Sole Ukrainian submarine temporarily seized by Russia

On 22 March 2014 one of the many news about events at the Crimea and the forceful pressure of regular Russian or Crimean Militia forces against the Ukrainian military and its facilities at the peninsula was mentioning the sole submarine of the Ukrainian Navy. According to that Naval forces of the Russian Black Sea Fleet used flashbangs to force a handover of the Ukrainian submarine Saparoschschje moored in the Strelski Bight near Sewastopol. Further. It was claimed that about half of the 78 men strong crew wanted to change over to the Russian Navy, while the rest of the crew, among other the Commanding Officer, were leaving the submarine. Then, the Commander of the Russian Black Sea Submarines announced that the submarine would be integrated to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

As we all know, in 1954 the leadership of the then Soviet Union did add the Crimea peninsular to the then Ukrainian Soviet Republic although the area was part of Russia at that time. After the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Ukraine having become a sovereign state including the Crimea as autonomous province agreement was reached on 31 May 1997 between the Ukraine and the Russian Federation putting into effect a 20 years long lend-and-lease treaty allowing the further use of the Sevastopol Naval Base by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. On 21 April 2010 this agreement was extended to last until 2042 ruling the combined use of the base by Russian as well as Ukrainian Naval Forces. The Ukrainian Navy was formed after 1991 composed of about 40 vessels (currently among other units 1 frigate, 4 corvettes as well as a number of amphibious craft, coastal patrol boats and MCM vessels) taken from the Black Sea Fleet of the ex Soviet Navy.

One of these vessels was the “Foxtrot”-Class (Project 641) submarine B-435 of the Soviet Navy, built in 1970 at Leningrad. It has to be noted that there are only diffuse news about the actual handover and the combat readiness of this submarine. The diesel-electric submarine has a length of 91.3 m and a beam of 7.5 m, its displacement is some 1,950 t at the surface and 2,400 t submerged. The maximum speed is 16.5 kn, up to 15.6 kn submerged. The armament is up to 22 torpedoes, to be launched from 6 bow and 4 rear torpedo tubes. The crew is between 72 and 78 men.

U01 Saporischschja
U01 Saporischschja 2012, Picture: Pavlo1, CC BY-SA 3.0

Between 1970 (Commissioning) and 1972 submarine B-435 has executed quite a number of successful patrols, but was reported to have been laying idle and unused in dockyards and the base since. Only in 1997 it was taken over by the Ukrainian Navy as Saraposchschje (U-01). Starting in 2003, a major overhaul and refit program was started costing meanwhile some 7 Mill. USD, enabling the submarine to do first sea trials in 2012, including some diving tests. It is said that the overhaul was aimed at making the submarine sort of ready for service allowing the submarine to be sold to generate money for other urgent repairs and overhauls in the aging Ukrainian Fleet. With that, it becomes clear that this submarine did have nothing more than a very restricted sea worthiness far off any operational readiness when it was seized by Russia in March 2014.

Apparently, the interest of the Russian Black Sea Fleet for the Ukrainian submarine seems to have vanished for good, interestingly enough, this latest piece of news not making any headlines.

On 02 April 2014 the Russian media gave notice that President Putin had denounced the Russian-Ukranian agreement (the so-called “Kharkov Agreement”) of 2010 about the use of Sevastopol by the Russian Black Sea Fleet on 28 March 2014. The necessary legal steps went through the Russian Congress amazingly quick: On 31 March the Duma, the Lower House, approved the bill unanimously, followed by the Federal Council, the Upper House, the next day.


Severe dispute between Sweden and TKMS about a contract for new Swedish submarines

News came out in the media in February and March 2014 that apparently a severe dispute has broken out between German and Swedish submarine builders about the pending contract to construct new Swedish submarines. Officially Sweden has excluded the German submarine builder TKMS on 27 February 2014 from further bidding for the design and construction of the new Swedish “A-26”-Class submarines, initially with 2 units, both with air independent propulsion. TKMS/ HDW is now facing the Swedish army production company of SAAB as a new rival, although SAAB has never built any submarine yet. Obviously, SAAB will join the bidding for the tender of the Swedish Ministry of Defence for two new AIP submarines and modernizing some of the submarines in service. Allegedly SAAB is about to lure in engineers from Kockums shipyard, the Swedish subsidiary shipyard of TKMS, to build up own capacities for submarine design and construction. After the notice of termination to TKMS to further bid for the “A-26″s even a visit by the head of submarine construction at TKMS, Hans-Christian Atzpodien, in mid March 2014 did not lead yet to changes in the Swedish position.

