Russia to upgrade 10 nuclear powered submarines until 2020

At the end of March 2015 the CinC of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Chirkov, stated that a total of 10 SSNs of the “Akula”-Class (Project 971) and SSGNs of the “Oscar II”-Class (Project 949A) will be overhauled and modernized at the shipyards of Svedoshka at Severodvinsk, Sibiria and Svesda at Bolchoj Kamen in the Russian Pacific province of Primorje, to extent their operational service time by another 10 to 15 years. Already in April 2014 Chirkov has announced to upgrade the two SSNs of the “Sierra I”-Class (Project 945).

5 units of the “Akula”-Class SSNs are assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet and 6 units to the Northern Fleet, whereas the SSGNs of the “Oscar II”-Class are assigned 5 to the Pacific Fleet and 2 to the Northern Fleet. A total of 8 “Akula”-Class submarines were built between 1984 and 1990, with 3 of those being de-commissioned meanwhile. A total of 7 units of the improved “Akula II”-Class were commissioned between 1992 and 2001, allegedly all of those still being in actice service, with one unit (the Nerpa) lent in 2012 to the Indian Navy for 10 years.

The fleet of SSGNs of the “Oscar II”-Class is composed of currently 7 units in active service, originally 11 units being built btw. 1982 and 1990. The “Sierra I”-Class has seen the construction of 2 units btw. 1979 and 1986 only. Both submarines seem to be earmarked now for life extension measures. There have been no announcements yet with regard to the 2 SSGNs of the “Sierra II”-Class being built btw. 1986 and 1992.

There is some caution advised as to official statements about the operational readiness of the above mentioned submarines. Generally, the figure of combat ready units in the Russian fleet of nuclear submarines is said to be ranging from 30 % to a maximum of 60 % of all submarines being operational unrestricted.

The measures announced recently to overhaul and upgrade those submarines seem to be a reaction to the considerable delays experienced so far in the procurement program of the “Yasen”-Class SSGN, above all the enormous costs of construction (these are estimated double as high as those of the SSBNs of the “Borej”-Class), which means quite some budgetarian challenges in view oft he difficult economic situation Russia is facing for some time already.


Fire on board a Russian nuclear powered submarine

Wild headlines showed up in the international media on 07 April 2015 and after when a fire incident was reported from a Russian submarine in the shipyard for maintenance. After similar incidents in 2009, 2010 and 2014 this is another of such accidential events.

According to the reports the fire broke out on board the “Oscar II”-Class SSGN Orjol (K-266) when welding works set parts of the anti-noise insolation at the rear outer hull to fire while the submarine was receiving its scheduled main overhaul and modernization since the end of 2013 at Svesdoshka shipyard in Severodvinsk, Sibiria. The dry dock where the Orjol was berthed was floated partially for safety reasons. Officials stated that there were no weapons on board and the nuclear reactor has been shut down when the submarine entered the dock. The fire was exstinguished after 8 hours, there were no casualties.

The Orjol was unit No. 8 in the series of eventually 11 units of the “Oscar II”-Class (Project 949A) built between 1982 and 1989. She was keel-laid on 19 January 1989 at Svesdoshka and commissioned on 30 December 1992 still carrying the name of Severodvinsk at that time. The name of Orjol was given to the SSGN only in April 1993. Her first main overhaul war carried out 2003/ 2004 and at the end of 2013 she went to Svesdoshka for another maintenance period, with the submarine scheduled to rejoin the Northern Fleet in 2016.

The “Oscar II”-SSGNs displacing submerged up to an amazing 24,000 t belong to the biggest nuclear submarines of the Russian fleet. Their main role is strategic attack by their anti-ship-missile P-700 “Granit” (NATO designation: SS-N-19 Shipwreck) against aircraft carrier battle groups. The Kursk, which sank on 12 August 2000 in the Barents Sea following an explosion on board, was another “Oscar II”-Class SSGN.


Presence and future of the Canadian submarines

Amazingly positive news came out at the end of February 2015 in Canada reporting that for a first time 3 of the 4 Canadian submarines were fully operational since Canada has bought these diesel-electric submarines of the “Upholder”-Class in 1998 in Britain, built there between 1983 and 1990 but laid idle by the Royal Navy soon after (HMCS Victoria, HMCS Chicoutimi, HMCS Windsor, only HMCS Corner Brook in main overhaul until 2017).

The submarines were bought in 1998 for 750 Mio. Canadian Dollar (= 550 Mio. Euros), a seemingly great bargain. Soon, the maintenance and operation of these submarine turned out to be very troublesome, which meanwhile has raised additional costs of well beyond 1 Bill. Euros which is more than double of the original procurement cost. On top oft hat the operation of the submarines has seen a number of severe accidents and some technical problems. In those 15 years flying the Canadian flag there were never more than 2 submarines operational at any time. Last time we have reported about the Canadian submarines in our “Flotsam” issue of April 2013.

Is it stated that currently some 270 fully trained Naval personnel is available for service on board the Canadian submarines, a standard crew of the 2,500 t SSKs comprises about 48 sailors. Having now 3 submarines available the regeneration training necessary would allow up to 33 on-the-job places, 11 on each boat.

