Category Archives: Strategic Forces Modernization

Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part II)

Some comments on Klimov’s VPK article . . . .

In his short opinion piece, Klimov doesn’t systematically address the cost-benefit of Russia’s nuclear-powered submarine forces. But he has an opinion: their price outweighs their usefulness.

He’s not happy with what little he’s seen from the Borey and Bulava programs, but he seems to favor keeping a naval component in Russia’s strategic nuclear triad.

He’s not persuaded when it comes to SSNs.

Klimov states flatly that Moscow’s effort to modernize its third-generation attack boats has failed and it has turned instead to project 885/885M. But these fourth-generation subs are too expensive and too few in number. Producing them as an effective means of non-nuclear deterrence, Klimov writes, is beyond Russia’s economic capabilities.

While the 885/885M design might approach U.S. levels of stealthiness, they aren’t rolling out of Sevmash like sausages. Not even commissioned, Kazan will make two. Yes, two.

The U.S. Navy has had three Seawolf-class SSNs since 2005. It has 16 Virginia-class subs in service. Another is ready for commissioning. Nine, yes, nine are under construction. Ten Block V boats could be built in the 2020s. And the U.S. Navy also maintains a capable force of more than 30 Los Angeles-class boats. It has to. It confronts larger, more complex strategic challenges than its Russian counterpart.

From outside, we can only guess whether USN airborne ASW is as successful as Klimov claims. One would expect the FSB to inquire about his sources for this part of his story. Mind you, he was talking about P-3 Orion surveillance, not more modern and capable P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

That older combat systems have been used on the 885/885M, as he asserts, seems likely from past Soviet/Russian evolutionary practice.

Klimov’s recommendations, however, are more difficult to swallow. Redistributing resources from SSNs, which are becoming dolgostroi, to ground forces, surface ships, and naval aviation would be strange.

Spending less on subs in favor of the army could be a legitimate decision for Moscow to make, especially because the navy made out so well in GPV 2011-2020. But it also sounds like something green-uniformed guys in the General Staff might propose. It makes one wonder whether Klimov’s article was commissioned (by someone wearing green).

Proposing that money saved go to surface ships and aviation is puzzling. Sending more rubles down the surface ship “rabbit hole” is unlikely to produce better results. The Russian Navy has always been a submarine navy, and probably always will be (if it gets new submarines). Submarines suit Russia’s strategic situation and requirement to defend against seaborne threats to its continental theaters.

Klimov makes the valid point that Russia will need new weapons and systems for a true fifth-generation submarine. To put older ones into a new hull is to “lay down a growing lag” in the fleet, as he says.

But, from Moscow’s perspective, curtailing sub production risks falling out of the business altogether. Its industrial base for submarines isn’t doing well enough to take time off.

But Klimov’s article is Russian military journalism rarely seen over the past five years or so. He has dared draw conclusions (e.g. the failure of efforts to modernize aging third-generation boats) we haven’t heard from others.

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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.

Bulava Salvo Firing

Today Russian Northern Fleet Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy (K-535) salvo-fired four Bulava (RSM-56 / SS-N-32) SLBMs while submerged in the White Sea.

According to RIA Novosti, the fleet press-service said the “established missions were completely fulfilled.” The press-service continued saying, the “tactical-technical characteristics and reliability [of the submarine and missiles] were confirmed.” It added this was the first time a Borey-class SSBN salvo-fired so many SLBMs.

The launches come at the end of the video (5:37). The first looks normal. The second, however, not so much. The missile looks a bit like it’s going to heel over before the engine kicks on. Perhaps that’s normal. But what appear to be the third and fourth launches look to the naked eye like a replay of the first and second.

Were there four missiles fired by Yuriy Dolgorukiy, or two? No surprise but the video isn’t convincing. Presumably DEFSMAC, DOD, and the U.S. Navy know for sure. Maybe they’ll inform John Q. Public.

