Russia starts new submarines, upgrades Indian Kilos

Vladimir Karnazov Moscow / St Petersburg.

The recent European summer witnessed two keel-laying ceremonies for Russian submarines. The first one, held on 30 July 2012 in Severodvinsk, was for the Duke Vladimir (named after the Kievan Rus ruler, 978-1015) – the first in the series of five Project 955A strategic underwater cruisers, following after three Project 955s already built (the Borey-class). Russia’s president Vladimir Putin led this ceremony. Then on 17 August Russian the navy commander Admiral Victor Chirkov attended a similar ceremony in St. Petersburg for the Old Oskol, a third in the series of six Project 636.3 diesel-electric submarines for the Black Sea Fleet.

In his speech on 30 July, Putin stressed the need to equip newly-constructed ships with modern long range rocketry. “It is exactly weaponry that always determined power and worthiness of combat ships in wartime”, he said. The Russian president announced that Ruble 4.44 trillion (US $150 billion) will be spent on construction of new ships for the Russian navy’s “multipurpose groupings of general use”, adding that one-third of that sum will be provided in the next five years. “By 2020 the navy will take delivery of 51 surface combatant and 16 multipurpose submarines – the latter number not counting the Borey-class strategic cruisers”, he stated. It remains to be seen whether “16” refers to non-nuclear vessels or includes the Project 885 Yasen-class fast-attack submarines.

In turn, Admiral Chirkov said the navy expects between 14 and 20 new non-nuclear submarines. According to the Armament Program 2011-2020, during the next eight years the Russian navy shall receive eight Project 955/A strategic underwater cruisers, eight Project 885 fast-attack submarines, 15 frigates and 35 corvettes. This will boost the share of modern equipment in the navy’s arsenal to 30% in 2016 and further to 70% in 2020, Chirkov said.

The Russian navy no longer suffers from financial and personnel problems it was exposed to several years ago. “We notice a higher degree of interest among young people in joining the navy. This results in more applicants going to the military schools and institutes, and a higher competition to pass exams and get accepted. Besides, those who today serve on submarines of the Northern Fleet and submarines based on the Kamchatka peninsula – everybody in their compliment are on a contract [not conscripts]. This is another piece of evidence to the fact that the navy’s importance in the eyes of the public has gone up”.

Asked whether he would rethink some controversial decisions made by his predecessor Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky (2007-2012), the new Russian navy commander (appointed in May 2012) answered: “we will go forward without changing earlier made decisions… Instead, we will work so as to unify ships of various types and upgrade them as necessary so as to achieve a greater degree of cross-type unification and insure the newly launched ships carry state-of-the-art weaponry”.

Chirkov confirmed that the order for six Project 636.3 submarines announced three years ago would go into production. The high demand for Russian diesel-electric submarines has enabled the Admiralty Shipyards to streamline their production process. So far, 55 Rubin-designed Kilo-class submarines (Project 877/E/EKM/636) have been completed, and more are under construction. Normally, the construction cycle for a Project 636 comes to three years. A total of 23 Kilo-class (by NATO classification) ships were built for a variety of customers in the 1980s and1990s.

The main reason behind the Russian navy’s decision in favor of the Project 636.3 ships is that the baseline submarine proved highly reliable in service; it has a low acquisition costs and requires little maintenance. The Project 636.3 “bridges the gap” between third and fourth generations of Russian diesel-electric submarines.

First of the newly ordered Kilos, the Novorossiysk, was laid down by Admiralty in August 2010 – commissioning is expected in late 2013 – and second, the Rostov-upon-Don, in November 2011. They have standard displacement of 2,350 tonnes, underwater speed up to 20knots, endurance of 45 days and a compliment of 52.

Compared to the Project 877 ships already in service with the Russian navy and their more recent derivatives, the exportable Project 877EKM and Project 636, the Project 636.3 “is more stealthy, with new acoustics systems and means of communications. Besides, she has a higher degree of automation and newer weaponry. The new submarine is highly capable, and can stay in service for a few dozen years. The most important thing for us about these submarines is that with them the navy can go into the next decade with state-of-the-art technologies and capabilities”.

