ‘Seawolf’ [trans. SSN-774 and SSN-21 classes respectively]. And this is an extremely serious tactical flaw, the consequences of which are not fully understood by us.” Once again, sources are “crick crick” unless you took some articles for amateur jourlarism as such. I’ve never seen official Russian reports on the comparative noise levels of the Virginia/Seawolf classes vs Yasen, for example. Not that I wouldn’t love to, on the other hand.

        Now, I can BELIEVE Virginia’s are ( probably) more silent than Yasens – actually, that’s what I would expect, as they are not Cold War legacy designs as the 885s are) but then again, doesn’t it looks like this guy’s is probably not much more into the subject as any other “commoner”.

        I could write an article about how crappy US weapon systems are …using RT as a source. And It’ll be crap too.

      • You need to work on your English reading (or learn Russian). The author made no claim about the graphic; merely offered it up as info in the public domain. They are obviously approximations since no decibel units are indicated on the “y” axis. The author made no claim about sources with the exception of the Northern Fleet officer and his P-3 track. The graphic was originally made by the U.S. ONI during the lobbying to continue Seawolf construction. The trendlines are accurate. They depict the period when Improved Akula and the later 971 boats became quieter than the 688I and Seawolf hadn’t appeared. The author made no claim to being an expert; he writes on navies but more as generalist than submariner. He might be retired Soviet/Russian Navy or out of the defense industries.

        This piece reads like an op-ed material. It’s short and sparse on evidence. Nevertheless interesting. You should realize most independent Russian military commentators have been scared out of the business leaving the Russian MOD to say whatever it wants and shape domestic and foreign perceptions of its forces. So this author pointing out that Russian sub construction is sucking up resources and putting out relatively little is a fairly rare thing nowadays. Doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with his scanty argument.

  4. Ernesto Castillo

    Now, the title itself “Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part I)”.

    Great, I guess the smartest thing to do for the Russians would be to pay for carriers they do not need, or a large surface, blue water fleet they cannot build instead. This is of course, assuming they had the money or technical expertise to do so, and having in mind it’s chances against it’s most likely does would be nearly equal to zero in an all-out shooting war.

    So yeah, I can guess the Russians thinking “You know what? Let’s dump the one thing we are already doing and we do pretty fine, up to a point where most of the US fleet can do nothing about, except by come and get us on our own waters, hoping We don’t decide to shoot the bloody missiles already” and realising how smart would be to drop the safest component of the nuclear triad altogether and focused on…more ground troops.

    Yep. That’s sounds like it.

  5. If you didn’t realize it, the author was saying the Seawolfs and Virginias are quieter. At least at a certain speed. He doesn’t tell us how he learned this.

  6. You point out rightly that it’s ridiculous to think of building up the surface fleet and aviation with money saved off subs. The Soviet/Russian Navy has and always will be a submarine navy given its most likely adversaries and its geography. The article may have been commissioned by someone lobbying for money saved from subs to be given to the Ground Troops. The author didn’t seem as upset about the situation with SSBNs/SLBMs as with the 885s and accepted the naval component of the triad as necessary for deterrence. Again, you need to read more closely.

  7. Pingback: Inbox Highlights, 5 November 2018 | Blog

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