Recall Bulava had its share of developmental troubles. Dolgorukiy salvo-fired two SLBMs in late September 2016; one launch was successful but the other missile self-destructed.

The salvo-firing has been a program milestone since 2011.

This all remains a far cry from operation “Hippopotаmus-2” when Delta IV-class SSBN Novomoskovsk (K-407) fired all 16 Shtil (RSM-54 / SS-N-23) SLBMs in a single salvo on August 6, 1991. But the circumstances were somewhat different. Both the boat and the missiles were very well tested by then.

OSK Cries Poor on Knyaz Oleg

A Borey-class SSBN (photo Sevmash Press-Service)

A Borey-class SSBN (photo: Sevmash Press-Service)

Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC or OSK) is reportedly experiencing a shortage of funding for Borey-class SSBN Knyaz Oleg. OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov told RIA Novosti on November 16, “Everything depends on issues of the shortage of financing which has somehow formed for us. We hope that [the launch of Knyaz Oleg] will be on schedule.”

Rakhmanov reportedly told the official news agency that the schedule for launching Knyaz Oleg has been pushed back several times.

Knyaz Oleg is the fifth Borey SSBN overall, and the second Borey-A boat. Like the first three Borey ballistic missile submarines, the Borey-A is expected to carry 16 Bulava SLBMs.

First-of-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy is assigned to the Northern Fleet. Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh are part of the Pacific Fleet.

Like Knyaz Oleg, unit four — Knyaz Vladimir — the first Borey-A is also destined to reinforce the Russian Pacific Fleet’s strategic nuclear force.

Rakhmanov’s public cry for more money is somewhat unusual and harks back to 2011 when OSK railed at the MOD for adequate financing to produce modern nuclear submarines.

Russia planned to have eight Borey boats in its order-of-battle by 2020. But with Sevmash taking six, seven, or eight years to lay down, launch, and commission them, Knyaz Oleg might be the last to reach the navy this decade. And Rakhmanov pretty clearly linked money to sticking to his SSBN production schedule.

Not Necessarily New

Rossiyskaya gazeta reports the first Russian Tu-160M2 airframe has reached final assembly at Tupolev’s Kazan Aircraft Plant (KAZ). But it may not necessarily be new or significantly different from the last Tu-160 / Blackjack produced at KAZ.

RG picked up the story of the first Tu-160M2 from Kazan-based news service Biznes Online which follows plant newspaper Vpered.

The fourth series Tu-160 Valentin Bliznyuk (photo PAO Tupolev)

The fourth Tu-160 Valentin Bliznyuk (photo: PAO Tupolev)

Assembly of bombers at KAZ ended in 1992 with four airframes “in reserve” in various stages of production. Two were completed in 2000 and 2008 with two left unfinished at the factory.

The “Reserve”

For many years, Russian defense industries depended on their Soviet “reserve” [задел]. The “reserve” could be anything from materials to parts to money to technical know-how that helps an enterprise survive lean times. In many instances, they were wartime mobilization supplies. The “reserve” grew out of the Soviet command economy in which a factory would hoard extra resources to use against future production plans. But, over the years, defense industries steadily depleted whatever Soviet-era “reserve” they had. Another classic case of the “reserve” is Sevmash using unfinished Akula-class SSN hull sections to build the first three Borey-class SSBNs.

KAZ management readily admits the bomber bearing factory number 804 is not a full-blooded Tu-160M2. It’s a chance for the factory and its personnel to prove they can renew production of what is surely one of the most complex Russian weapons systems.

The plant has reestablished its vacuum annealing and electron beam welding processes to fabricate Tu-160 airframes. But the Tu-160M2 will depend on many subsystems, components, and parts from a large number of suppliers.

New avionics, navigation, weapons control, and electronic warfare systems aren’t due until series production. The bomber’s principal weapon, a new long-range, high-speed “smart” cruise missile known as Kh-BD, remains in development.

