Tag Archives: SLBM

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.

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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.

Re-Industrializing for Military Modernization

Golts

Golts

It’s been Golts overkill.  Despite the risk of overdosing, he has an article in Ogonek from 25 September which merits attention.

One could do much, much worse than to pick him, if you could read only one commentator.

Golts tries to explain why Russia’s OPK, its defense sector, has failed.

He gives prominent examples of defense industrial shortcomings including the most recent Bulava and Proton-M failures.  Interestingly, he says all serially produced Bulava SLBMs are being returned to Votkinsk for inspection.

Calling the list of failures “endless,” he concludes, “Production standards are falling uncontrollably not only in the space sector.”  He continues:

“The thing is not only particular failures.  Experts from the military economics laboratory of the Gaydar Institute suggest that defense order 2013 will be disrupted just as it was in previous years.  According to their data, defense order 2012 was revised and lowered at least three times.  And still it was unfulfilled by approximately 20 percent.  Accounting Chamber auditor Aleksandr Piskunov was extremely forthright in the Duma hearings:  ‘Almost one hundred percent fulfillment of state defense orders for the last 20 years hasn’t interfered with the failure of all armaments programs, with fulfilling them at 30, 40, 50 percent.'”

You may recall reading Piskunov here at the start of April.

Then, Golts notes, Putin himself cast doubt on the OPK’s ability to fulfill the current GPV.  He recalls the late July meeting when Putin indicated he’d entertain slipping ships and submarines due after 2015 into the next GPV (to 2025), so that there aren’t more “failures.”

Putin said work should be organized so producers’ capabilities coincide with the allocated funding.  Money, he said, shouldn’t be hung up in accounts [and stolen] while we wait for ships.  Golts reads this as Putin recognizing that the state of domestic industry is such that it can’t assimilate the gigantic sums allocated to it.

The defense sector has structural problems that endless calls for mobilization to face an aggressive West can’t resolve (i.e. a workforce that’s almost reached retirement age, continued aging of basic production equipment).

Golts again turns to Piskunov, who said only 20 percent of defense enterprises approach world standards in terms of technical equipment, and nearly half are in such a poor state that resurrecting them is senseless — it would be better to start from a “clean slate.”

But Golts focuses on poor coordination and cooperation among enterprises, government customers, and sub-contractors.  He turns to the familiar case of Bulava — 650 different enterprises reportedly have a hand in turning out this missile.

Most damning, Golts compares today’s “so-called united state corporations” unfavorably to Soviet-era defense industry ministries.  Ineffective and bureaucratized, the latter still managed to manufacture massive numbers of weapons.  And Gosplan matched prices for products and production by fiat.  Today’s goskorporatsii can’t.

There’s another important difference, Golts points out.  All Soviet “civilian” industries also produced arms, or parts for them.  Average citizens buying civilian goods helped finance military production with their purchases.

But the largest part of this permanently mobilized industrial system died in the 1990s and surviving parts retooled for other production.  Many in the latter category no longer wanted part of the defense order which would only make them less competitive in their main business.

Then Golts concludes:

“But it’s impossible to begin serial production of armaments without serial production of components.”

Today’s OPK chiefs don’t have the talents of some of Stalin’s industrial commissars, says Golts.  They are, however, good at blaming ex-Defense Minister Serdyukov for “destroying” the voyenpred system.

Golts really gets to it here:

“In reality producers of complex military equipment have a choice.  They can either make components in final assembly plants in a semi-artisan fashion.  Or they can buy them on the side, risking getting crap made in some tent.  It stands to reason the problem isn’t confined to recreating the military acceptance office in enterprises.  Complex chains of sub-contractors have to be established.  And, we note, even with money — this isn’t a banal task.  We’re really talking about new industrialization, the construction of new enterprises.  But just what kind?”

