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“Active Endeavour 2011”: Longest separation from homebase ever of a German Type 212A U-boat

Again in 2012, the German Navy will detach its Type 212A U-boats for long lasting deployments to sea areas well beyond home waters, after sufficient experiences have been gained of such kind of missions. As an example, two deployments by U 34 and one deployment by U 31 shall be mentioned.

At the end of 2011, to be precise on Saturday, on 10 December 2011, the Type 212A U-boat U 34 returned after a seven months deployment, i.e. 170 days away from home. The U-boat had left its homebase Eckernförde on 07 May 2011 to be assigned to NATO Operation “Active Endeavour”, securing the sea lines of communication in the Mediterranean against terrorist threats. During its deployment the U-boat clocked more than 14,000 nmi and its longest uninterrupted submerged patrol lasted 17 days. Implementing the new double-crew concept, the 27 men strong crew was changed twice, crew “Bravo”, on duty since September 2011, brought the U-boat back to Eckernförde.

In 2010 U-boat U 31 returned on 04 September to Eckernförde after 103 days of absence, having partici-pated at NATO exercises in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. And, in 2009, U-boat U 34 executed an equally long mission to the Mediterranean between 21st of January and 05 June, when it was away from Eckernförde for five and a half months. U 31 and U 34 have demonstrated through these long periods of absence from home the great technical and operational reliability of the Type 212A U-boat. Also, the new double-crew concept, officially introduced in April 2011, has enabled not only a justifiable burden on the duty crews but also a much better availability of U-boats in theatres far away, as costly transit times can be reduced significantly.


After modernization: Russian SSGN Voronezh back in Northern Fleet

At the end of November 2011 the Russian media reported the return of the SSGN Voronezh (K-119) to the Northern Fleet, after it has gone through a several years long maintenance period and modernization at the Zvezdoshka shipyard (which is the other big Naval shipyard besides the Sevmash-shipyard at the city of Severodvinsk, some 240,000 inhabitants and located about 35 km west of Archangelsk at the White Sea), The submarine´s overall service time is said to be extended by 35 years.

The Voronezh was the 4th in a series of initially 14 units planned, but in the end just 11 units being built of the project 949A “Antey”-Class (NATO Code: “Oscar II”), which was a successor of the project 949 “Granit” or “Oscar I”-Class, that was stopped after just 2 units being constructed (Archangelsk/ K-525 and Murmansk/ K-206). “The “Oscar II” is about 10 m longer than the “Oscar I”. The two “Oscar I” submarines have been decommis-sioned already in the mid-1990ies. Between 1980 and 1997 some 11 units of the “Oscar II”-Class were built (Krasnodar/ K-148, Krasnojarsk/ K-173, Irkutsk/ K-132, Voronezh/ K-119, Smolensk/ K-140, Tscheljabinsk/ K-442, Kasatka, since 1996 Wiljutschinsk/ K-456, Orel ex Severodvinsk / K-266, Omsk/ K-186, Kursk/ K141 and Tomsk/ K-150). The Tomsk as the last of the series, was commissioned on 30 December 1996. The construction of the series´ units 12 to 14 has been partially commenced, was, however, cancelled eventually.

The “Oscar II”-submarines with their anti-ship missiles and heavy weight torpedoes were designed to counter the carrier task groups of the US Navy. These submarines, better to be called “big underwater cruisers” have a length of 154.7 m and a beam of 18.2 m, their displacement is about 14,000 t and up to 19,000 t submerged. Their nuclear propulsion system provides for a speed of 15 kn and more than 30 kn submerged. Their operational diving depth is reported to be up to 600 m. They have a standard crew of 107 men, but carry 10 % more in most cases. Apart from 4 torpedo tubes for standard 53.3 cm torpedoes (war head: 400 kg) these submarines have an additional 2 torpedo tubes, to be used for the launch of 65 cm heavy weight torpedoes (war head: 900 kg) with a range of 100 km and the SS-N-16 “Stallion” anti-ship missile with a range of 50 km. However, main armament of the “Oscar II” submarines is the weapon load of 24 anti-ship cruise missile of the Type P-700 (NATO Code: SS-N-19 “Shipwreck”), which is an improved version of the earlier SS-N-12 “Sandbox”. The SS-N-19 are about 10 m long and weigh some 7 to, their range is about 600 km, speed is Mach 1,9, their war head can be either a 1.000 kg conventional one or a nuclear one with a yield of 350 KT. The cruise missiles are carried in 24 pressure proof containers, put together in twin containers on each side of upper hull of the submarine. Pictures of the “Oscar II”-Class submarines show 6 big covering hatches on each side of the hull at each side of the conning tower, which are the upper cover of the twin containers. These will be turned up oblique forward in a 40° angle prior launching.