Production of updated NK-32-02 turbofan engines, which has only just begun at PAO Kuznetsov in Samara, could be the most difficult task. In early 2016, Biznes wrote that the company needed to make five engines that year, and 22 per year starting this year. However, it reported that Kuznetsov is “not in very good condition.”

For these reasons, KAZ workers themselves are skeptical about successfully resurrecting bomber production, according to Biznes.

RG indicated Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov stated in early 2017 the initial Tu-160M2 would come from the factory’s “reserve” and be ready for flight testing in 2018. Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar Yuriy Borisov has also said early 2018. According to Interfaks-AVN, Tupolev announced an “experimental” Tu-160M2 would fly in 2019.

Biznes indicated completely new Tu-160M2 bombers — not Soviet legacy airframes — might not appear until 2020, reaching a rate of three per year by 2023. 

Interviewed by Krasnaya zvezda while visiting KAZ in early May, Borisov fully reiterated Russia’s plans for its strategic bombers: all existing Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3 will be modernized, 50 Tu-160M2 will be produced, and the prospective PAK DA will fly in 2025-2026 and enter production in 2028-2029.

For its part, in its recent “Russia [sic] Military Power” publication, U.S. military intelligence notes:

“. . . all existing Tu-160s will be upgraded to Tu-160M1 or M2. Russia has announced that it will resume production of Tu-160M2 bombers and complete development of a new generation bomber (Russian designation: PAK-DA) within a decade . . . .”

The report allows that “timelines for both programs may slip if financial difficulties arise.”

But such troubles arose two or three years ago and Moscow’s economic woes make ambitious, if not grandiose, strategic bomber programs unaffordable. The burden of upgrading every existing bomber while developing a new one like the B-2 will be incompatible with declining defense budgets.

Yet strategic nuclear forces are an undeniable priority for the Kremlin and bombers figure as something of a hedge against U.S. missile defense systems.

Russian President Vladimir Putin loves the impression bombers make. In 2007, he restarted regular strategic bomber patrols along NATO borders to signal Russian intent to become more assertive abroad.

Well-worn shot of Putin before his 2005 flight in a Tu-160 (photo Kremlin.ru)

Well-worn shot of Putin before his 2005 flight in a Tu-160 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

He has also sent Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela and Nicaragua in a show-the-flag campaign. The Tu-160 flew its first combat mission over Syria in 2015.

Aleksandr Nevskiy Arrives

Families Welcome Nevskiy Home for First Time (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Families Welcome Nevskiy Home for First Time (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Following a roughly 40-day inter-fleet transfer, proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy arrived at Rybachiy at approximately 1700 hours local on September 30.  Families waiting for the submarine held a sign reading “Welcome to Your Native Shores!”

The Pacific Fleet’s website provided lots of good photos of the occasion.

Nevskiy at New Pier (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Nevskiy at New Pier (photo: Ministry of Defense)

NG published this MOD photo of Aleksandr Nevskiy at its new pier.

The MOD press release for Nevskiy’s arrival focused on the reconstruction of the Pacific Fleet’s SSBN base.  It noted that the new base “should systematically underpin the service cycle, base training, technical servicing of submarines, and life cycle support and have essential social infrastructure to allow crewmen to fulfill their duties fully with great efficiency.”

Down the Gangplank (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Down the Gangplank (photo: Ministry of Defense)

Navy CINC Salutes Nevskiy's Commander (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Navy CINC Salutes Nevskiy’s Commander (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Behind Navy CINC Admiral Viktor Chirkov, Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Sergey Avakyants also salutes.

In remarks to assembled officials, Navy personnel, and families published on Mil.ru, Chirkov said the Pacific Fleet’s submarine force is in a “renewal phase.” Demands on the training of submariners are greater now that 4th generation boats are entering the fleet.

Admiral Chirkov added that the design of 5th generation submarines has begun within the framework of the 2050 Shipbuilding Program.  These future boats will be stealthy, and have improved C3, automated reconnaissance and “collision avoidance” systems, and better weapons, according to him.

