Tag Archives: Bulava

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.

Weak Light at the End of the Tunnel

In recognition of Navy Day several weeks back, Mikhail Khodarenok examined the current state of the Russian Navy for Gazeta.ru.

Khodarenok offers a pessimistic assessment of the navy’s shipbuilding program.  He notes there is still significant disagreement over what to build.  The navy, he argues, has also lost some of its bureaucratic heft when it comes to planning for shipbuilding as well as for the operational employment of naval forces. 

Black Sea Fleet Nanuchka III-class PGG Shtil in the Navy Day Parade

Black Sea Fleet Nanuchka III-class PGG Shtil in the Navy Day Parade

Late of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer, Mr. Khodarenok — you’ll recall — is an ex-General Staff officer and serious military journalist.  He shares interesting and credible opinions from several well-placed former naval officers in his article.

According to him, all observers agree that the start of serial construction of ships after more than 20 years is “one of the most important vectors of the fleet’s current development.”  This might seem obvious, but it’s not widely appreciated.

Khodarenok walks quickly through the current construction program:

  • four proyekt 20380 corvettes in the fleet with eight on the buildingways;
  • three proyekt 11356 frigates delivered, others uncertain;
  • proyekt 22350 frigates under construction;
  • six proyekt 636.3 diesel-electric submarines complete, six more for the Pacific Fleet to be built in 2017-2020;
  • proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN is a success with three delivered;
  • a single proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSN has reached the fleet, others will likely not arrive until after 2020.

One can quibble with his points.  For example, it’s premature to declare Borey a success when its Bulava SLBM still hasn’t been accepted into the navy’s inventory (NVO made this point flatly on 12 August).  Perhaps Borey is a success, but only in comparison to Yasen.

Khodarenok doesn’t dwell on these points, and his general themes are of greater interest.

He quotes former deputy chief of the Navy Main Staff, Vice-Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev:

“Serial production is generally a very big deal.  It has big pluses in the deployment plan, lowering costs of subsequent ships in the series compared with the lead unit, and simplification of training personnel for new ships.”

According to Khodarenok, Pepelyayev feels there is light at the end of the tunnel for the navy, but it’s dim and flickering because navy ship construction “fully reflects the realities and condition of the Russian shipbuilding industry,” and not just shipbuilding.

Pepelyayev continues:

“A ship is a visible and material reflection of practically all the technological capabilities of the state.  In a word, we build that which we can build.”

Khodarenok adds:

“Specialists believe that another fifteen years are still needed to recover after many types of restructuring, the 1990s, and the hiatus in fleet construction at the beginning of the 2000s.”

Turning to the sore point of gas turbine engines, Khodarenok writes that Rybinsk may well be able to make them for the Russian Navy by 2017-2018, but someone still needs to replace the reduction gears also once made for navy ships in Ukraine.  This is a more difficult task.  The Zvezda plant in St. Petersburg has gotten the job.

Ex-deputy CINC of the Navy for Armaments Vice-Admiral Nikolay Borisov says:

“This is a highly complex task — highly complex and modern equipment, particularly gear cutters, are needed to work with high-alloy steel.  Whether this task will be completed at Zvezda is an open question.  Many specialists doubt the enterprise’s capability to handle the task in the established timeframe.”

Khodarenok turns to the proposed nuclear-powered destroyer Lider (proyekt 23560), concluding there isn’t agreement among specialists whether the fleet even needs this ship.  An unnamed highly-placed source tells him the fleet needs 20 frigates more than 15 frigates and five Lider destroyers.  The source continues:

“Lider will be a ship of the second half of the 21st century.  However, there are no new weapons which correspond to the second half of the 21st century for it.  There’s just no sense in building a hull and power plant.”

Retired Rear-Admiral Yuriy Gorev, who was involved in ship acquisition, tells Khodarenok that the navy should continue building corvettes and frigates while continuing development of Lider.  But the new destroyer shouldn’t be a goal of the fleet’s near-term plans.

Next, the always-pregnant question of aircraft carriers…

An unnamed Navy Main Staff source says:

“Today there are no conditions for the construction of a ship of such a design.  No buildingway, no drydock.  There is simply nowhere to build an aircraft carrier.”

“The construction of such ships should be realized for concrete tasks, but today the Russian Navy simply doesn’t have such missions.”

“And with further development of aviation, aircraft carriers could even die out altogether as a class.”

Recall that MOD armaments tsar Yuriy Borisov said an aircraft carrier contract won’t be signed until late 2025, and there are three existing “not bad” designs for it.

Former chief of the naval “direction” (department, i.e. not a major bureaucratic entity) of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate (GOU), Rear-Admiral Arkadiy Syroyezhko believes there are no insurmountable obstacles to the construction of a nuclear-powered strike carrier in Russia.  He thinks Sevmash could handle the job since it was originally conceived as a yard for major surface combatants and later concentrated on submarines.

But Syroyezhko admits, without preparation to support carriers, Russia could end up with extremely expensive, sporadically constructed carriers.  Today, he concludes, Russia is able to fulfill combat missions typically placed on carriers by other means.

Changing gears, Khodarenok covers the state of play in the Russian Navy’s Main Staff.

According to him, specialists unanimously report that the operational-strategic component has disappeared from the Main Staff’s work.  It no longer plans for the fleet’s employment — for strategic operations in oceanic theaters of military operations.  The naval planning job has gone to Russia’s operational-strategic commands (military districts) and the four geographic fleets (as the operational-strategic large formations of those MDs).  

A Main Staff source tells Khodarenok that the MD commanders have come up with disparate rules for directing the fleets subordinate to them.  The source says the disappearance of a naval component in GOU planning began with the downgrading of the GOU’s naval directorate to a “direction,” and with the concomitant reduction in the quality of its naval staff officers.