Golts recommends a policy of targeted and specialized re-industrialization.  Because of the expense, he says build specialized component factories to support production of critical systems where Russia is decades behind developed states — communications, reconnaissance, UAVs, precision weapons.  Russia will have to prioritize and Golts doesn’t see tanks, ships, and heavy ICBMs as priorities.  Those who pick the priorities have to withstand attacks from lobbyists for these weapons.

Golts believes Deputy Prime Minister and OPK tsar Dmitriy Rogozin knows the bind he’s in . . . and that’s why he says put off the beginning of serial production of many armaments until the next armaments program (2016-2025).

Golts concludes:

“Generally, the rearmament of the Russian Army is entering a new cycle.  Without any kind of results.”

Medvedev Talks Bulava Acceptance

Medvedev Shakes Korolev's Hand

This post is admittedly as much about using a good photo and video as relaying something you haven’t heard.  But the visuals bring the subject to life a little.  At any rate, the lengthy Russian holiday season is upon us, so any post (even one with fluff) is better than none. 

Tuesday Russia’s lame duck President and Supreme CINC Dmitriy Medvedev greeted a group of military men — Armed Forces, MVD, FSB, SVR, and MChS officers — in the Grand Kremlin Palace’s St. George’s Hall to congratulate them on their new command positions or promotions to higher ranks.

Shown above are (from right) Southern MD Commander Aleksandr Galkin, Central MD Commander Vladimir Chirkin, Northern Fleet Commander Vladimir Korolev, Black Sea Fleet Commander Aleksandr Fedotenkov, and VVKO Commander Oleg Ostapenko.

Galkin and Chirkin are apparently there to mark their elevation to three-star general-colonel rank, while the latter three are now at new posts.  And Ostapenko’s sporting a blue uniform.  Didn’t the ex-Space Troops wear green reflecting their RVSN roots?

Kremlin.ru published some of Medvedev’s remarks to his senior officer audience:

“In recent years, we have modernized the Armed Forces in the most substantial way, optimized the structure and manning of the army and navy, improved the combat command and control system, and strengthened the strategic nuclear deterrent forces.  From 1 December of this year, new troops –Aerospace Defense Troops began combat duty, and in November a new radar station for monitoring air space in the western direction was brought into operation.”

“The army and navy have to resolve an entire series of missions relative to supporting the national development strategy and, accordingly, military organizational development during the period of the coming 10 years.  One of the most important goals is the technical reequipping of troops.  Our key priority remains further reequipping of the troops, and weapons and equipment of the most modern and next generation.  And of course, this task also demands the preparation of specialists, demands the preparation of personnel who will be fully capable of using this equipment as intended.  Therefore, it is important to guarantee the proper level of professional knowledge in cadets and young officers.”

“We are continuing the improvement of our armament, and our equipment.  In this context, I would like to note specifically that despite the problems currently remaining in the missile-space sector, nevertheless, we have just made a very important step:  we completed the flight testing cycle of a naval strategic nuclear forces system, I have ‘Bulava’ in mind.  This cycle, I remind you, was not simple, and went forward with certain problems.  Still our industry proved it can develop new, modern, and highly efficient types of strategic weapons.  One of them is the ‘Bulava’ system, which now, after all this testing, will be accepted into the arms inventory.”

Pervyy kanal covered the ceremony, showing Medvedev, three VVKO and/or Air Forces general-majors, a Bulava launch, and assorted siloviki, including Sergey Ivanov, Nikolay Patrushev, Rashid Nurgaliyev, and Aleksandr Bortnikov.

The first general-major wearing the blue uniform is Sergey Popov, late chief of air defense for VVS, now Commander of VVKO’s Air and Missile Defense Command.  The second couldn’t be identified by your author.  The third is Igor Makushev, Commander, 1st Air Forces and Air Defense Command (perhaps just the 1st Air Forces Command since the advent of VVKO).

But returning to Medvedev and Bulava . . . the Supreme CINC’s words unleashed minor euphoria about the SLBM’s imminent acceptance. 