The submarines of the “Oscar II”-Class gained world-wide attention on the 12th of August 2000, when the 10th of the series, the SSGN Kursk (K-141), sank following a severe explosion of a torpedo with the total loss of the crew of 118, all rescue attempts failed. The wreckage was lifted in 2001 and scrapped in 2003. An initially planned replacement for the Kursk (Belgograd/ K-139) was cancelled.

The SSGN Voronezh has been built at the Sevmash-shipyard since February 1986 and was commissioned by the Northern Fleet on 29 December 1989. After one of the “Oscar II” submarines, the “Krasnodar”, has been de-commissioned as early as in 1996 and meanwhile a few more of the “Oscar IIs” (Krasnojarsk, Wiljutschinsk and Tomsk) have been taken out of active service as well, some of the remaining “Oscar IIs” have experienced some modernization, though this process often has seen delays due to financial constraints. Next submarine after Voronezh to return to active service will be the Smolensk in 2014, after she has been in refit since 2005, also a life time prolongation included. Assuming a total service time of 30-35 years per submarine, the modernized “Oscar IIs” should see active service until 2025-2030.


First of the modernized Swedish submarines commissioned by the Navy of Singapur

After it has been transferred from Sweden to Singapore on 17 August 2011, RSS (= Republic of Singapore´s Ship) Archer was commissioned on 02nd of December 2011, being the first of two modernized Swedish submarines. The second submarine, the RSS Swordman is scheduled for commissioning in 2012 after the completion of its current modernization program and the sea trials by its new crew.

RSS Archer is the former Swedish Type A-17 submarine Hälsingland, that was built at Kockums shipyard in Sweden and commissioned in 1988. RSS Swordsman is the former Swedish Type A-17 submarine Västergötland, which was commissioned in 1987. On 16 June 2009, while in the final stages of her modernization at Kockums shipyard, the Swedish Hälsingland was re-christened RSS Archer. The Singapore crews had been in Sweden since 2007 to familiarize with their new submarines.

Between 1983 and 1988 the Swedish Navy has built a total of 4 Type A-17 “Västergötland” submarines, two of those (Södermanland and Östergötland) were modernized since 2000, inter alia converting them to air independent propulsion. Both represent now the renamed “Södermanland”-Class. Initially, Hälsingland and Västergötland were not part of the modernization program.

However, when Singapore bought these two submarines in 2005, they also were subject of a modernization program mirroring the one for the Swedish submarines. Already in 1995, Singapore did acquire 5 older Swedish submarines of the Type A-12 “Sjöormen” (built between 1967 and 1969), to form for the first time an own submarine force in its 4.500 strong Navy, introducing the name “Challenger”-Class for it. 4 of the submarines are said to be operational, whereas the 5th submarine is being used as material reserve unit only.

