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Russian Navy abandons further development of “Lada”-Class submarines

In early February 2012 the Commander-in-Chief Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, told the Russian news agency “RIA Novosti” that Russia will stop the further construction of the “Lada”-Class submarines (Project 677) and abandon this class for good in favor of a modernization of existing submarines, although the design of this class was completed already at the end of the 1990ies.

Only on 24 November 2011, the Managing Director of the “Central Design Bureau for Maritime Projects”, Andrej Djatschkov, stated that Project 677 will be continued, and the three submarines built or under construction will be modernized, the submarines to be introduced starting in 2013.

Although sea trials of the First of Class, the St. Petersburg, have been executed by the Baltic Fleet since May 2010, a new class of conventional submarines shall be developed, with the first boat with air independent propul-sion to start sea trials as early as 2014. Since 2005, respectively 2006, two more “Lada”-Class submarines have been under construction. What happens to this class after its official end remains unclear yet. It cannot be excluded that the three submarines of this class might be subject of some modification to eventually support the generation of a flotilla of conventional submarines with air independent propulsion for the Russian Navy.

The now declared definite end for the “Lada”-Class is no surprise, as the sea trials so far were a great disappointment in every aspect to the Russian Navy. The Russian admiralty seems to put an end to an entirely unsatisfactory development, as was declared in February 2012: “The Russian Navy does not need the “Lada”-Class submarines any longer, given their current state of development”. After all, there were only problems and thoroughly bad results of the performance data achieved, whether it be the quality of shipbuilding, the propulsion system, or even the new Sonar system. Also, attempts have failed so far to introduce an own Russian development of an air independent propulsion system for their new conventional submarines. Allegedly, in 2000 there have been even requests directed at HDW at Kiel and to Italy, to either acquire or construct under licence the air independent propulsion system used for the German and Italian 212A-Class submarines. However, those attempts shall have failed, it is said. Since, Russia seems to concentrate to either acquire or copy the Stirling air independent propulsion system, which is in use with several Navies already. The new system might be integrated to the sea trials of the new class of conventional submarines announced to start in 2014.

On 26 December 1997, the St. Petersburg (B-585) was keel laid at the Admiralty Shipyard at St. Petersburg. She was launched on 28 December 2004, sea trials started then in 2006. On 05 May 2010 the submarine was commissioned by the Baltic Fleet, however, sea trials continued until today. The second submarine of the “Lada”-Class, the Kronstadt (B-586), was keel laid on 27 July 2005, and construction of the third of class, the Sevastopol (B-587), started on 09 November 2006. The performance data of the “Lada”-Class published are not bad: length 68 m, beam 7,2 m, a displacement of 1,765 t surfaced and 2,600 t submerged, speed 10 kn at surface and up to 21 kn submerged. The range is said to be up to 6,000 nmi, and submerged with 3 kn up to 650 nmi. The maximum operational diving depth shall be up to 350 m. The submarine has 6 bow torpedo tubes, enabling the launch of torpedoes (up to 18 torpedoes on board) and anti-ship-missiles SS-N-15 (NATO designation: “Starfish”), also up to 44 mines could be delivered. The crew comprises 36 men.


Series of incidents with Canadian submarines causes even higher costs

On 04 June of last year, while in her first sea trials after her 5 years maintenance period, Canadian submarine HMCS Corner Brook (SSK-878) hit the seabed at a depth of 45 m in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island at Canada´s Pacific Coast so hard that the boat suffered severe damage. Since, the submarine is under inspection in dock at Esquimalt Graving Docks in British Columbia, to await considerable repairs. On 19 February 2012, Canadian Chief of Defence, General Walt Natynczyk, said during a ride on board HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), which commenced her training to gain full operational readiness since January 2012 after her maintenance period that Corner Brook would be back being operational by 2016.

This recent damage and the follow-on costs for repair are expected to go well into a two-digit figure of millions of Canadian Dollars (CAD). It puts the state of the Canadian submarine flotilla again into the headlines of the media (we have reported about the Canadian submarines in our December 2011 issue of “flotsam”). The supposed favorable deal in 1998 of acquiring 4 new and hardly used diesel-electric submarines from the Royal Navy for a mere 750 Mill. CAD turned out to be a saga of delays, essential modifications, as well as incidents and accidents, having meanwhile caused additional costs of more than 1 Bill. CAD. In 2008, a budget plan was introduced, foreseeing some 1,5 Bill. CAD over 15 years for the operation and maintenance (“Extended Docking Work Period / EDWP”) of the 4 submarines.

A few problems shall be mentioned.