For example, on December 28, RIA Novosti reported its highly-placed Defense Ministry source claimed a decision on accepting the Bulava-Borey weapons system is before the country’s political leadership.

But Medvedev didn’t say the missile is now ready to be accepted.  He just said it would be, and we already knew that.  Also, he never mentioned Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy which must be accepted in tandem with Bulava for this strategic weapons system to achieve IOC.

Vedomosti’s Defense Ministry source was more on the mark saying Bulava “practice” launches could continue for some time. 

Going slow would seem to track with Defense Minister Serdyukov’s apparently unhurried approach toward Bulava at this point.  There have been reports that Dolgorukiy isn’t ready, and launches next spring and summer could come from Borey unit 2 Aleksandr Nevskiy by then.

At any rate, the Bulava program’s come a long way from the nadir of its December 2009 failure.  But this isn’t exactly the end of the road either.  Moscow still has to work out a reliable and well-controlled production run of some 128 missiles (and 768 warheads) plus spares.  Not to mention ramping up construction and completion of eight Borey-class boats.

Thank you for reading this meandering post, as well as others this year.  Your author wishes you a happy 2012.

С новым годом!

Bulava Postponed?

A Bulava Test

Interfaks reports an expected salvo launch of two Bulava SLBMs has been put off until next year, as Defense Minister Serdyukov said it might.  The press agency cites a well-placed Navy Main Staff source.  RIA Novosti, however, citing its own Navy Main Staff source, says the test was delayed by weather, but will occur today or tomorrow.  For its part, ITAR-TASS cites an OPK source who says the Bulava test firings are off until June because of White Sea ice.

The last Bulava test, a success, took place on October 28.  The Bulava / Yuriy Dolgorukiy weapons system might have been accepted into the inventory before year’s end following a successful salvo launch of two missiles.

BFM.ru talked recently to Aleksandr Golts and Vladimir Yevseyev about Bulava.  It notes the last planned launch of 2010 was also put off for ice.

Golts believes there’s a political motive for postponement.  He thinks the Defense Ministry can’t allow another failure and blow to its reputation and the image of Russian weapons.  And, by the time of the next test, the elections will be over, and Serdyukov may no longer be at the Defense Ministry.

Golts attributes Bulava’s problems to problems in the component base and the collapse of the Soviet sub-contractor chain.  The lack of serial production has made it impossible to guarantee quality component manufacturing.  Hence, something different seemed to go wrong in every test failure.

Golts doesn’t rule out the possibility that there simply aren’t enough missiles for testing (or for picking ones to test) because of the GOZ-2011 contracting dispute between the Defense Ministry and Bulava’s producer.

Yevseyev is a suspicious about postponing a shot for weather.  He calls the situation around Bulava ambiguous and unclear.  He says defects in the missiles might have been identified, and poor weather could be an excuse.

Like Golts, Yevseyev sees Bulava’s problems as symptomatic of larger defense industrial ones, and he doesn’t exclude a political motive:

“There’s a sharp decline in the quality of production, a partial loss of specific producers, technologies.  There’s aging of the machinery itself, the lack of qualified specialists who can work on it.  When the OPK’s been collapsing for so much time, it’s strange to hope it can produce such a complex technological product like a missile system.”

“It’s possible there’s a danger that, if there are unsuccessful tests in the period when we’re beginning Duma and presidential election campaigns, they’ll spoil the scene.  This is one of the possible reasons for the postponement.”

It seems understandable risk tolerance would be pretty low at this point given the history of the Bulava program, the bad publicity and angst generated by recent high-profile space failures, and the political season.  Perhaps it’s a case of better late, but better.

Bulava Success

Interfaks and ITAR-TASS report Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy successfully launched its third Bulava SLBM today, that’s the 17th overall test and the 10th success (including five in a row).

The earlier-reported launch window was missed due to bad weather, according to Flotprom.ru.