In the Interfaks-AVN recap, Admiral Chirkov also referred to the “deep modernization” of existing 3rd generation nuclear subs saying that, “These boats have great modernization potential allowing them to be made practically new and return to the Navy’s order-of-battle as effective and powerful units.”

“The intensity of combat service of [Russian] strategic and multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines on the world’s oceans will be maintained at a level that guarantees our country’s security,” according to the Navy CINC.

Of course, Chirkov didn’t note that — with Russia’s array of land-based ICBMs and position in Eurasia’s heartland — that intensity, that level of submarine operations may not need to be too great.

Nevskiy Captain Vasiliy Tankovid Addresses His Crew (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Nevskiy Captain Vasiliy Tankovid Addresses His Crew (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Family Reunion on the Pier (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

Family Reunion on the Pier (photo: Pressa-tof.livejournal.com)

A happy scene familiar to every sailor.

Tighter in the Hall

Sevmash (photo: www.sevmash.ru)

Sevmash (photo: http://www.sevmash.ru)

It’s tighter in Sevmash’s construction hall, but there’s still plenty of space.

Russian submarine producer Sevmash released the following noteworthy statement on 28 March:

Uniting forces for nuclear-powered submarine construction

For the realization of the state arms program and effective construction of modern nuclear submarines, buildingway-delivery production is being organized at Sevmash.

The Testing and Order Delivery Directorate (UISZ) is joining Sevmash’s two largest buildingway departments — 50 and 55.  The new structure is needed to increase the tempo of modern nuclear submarines construction (recently a significant number of submarines was laid down), guarantee evenness in labor force distribution, and promote the transfer of production experience.  Recall that the buildingway of department 50 was occupied with civilian production in the 1990s:  specifically, it built the unique ice-resistant maritime platform ‘Prirazlomaya.’  Last year the department came back to its core business:  modern nuclear-powered submarines were laid down here.  As the chief of buildingway-delivery production Sergey Novoselov announced, a management system for the new large-scale sub-unit is currently being formed in accordance with the general director’s order.

Press-service OAO “PO ‘Sevmash.'”

For curiosity’s sake, here’s Bellona.org’s take on the ‘Prirazlomaya’ drilling platform.  Not flattering.

What is this buildingway-delivery production?  It sounds like Sevmash knows once it launches some submarines now under construction, it’ll face a fitting-out bottleneck . . . perhaps some pre-delivery work will now occur on the ways prior to launch.

Various media outlets recently noted Russia’s increased submarine production and declared that it is building four nuclear-powered boats (two SSBNs and two SSNs) for the first time in post-Soviet history.  Examples can be found here and here.

But a bit of research, e.g. here, here, here, and here, would have shown that three SSBNs and four SSNs — seven unfinished boats — are now in the hall at Sevmash.  Six laid down since 2012.  They are, of course, proyekt 955A Borey-class SSBNs and proyekt 885M Yasen-class SSNs.

Official reports from Sevmash early last year indicated that the builder plans to lay down two more Boreys and two more Yasens in 2015.  That would make a rather whopping 11 submarines under construction.

The numbers seven and 11 hark back to the halcyon days of Soviet production:  to the 1980s when Sevmash built Typhoon-, Delta IV-, Oscar-, and Akula-class submarines.  Early in that long ago decade, Moscow built four boats at a time, toward mid-decade — six or seven, by the time Gorbachev came to power — eight, before 1990 as many as 10 simultaneously.  Then production dropped to virtually zero in the mid-1990s.

We should remember, however, that Russia’s submarines under construction could turn out to be proverbial “birds in a bush.”  The navy much prefers to have completed boats in hand.

So what stands in the way of completing them?  A number of things potentially. Skilled labor, materials, and component shortages, finding domestic substitutes for sanctioned foreign inputs, and high interest rates and high inflation complicate the already pricey business of building new submarines.