HMCS Victoria has been the first of 4 submarines to be taken over from the UK, to be commissioned on 02nd of December 2000 at Halifax, Canada. It was put into maintenance shortly afterwards, which was not completed before 2003. After their transit to the Pacific the submarine has seen eventually some operational employment in 2004 and 2005. However, during that a severe damage was inflicted to the power supply system of the boat. The maintenance period that started at the end of 2006 had to be extended several times due to problems of spare parts and other material, to in the end last until the end of 2011. Since 05 December 2011 the submarine has commenced its training to re-gain full operational readiness, which, however, might go into the second half of 2012, according to media reports.

HMCS Windsor (SSK-877) was commissioned by the Canadian Navy on 04 October 2003. Since 2007 the Windsor goes through her planned maintenance period, which was scheduled to last just 2 years but is still running. During the maintenance severe faults have been detected at the boat, such as rust and signal reducing tiles at the outer hall having fallen off, resulting in restrictions to the maximum allowed operational diving depth, originally determined at 200 meters. Media further report about badly worked bulkheads, damages to the torpedo rubes and a fault rudder. Therefore, the planned maintenance period has experienced considerable delays and costs have exploded, in 2010 alone the maintenance budget of 17 Mill. CAD had to be raised to some 47 Mill. CAD. The Windsor will be operational in 2013 at the earliest.

HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK-879), which has been taken over by the Canadian Navy on 02 October 2004 from the Royal Navy at Faslane, Scotland, was hit by a severe incident on 05 October 2004 during her transit to Canada, when fire broke out on board, resulting in a large scale rescue operation with tow back to the UK and the death of 1 officer and several injured crewmen. The submarine later was ferried to Canada as deck load on board a special freighter. Since, the submarine has spent by and large all her service time at Halifax undergoing comprehensive repairs and maintenance, which, according to media reports, have passed the 100 Mill. CAD mark. Initially, leaving dock was scheduled for 2007, but continuous delays have occurred, latest date for being operational again has been declared as 2013. Currently, Canadian media even speculate about a premature de-commissioning of the Chicoutimi.

HMCS Corner Brook, which was commissioned on 26 June 2003 by the Canadian Navy, now is the latest addition to the series of problems.

Repeatedly, the media name as main deficiency of the Canadian submarine flotilla besides the above mentioned problems that these submarine have never demonstrated yet their capability of actually firing their torpedoes life. The Victoria will be the first Canadian submarine doing life torpedo firing, almost 12 years after the 4 submarines of its class have been introduced.

Hence, the small Canadian submarine flotilla has seen many periods without a single fully operational submarine. Originally, always one submarine each of the four boats was scheduled to be ready for operations in the Atlantic Ocean, respectively Pacific Ocean. Another of these capability gaps does exist since Corner Brook has hit the sea bad in June 2011, as only the “Victoria” has started her operational training after her maintenance period, which will not be completed before the second half of 2012.

The Canadian Department of Defence publishes on its homepage some information about the “Victoria”-Class submarines, stating that the 4 boats have been at sea a total of 900 days, with HMCS Victoria having clocked a total of 146 days at sea between June 2005 and December 2006, and HMCS Corner Brook a total of 463 days at sea between October 2006 and June 2011. On the other hand, it means that just 2 submarines clocked almost 70 percent of all days at sea of the entire fleet of “Victoria”-Class submarines. The media do not stop highlighting HMCS Chicoutimi and her amazing 2 days of some sort of operational readiness in 13 years.

The chapter “Victoria”-Class submarines has developed to be a heavy burden to the Canadian Navy in every aspect. However, one should refrain from putting blame on a sole reason, as there are many cases of similar bad history in procurement and management in other Navies, and this not only with used surface or flying weapon systems.


Iranian Navy commissions two more coastal submarines of the “Ghadir”-Class

On 10 February 2012, media reported about the commissioning of two further submarines of the “Ghadir” Class for the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The First of Class of “Ghadir” submarines (named after Ghadir Khumm, a holy place for the Shia dominated Iran) was introduced on 28 November 2007. The total number commissioned yet of the diesel-electric “Ghadir” submarines differs at various sources between 12 (Associated Press), 16 (Novosti) and 19 (Wikipedia). Besides the 3 larger “Kilo”-Class submarines procured from Russia in 1993, the “Ghadir” Class meanwhile forms the backbone of the Iranian submarine force (we have reported about in our July 2011 issue of “flotsam”). Their small size of just 120 t displacement, 29 m length, and 3 m beam supports very much littoral employments in the Persian Gulf. They have 2 torpedo tubes (53.3 cm) to launch torpedoes or deliver covertly mines. Their speed is said to be about 11 kn and their crew is reported to be 18 men.