ITAR-TASS quoted the VPK this week regarding Borey unit 2 Aleksandr Nevskiy.  The VPK says Nevskiy won’t fire a Bulava before the summer of 2012.  After finishing its factory underway testing (ZKhI or ЗХИ) and several successful single Bulava launches, Nevskiy might be accepted into service by the end of 2012, according to the VPK.

Nevskiy’s now on a two-week phase of ZKhI and will be back in Severodvinsk by early December to rectify any problems identified.  ITAR-TASS says underway testing will continue as the weather permits.

Rossiyskaya gazeta Wednesday also noted that Nevskiy’s schedule has moved to the right, and it can’t be accepted until 2012.  RG covered how the first two Boreys used unused proyekt 971 Akula components, but some are talking about Borey unit three Vladimir Monomakh as a “modernized variant” and its builders will no longer be forced to stuff their “new contents” into a “different” hull.  Others have cited the lack of leftover parts as a problem that will increase the cost and difficulty of building the third new SSBN.

The paper says Nevskiy’s crew trained at Obninsk, and also aboard Dolgorukiy.  Like Dolgorukiy, Nevskiy will head for the Pacific Fleet, according to RG.  OSK and the Defense Ministry remain in difficult negotiations over the Borey’s reported 23-billion-ruble price tag.

Updating a related story, ITAR-TASS says new Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk is now in its second underway period.  Its first (September until early October) was deemed successful; 80 percent of tasks were completed and only minor problems identified.

Worth recalling here that two Boreys, Bulava, and one Yasen were all on President Medvedev’s list of weapons systems to be procured in GOZ-2010.

Bulava Launch Plans

This week Izvestiya reported on coming launches of the Bulava SLBM.  The paper’s sources say the military and industry want two single test firings before trying a salvo launch test.  They suggest Bulava’s early problems were due to testbed Dmitriy Donskoy.  They also report complaints about the new Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy.

A Navy staff source tells Izvestiya two single Bulava launches are planned before a salvo launch of three [not two as previously reported] missiles is attempted.  An industry source confirms this plan, and adds that Bulava testing is on schedule.

The industry source says Bulavas produced more than two years ago – before the military leadership ordered production inspections – will be used in the test launches.  A specialist tells Izvestiya mod Typhoon-class SSBN Dmitriy Donskoy is now viewed more often as the problem in Bulava’s early failures than the missile itself.

The Navy staff source says:

“It was initially planned to conduct the salvo of three missiles in an October launch.  However, they refused this idea at the last moment to check all the missile’s and boat’s systems again.  It’s possible the December salvo will be put off to 2012 if any bugs are observed during the two launches.”

Commentator Konstantin Sivkov told Izvestiya the military and industry delayed the salvo test because of uncertainty about the missile system’s reliability:

“Water disturbance from the preceding missile plays a big role in a salvo launch.  Unstable water could knock the missile off during its exit.  Therefore, all systems have to work perfectly.  And there’s the ‘Yars’ accident in Plesetsk which sowed some doubts.  Only successful launches can dispel them.”

The launch window for Yuriy Dolgorukiy is October 20-22.  According to Izvestiya’s interlocutor, the success of all Dolgorukiy launches supports suspicions that Donskoy might be to blame. 

This seems somewhat flawed logically if the Bulavas themselves were assembled and inspected differently . . . unless they never found any real problem with the missiles.

If the October launch is successful, Izvestiya reports the next will be November 18-19 and the salvo launch of three missiles will be in December.  Success in the latter would finally confirm that the Bulava is ready for combat duty, and the Bulava / Borey weapons system could be accepted.

But Izvestiya also reports the Borey’s radioelectronic, hydraulic, and hydroacoustic [sonar] systems still don’t satisfy the Defense Ministry.  The command and control systems aren’t properly configured yet either.  In short, the SSBN hasn’t fully completed its development. 

And it’s certain the lack of an agreed purchase price and a contract isn’t helping this process.