The Type A-17 submarines have a length of 48.5 m and a beam of 6.1 m, their displacement is 1,070 t and 1,115 t submerged. Similar to their former sister boats, the new Singapore submarines now have air independent propulsion and a new command and weapon control system. In addition to that they have been adapted for operations in the warm waters of South East Asia. Their speed is 11 kn at the surface and up to 20 kn submerged. The main armament are 53.3 cm anti-ship torpedoes, to be launched from 4 bow torpedo tubes, plus 40 cm anti-submarine torpedoes to be launched from extra two torpedo tubes. The crew is said to comprise some 27 men. It can be expected, that the Navy of Singapore will gradually de-commission its older “Challenger”-Class submarines once the Archer and Swordsman are in its inventory and fully operational.
Besides Singapore the Navies of Vietnam (4) and Malaysia (2) operate submarines and intend to increase their numbers or modernize them. And, allegedly in Myanmar (Burma) some Naval personal is under submarine training, to create an own submarine force. Still confusing is the story of submarines for the Thai Navy. Since 2010 media over and over again report from the plan to acquire 6 German Type 206A Uboats, which were taken out of service at the end of 2010. Obviously, the plan is still just a plan. Latest news about that came out on 15th of December 2011, when the Thai government again confirmed its “ongoing firm interest to acquire” the U-boats. It should be mentioned, that the 35 years old U-boats need some modernization. The total costs of the acquisition, modernization included, are estimated to be in the region of 200 Mill. Euros.


The fall of one of the last bulwarks: Royal Navy will allow women to serve in submarines

In December 2011, media reported that female Naval soldiers will be allowed to serve in submarines, after all. The restriction on that was lifted on 08 December 2011 by the British Ministry of Defence. According to British Minister of Defence, Philip Hammond, first female crew members will be seen to commence their duties on board nuclear submarines at the end of 2013. This decision implements an 18 months study on the legal, health, social, technical and financial consequences of the lift of the restriction so far. Until now, the unrestricted service of women on board submarines of the Royal Navy has been limited due to concerns with regard to their health. Hammond further: The Royal Navy will continue to honor its history and tradition, but it will not become a slave of it.



Fire grips Russian SSBN Yekatarinburg in dock at Severodvinsk

On 29th of December 2011 news was spread by the media about a fire gripping the Russian SSBN Yekatarinburg (K-84) of the “Delta IV”-Class, thereby quickly referring to the series of incidents and accidents of Soviet/ Russian nuclear submarines, in particular speculating about potential radioactive leaks. Indeed, the Yekatarinburg was undergoing a maintenance period in dry dock at the ship repair yard Zvezdochka at Severodvinsk since 08th of December 2011. Reports say that a wooden scaffolding structure around the submarine´s hull went on fire due to inappropriate welding activities, leading to flames up to 10 m, which at one time spread over to the signal dampening outer hull cover of the submarine. The fire was extinguished after 9 hours by about 100 fire fighters, of which 9 suffered from smoke poisoning. Reports say there never been any hazard to the submarine and no radioactivity has been released, however, further investigations will tell the full extent of the incident.

The Yekatarinburg belongs to the 7 ((“K-51″/ “K-84″/ “K-64″/ “K-114″/ “K-117″/ “K-18″/ “K-407”) SSBN of the “Delfin”-Class (Project 667 BDRM), or NATO designation “Delta IV”-Class, built between 1981 and 1990 and was commissioned on 30th of December 1985. She carries the name since 09th of February 1999, when other submarines of the class were given names of twin towns. The SSBN “K-64” has been taken out of active service in 1999, waiting since for conversion to a new type of submarine at Severodvinsk. The other 6 submarines are in service and have seen repeatedly maintenance and modernization or are currently in maintenance period.

The Yekatarinburg has a length of 167.4 m and a width of 11.7 m, her displacement is 11,740 t surfaced and up to 18,200 t submerged. Her nuclear propulsion system allows surface speeds of 14 kn and 24 kn under water. The regular patrol time may last up to 90 days and her maximum diving depths is reported to be around 650 m. Besides her 4 bow torpedo tubes for launching torpedoes in self defence her main armament since 2004 are the three-stage SLBMs R-29RMU “Sinerva” (NATO designation: SS-N-23 “Skift”) in 16 launch tubes, each weighing some 40 to and being 14,8 m long, carrying either 10 nuclear warheads of 100 KT each or 4 warhead of 250 KT yield and flying up to 8,300 km. The submarine´s complement comprises between 120 and 140 men.