It is remarkable that no major discussion has started yet about the replacement of these submarines meanwhile having clocked between 25 and 30 years. Only a few specialist magazines publish relevant articles about the future Canadian submarine fleet occasionally. Each new procurement would require a period of a minimum of 15 years from first concepts to commissioning, which would be well be beyond the maximum possible service time of the current Canadian submarines. Also, it is noteworthy that the valid 30-years National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy for the Canadian Navy does not forsee any submarines at all.


Chinese submarines for Pakistan?

In April 2015 the international media reported about a deal between China and Pakistan on the occasion of the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country on 20/21 April 2015 (being the first visit of a Chinese Head of State since 2006) comprising contracts for economic cooperation worth some 46 Bil. USD (= 45 Bill. Euros), ranging from a 15 year program worth 36 Bill. USD (= 35 Bill. Euros) to construct several large electric power plants with a total output of 17 GW replacing the known unreliable power supply until 2018 to also construct efficient road and pipeline connections from the Pakistani deep water harbour Gwadar Port in the South to the Chinese border in the North renewing the historic silk road.

The previews to the visit were speculating also about a possible deal to delivering 8 conventional submarines worth 5 -6 Bill. USD in return for the establishment of a submarine supply and replenishment base at Gwandar that may be used by Chinese submarines operating in the Indian Ocean and the adjacent seas in Middle East as well. However, there was no mentioning of any submarine building order during the signing of the various agreements on economic cooperation by the two Head of States. Notwithstanding, negotiations about the procurement of submarines by Pakistan in China are said to be continued.

Also, no decision has been made with regard to the Pakistani request to China for procuring four nuclear powered submarines being able to launch ballistic missiles including an option to carry nuclear warheads. Interestingly enough, a visit by Indian Prime Minister Nirender Modi to China has been scheduled for May of this year.

Any successful agreement on submarines, above all the procurement of SSBNs by Pakistan or the equipment of conventional submarines with land attack cruise missiles, would grossly change the strategic balance in the region. No details have been given yet as tot he possible type of submarine for Pakistan. Generally, is it believed that it will be the export version S-20 of the Chinese 2,300 tons T 39B “Yuan”, although without air independent propulsion. Another option could be the T 039 “Song” submarine. The deal would mean the first success for the Chinese submarine industry in exporting one if its products.


News about building programs, launchings, de-commissionings and commissionings in other Navies

Russian Navy

On 14 April 2015 Russian media reported oft he ceremonial commissioning of the second SSBN of the “Borej”-Class (Project 955A), the Alexander Nevsky (K-550) by the Russian Northern Fleet at Severodvinsk, Sibiria. The Alexander Nevsky was delivered to the Russian Navy already at the end of 2013, but had to pass a number of successful functional tests, in particular the safe launch of the new SLBM “Bulova”, which has experienced some delays during test firings. The SSBN Alexander Nevsky was keel-laid on 19 March 2004 and launched on 01 December 2010. Main armament of this strategc submarine are the 16 “Bulova” SLBMs. Until 2020 construction of a total of 8 SSBN of this class is programmed, with currently two commissioned, a third (the Wladimir Monomarkh/ K-551) delivered in December 2014 but carrying out required functional tests, plus three further under construction.

We have reported about the “Borej”-Class SSBNs in our “Flotsam” issues of February 2015, January 2015, December 2014 and October 2014. There, we have quoted the news from Russia about “commissionings” of the first “Borej”-Class submarines, although so far only one unit of this class, the “Yuri Dolgoruki” has been formally commissioned on 01 January 2013 yet. Other units of the class might have been delivered already to the fleet but functional tests were still due at that time. Therefore, data given by “wikipedia” or other sources stating certain evens and dates should always be read with some caution.


Indian Navy

First “Scorpene”-Class submarine launched in India

On 06 Apri 2015 a big ceremony was staged at the Mazagon shipyard at Mumbai to launch the first of the series of 6 Type “Scorpene” submarines ordered by India in France and built under license in India. The diesel-electric SSK will carry the name Kalvari and is scheduled to be delivered in September 2016. Is is said that the First-of-Class will not be commissioned before 2018, which would be four years later than planned originally. At the ceremony Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stated that the further “Scorpenes” will be delivered at nine months. Costs of the “Scorpene” procurement project are estimated currently to reach several billion USD, figures of 8.1 Bill USD (= 8 Bill. Euros) mentioned in reports by the media should be questioned, however.

We have reported about the “Scorpenes” in our “Flotsam” issues of March 2015 and November 2014. The procurement program contracted in October 2005 agreeing on a purchase of 6 SSKs displacing some 2,000 t was started on 01 April 2009 by the keel laying of the first unit in India. The second unit of the series (the name has been announced to be INS Khanderi) followed in October 2010 and the third unit in December 2012. The first three submarines still have a pure diesel-electric propulsion while units No. 4 to No. 6 are earmarked to receive an air independent propulsion system.