Reasons for the Swedish reaction are manifold. Firstly, the submarine builder Kockums has been taken over by TKMS in 2005 (see our “Flotsam” of August 2012), but it never has build other than components for export submarines of TKMS/ HDW. Once Sweden was a significant exporter of submarines, and is has not received any export orders for submarines since its Kockums shipyard was managed by TKMS. Furthermore, it notices that the high-tech part of submarine construction in a growing market, e.g. the AIP system, has almost entirely moved to Kiel. Secondly, Sweden seems being not very “amused” about the recent contract between TKMS and the Navy of Singapore to build two AIP submarines (see our “Flotsam” of January 2014), because the country had some expectations for this order as Sweden has given many used Swedish submarines to the Singapore Navy before (see “Flotsam” of February 2012). And thirdly, the current offer by TKMS seems to involve too high costs, even TKMS has indicated a new flexibility in that.

Swedish media report that the building order for new submarines will be expanded from currently 2 to 5 units, total costs some 10 Bill. Swedish Kronors (= 1.12 Bill. Euros).

After the handover of its 2 submarines of the “Västergötland”-Class to Singapore in 2005, the Swedish Navy currently operates 3 submarines of the “Gotland”-Class (Gotland/ Uppland/ Halland), all being commissioned in 1996. Two of these are receiving a modernization program since March 2013 at Kockums, allowing the submarines to be kept in service until 2025 at least. The “Gotland”-Class submarines have a length of 60 m and a width of 6.2 m, their displacement is 1,494 t and 1,599 t submerged. They were the first submarines worldwide with AIP (Sterling engine). Their maximum speed is 11 kn at the surface and up to 20 kn submerged. The main armament is torpedoes of two classes, to be launched from 4 torpedo tubes 53.3 cm and 2 such tubes of 40 cm for light weight torpedoes. The crew comprises 25 sailors.


Russia developing submarines with air independent propulsion systems

A statement by the Commander-in-Chief Russian Navy, Admiral Viktor Chirkov, on 19 March 2014 was taken on by the media widely, when he indicated for the first time clear timelines about the development and introduction of air-independent-propulsion (AIP) for the fleet of conventional submarines of the Russian Navy.

According to that, such propulsion system will be ready developed by 2017 and installed at the submarines of the new “Kalina”-Class by 2018. The Admiral also stated that an AIP system shall be tested on board the first “Lada”-Class (Project 677) submarine, the St. Petersburg, which has been delivered to the Navy in May 2010 and is going through a series of technical problems during its sea and weapon trials since, being deployed to the Barents Sea at the end of 2013 for further trials. Besides the St. Petersburg still doing tests and trials, there are three more of the “Lada”-Class submarines under construction since 2005/ 2006, although at different stages of work. We have reported about this in our “Flotsam” issues of December 2013 and January 2014. The St. Petersburg is scheduled for formal commissioning this year.

It still is not clear yet whether the “Lada”-Class submarines under construction plus further orders will all receive AIP systems, to be re-named “Kalina”-Class then. However, much points to that in the arms Project 677 that has seen so many problems and delays.

For a long time there were some uncertainties why the advanced Russia submarine industry has not jumped on the new AIP technology during the development and construction of the “Kilo”-Class and “Lada”-Class submarines, although repeatedly some related news on that came out. Only in connection with a statement on 06 February 2014 by the Chief Designer of the St. Petersburg submarine shipyard, Igor Molchanov, things became somewhat more concrete. Molchanov stated that Russia will integrate AIP in its offer of export submarines of the “Amor 1650” Class in response to the Indian invitation to bid for the building order for 6 new conventional submarines, where French, Spanish and German submarine shipyards are bidding. Interesting enough, Molchanov claimed the Russian AIP design to be more efficient that the known AIP systems as the Russian systems would not require taking over special Hydrogen fluids before sailing, rather the Hydrogen required would be generated underway from the Diesel fuel on board. Now, the above mentioned news about the “Lada”/ “Kalina”-Class plus the news about the “Amur 1650” export submarines seem to confirm an existing Russian capability for the production of AIP systems.