Khodarenok writes there is confusion today over what ships to build, how many, what tactical-technical capabilities they should have, and what missions they should perform. The Navy CINC has “no rights” but many demands made of him in this regard.

Russian Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

Russian Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev

The Navy CINC’s responsibilities for procurement intersect with those of the MOD’s state defense order (GOZ) support department.  It’s unclear exactly where their respective authorities begin and end.  The Main Staff source says all sorts of nonsense result from the confusion.

Still, the CINC has to answer for almost everything that happens in the fleet, according to Khodarenok.

The Navy Main Command’s (Glavkomat’s) move to St. Petersburg was a big mistake, but a return to Moscow would be equally disruptive.  A Glavkomat source tells Khodarenok, as long as the leadership sends people to Vladivostok or elsewhere twice a week over the littlest issues, it really doesn’t matter where the headquarters is.

Khodarenok sums everything this way:

“In other words, there are more than a few problems in the fleet today.  It undoubtedly won’t do to put their resolution on the back burner.  They won’t disappear somewhere from there.”

Inter-Fleet

Vladimir Monomakh and Yuriy Dolgorukiy in Gadzhiyevo

Vladimir Monomakh and Yuriy Dolgorukiy in Gadzhiyevo

Interfaks-AVN reports Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy (K-550) will soon embark on an inter-fleet transfer from the Northern Fleet submarine base at Gadzhiyevo to Vilyuchinsk in the Pacific Fleet.

Nevskiy may not spend another winter in Gadzhiyevo like Monomakh and Dolgorukiy above.  Not too many months ago, it was thought Monomakh would also reach the Pacific Fleet this year.  That boat apparently needs a second successful Bulava SLBM firing before it can depart the northern waters where it was built.

The Russian Navy conducted a major training assembly on under-ice operations for nuclear submarine crews last February.

An article in Krasnaya zvezda reported that this training was aimed squarely at SSBN and Borey crews particularly.  Retired Vice-Admiral Anatoliy Shevchenko, Russia’s most accomplished under-ice submariner, was the featured speaker.

Nevskiy’s inter-fleet along Russia’s Northern Sea Route (Северный морской путь) could begin this month or next.

Soviet submarines built in Severodvinsk used to inter-fleet to bolster the Pacific order-of-battle.  The first were November-class SSN K-115 and Hotel II-class SSBN K-178 in September 1963.

But inter-fleet transfers beсame rare in the Russian era.  Four Oscar II-class SSGNs traversed the Sevmorput in the 1990s.  The last inter-fleet was Delta III-class SSBN Ryazan, which came in 2008 to keep the Pacific Fleet from losing its strategic nuclear strike capability.

According to a Navy Main Staff source, Nevskiy will conduct its third Bulava launch after its arrival in the Pacific Fleet.  The second hull of the Borey-class, Nevskiy was officially commissioned in December 2013.

Nevskiy is part of the 25th Submarine Division (25-я Дивизия подводных лодок or 25-я ДиПЛ).  Nevskiy (and Monomakh) were long ago inscribed on its roll.  But only three aged Delta III-class SSBNs (including Ryazan) are physically present in the Pacific.

We should recall (yet again) that, although President Vladimir Putin intervened personally to save the Pacific Fleet’s SSBN force in 2002, his men still can’t quite finish new basing facilities required for Borey-class boats.  Watch for more details on this, possibly tomorrow.

Tsar-Boat

Russian military television, TV Zvezda, not long ago ran a 35-minute show on the construction and acceptance of Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh in Severodvinsk.  Pretty interesting footage showing test launches of Bulava SLBMs and engineers checking design specs on reams of paper documents.  Props to someone for putting the video on YouTube.

The program follows MOD military representatives, civilians, and crew through the final process of delivering and accepting the new submarine into service.  It also has footage from Votkinsk showing the manufacture of Bulavas for the Borey-class.

Big Stories of 2014

Just before Christmas, RIA Novosti took a cut at identifying the big military stories of 2014.

A daunting, but intriguing task.  Here’s what it came up with:

  1. Acceptance of proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh.  That’s unit three.  RIAN also puts five pending Bulava SLBM launches, including from Monomakh, on its list.
  2. Acceptance of the lead unit of proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk.
  3. Construction of a new National Command and Control Center for State Defense.
  4. Acceptance of the Ratnik future soldier system.
  5. One-Time Monetary Payments (or YeDV) for servicemen owed permanent apartments.  It’s supposed to end the housing line forever.
  6. Flexible pricing in the State Defense Order.  Starting in 2014, some contracts may be for a fixed price while others will be figured on what was actually spent to produce end items.
  7. Formation of an aerobatic flying group with new Yak-130 trainers.
  8. State acceptance testing for the T-50 / PAK FA.
  9. Continued, gradual rearmament to the level of 30 percent modern weapons and equipment in all forces.
  10. Formation of 16 new medical companies (to expand to 50 over the next 18 months).  A special mobile medical (medevac) brigade will be formed in each military district.
  11. Conscripts from reestablished sports companies slated to compete in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

By way of context, here’s what RIAN predicted for the big stories of 2013:  end of explosive destruction of old munitions, Bulava / Borey / Yasen, Vikramaditya [ex-Gorshkov] handover, Putin’s promise to end the military’s housing problem, Shoygu’s pledge to turn MOD property matters over to Rosimushchestvo, Armata tank and related platforms, T-50 / PAK FA testing, creation of Concern “Kalashnikov” and the new AK-12, the Russian DARPA — Fund for Future Research, Oboronservis criminal cases in court, and Zapad-2013.

Interesting to consider how much (or how little) movement occurred on these issues last year.