Chirkov added that the Project 636.3 has no equals among western diesel electric submarines due to the Russian design having much more powerful missilery (non-exportable derivative of the Club-S, firing anti-submarine, anti-ship and long-range land-strike cruise missiles). In relation to the Project 636.3, Chirkov also noticed “improved comfort for the crew”. “She has a good mess-room, and fairly good living quarters – all this provides a sufficient level of comfort to enable the crews solve their tasks not only in coastal defense, but also on a blue-water mission”.

The Admiralty Shipyards says it holds contracts for construction of “over twelve” diesel electric submarines of which eight are being built, including six Project 636.1s for Vietnam. The first Vietnamese navy submarine was launched in July and is due to completion by the year-end. The company has recently clinched four more orders from undisclosed foreign customers, but refuses to go into the details. Between two and four more foreign orders for Russian diesel electric submarines are expected to be finalized by the end of 2012.

In July 2012 Chirkov said the MoD resumed funding for completion of two earlier-started hulls of the Project 677 class, the Kronstadt and the Sebastopol. These submarines, said to be of the fourth generation, will be completed with minor changes to the baseline design. “Our [future] plans are based on the assumption that within two years’ time all remaining issues pertaining to [indigenous] AIP [Air Independent Propulsion] will be resolved – we are planning to put the new propulsion system on the third and fourth hulls [of the Project 677]”.

Previous Russian navy commander have on many occasions criticized the Project 677 lead vessel, the St. Petersburg, for various design faults and manufacturing deficiencies. Completed in 2006, she continues sea trails, while the industry tries to cure her teething problems. Admiral Chirkov appears to be more cooperative than his predecessor. He approved of the improved design which takes account of sea testing already made on the lead vessel and has resumed funding for construction of the remaining series hulls.

This prompted certain oversees customers re-approach Russia on the matter of Project 677’s export derivative, the Amur 1650. It is understood that at least one foreign country has already signed for it.

In addition, the Amur 1650 is on offer in India for the Project 75(I) tender for six non-nuclear submarines. India’s Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP) requires collaborators from foreign countries to work closely with domestic manufacturers through massive offset programs. In the case of Project 75(I), offset is said to be over 30% of the contract value. Arms export agency Rosoboronexport, which officially offers the Amur 1650 in India, is optimistic about meeting offset requirements. The Russians are talking to both governmental organizations and privately-held companies so as to use Indian-made components. As part of the offset, Russia offers her advanced technology transfer useful for the development and construction of naval systems.

The customized Indian version of the Amur 1650 features an indigenous AIP based on fuel cells and electrochemical generator employing reformation of diesel fuel to produce hydrogen. Adding an AIP results in a longer duration of underwater patrol; the AIP is placed into an additional section in stretched hull. Both versions, the baseline with no AIP and the newer one with it are on offer.

Meantime, Project 677 developer Rubin continues working on Ion-Lithium batteries for submarine applications. It says replacing currently used lead acid battery on the Saint Petersburg for Ion-Lithium promises an increase in time of underwater low-speed patrol by 50%, and in duration of full speed underwater cruise by three times. The maker is yet to achieve certain parameters – including electric capacity and specified parameters of the electrical current in discharge mode. The Russian navy commander has recently confirmed his interest in speeding up this work and promised more funds to complete it. Rubin general director Igor Vilnit says: “As of today, we already have a full scale specimen of such a battery. I believe that in less than two years time we can get our Ion-Lithium battery installed on a submarine and ready for mass production”.

Russia continues efforts in support of the ten Project 877EKM submarines in service with the Indian navy (Sindhughost class). The last in this series, the S65 Sindhushastra, was built to an improved design, with the Club-S missile system. Starting in 2000, two Indian submarines underwent modernization at the Admiralty Shipyards and four at Zvezdochka in Severodvinsk, during which they were equipped with the Club-S. In June 2012 the last of the submarines to be upgraded in Russia, the S63 Sindurakshak, was launched after undergoing repairs. She is due to rejoin the Indian navy by the end of the year. Three more Sindhughost class submarines are planned to undergo modernization at Visakhapatnam under supervision of Rubin and Zvezdochka advisors. Russia is offering a second refit and modernization program. It can add from 5-7 to 10 years of lifetime to these aging submarines. Should the Indian side accept this offer, it may prove a timely and cost-saving measure to bridge the gap until the introduction of next generation submarines.


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