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Exercise log of U 32 (Part 2)

The June 2013 issue of our “Flotsam” has seen the start of the presentation of extracts from the exercise log of U 32 as published under www.marine.de. With that, we want to demonstrate the activities on a modern U-boat of the German Navy with air independent propulsion.

So far we read what experiences U 32 gained after her arrival at the US Navy Base of Mayport, Florida on 19 March 2013 off the US east coast, and what training exercises it carried out with units from the German Navy and the US Navy. The reporting ended at the time of Whitsuntide in mid May 2013. Now, we want to read from U 32´s further experiences until the end of June 2013.

Meanwhile, crew “Delta” of the German 1st U-boat Flotilla under Commander Christian Michalski had flown to the US and Mayport, to relieve crew “Bravo” under Commander Christian Moritz at Mayport, all in compliance with the multiple crew concept for German U-boats. As a reminder: Crew “Bravo” was in charge not only of sailing U 32 across the Atlantic Ocean, with leaving its homebase Eckernförde, Germany, on 10 February 2013, but also executing a number of training exercises in the western Atlantic. Crew “Bravo” headed home to Germany for a well deserved leave and further duties in the German U-boat flotilla. By the way, the new crew “Delta” is presenting U 34 during a transit last winter from the U-boat Base at Eckernförde to the Naval Arsenal at Kiel in a recent and very recommendable video produced by the German Armed Forces Media Center under www.marine.de.

Following a short re-familiarization tour Crew “Delta” started its operation on board after Whitsuntide 2013 supporting on the job training for new U-boat Watch Officers taken on board from Tender Main, with 3 watch officers under training each carrying out specified training schedules, including passing certain certification tests to be authorized to command U-boats above and under water. This training voyage was also used to sail U 32 from Mayport to the biggest US Naval Base at Norfolk, Virginia, accompanied by tender Main.

The first weekend in June 2013 was spent at Norfolk, top event was the “German Submarine Day” on 03 June, where many visitors came on board U 32 to get some insight of a conventional U-boat with air independent propulsion seldom seen in the US so far, among those high ranking officers from the US Navy and other nations serving in the US. Then, crew “Delta” put her boat out to sea again, together with tender Main, to start the second phase of the “Westlant 2013” deployment in the sea areas off Norfolk. This phase is marked by participation at the work up training for US Carrier Battle Groups of the US Navy, initially for the carrier´s escort units and supporting auxiliaries, i.e. destroyers and replenishment ships.

U 32 now was tasked to support the Harry S. Truman Carrier Battle Group during her transit to exercise areas at the Gulf of Mexico through covert reconnaissance of the sea areas ahead, with focus on exercise opponents, ranging from speedboat, to helicopters, but also destroyers. This meant to establish a valid picture of the surface situation with hourly reporting to the Truman group. So, until the 14 June U 32 was busy to execute surveillance of the assigned sea area from under water, at time even in shallow waters off Georgia, which resembled the U-boat very much to its homewaters in the Baltic Sea. The boat was able to remain undetected throughout during its surveillance mission, which brought it even very close to an “Aleigh Burke” destroyer, which would have been attacked under different circumstances. On 14th June it even came rather close to the carrier it was escorting. During the last part of the training exercise U 32 was tasked to search a designated sea area ahead of the carrier battle group for an assumed “enemy” submarine, to execute its Anti-Submarine role. That “enemy” submarine was played by a Brasilian submarine of the German export type 209, which in the end was detected by other escort forces while skorkeling in another sea area than occupied by U 32. On 18 June 2013 U 32 reported then to continue its voyage after the above exercise with the carrier battle group to head again for Mayport, Florida.


Latest SSGN construction for US Navy earlier than expected

On 21 May 2013 media reported about the earlier delivery than previously scheduled of the meanwhile 1oth SSGN of the “Virginia”-Class for the US Navy, when USS Minnesota (SSN-783) started her sea trials after her construction at the Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) in Virginia, with the commissioning set for 07 Sep 2013, which is some 11 months earlier than planned.

USS Minnesota departs Norfolk in January 2014

The building program for the 30 unit fleet of the new SSGNs of the “Virginia”-Class is to replace the SSN/ SSGN of the “Los Angeles”-Class. USS Virginia was the First of Class when being commissioned on 23 October 2004. Since, construction, or building order respectively budget approval has been executed for further 17 units of this class. Following the USS Virginia (SSN-774) there are meanwhile commissioned USS Texas (SSN-775), USS Hawaii (SSN-776), USS North Carolina (SSN-777) USS New Hampshire (SSN-778), USS New Mexico (SSN-779), USS  Missouri (SSN-780), USS California (SSN-779), and USS Mississippi (SSN-782), plus the USS Minnesota in September 2013. 4 more SSGNs are currently under construction: USS North Dakota (SSN-784, commissioning in August 2014), USS John Warner (SSN-785, commissioning in August 2015), as well as USS Illinois (SSN-786) and the USS Washington (SSN-787). Construction has been budgeted for 4 more units: USS Colorado (SSN-780), USS Indiana (SSN-789, USS South Dakota (SSN-790), and USS Delaware (SSN-791).

The SSGNs of the “Virginia”-Class have a length of about 115 m and a beam of about 10 m, their displacement is close to 8,000 t submerged. The main armament is composed of up to 26 Mk 48 torpedoes to be fired from 4 bow torpedo tubes, plus up to 16 SLCM “Tomahawk” to be launched from 12 vertical launch systems. The crew is 134 Navy soldiers strong.


Changes to the Russian submarine fleet

Recently a remarkable number of news about Russian submarines came out concerning the running operation, as well as modernization and new construction programs.

On 13 February 2013 it was confirmed officially by the Russian Ministry of Defence that the serial production of the conventional “Lada”-Class submarines will be resumed. Only in February 2012 it was stated that the production of further units of this class of SSKs be cancelled for good. SSK St. Petersburg (B-585) was the First of Class of the “Ladas”, with construction started in 1997, the commissioning was, however, delayed to 2006 due to several technical and budget problems. Construction for two more units started, in 2005 the Kronstadt (B-586) and in 2008 the Sevastopol (B-587). Both building projects are still not finished yet, but completion seems to occur soon now. The diesel-electric powered “Lada” SSKs are to replace the “Kilo” Class SSKs, with 10 units each planned for the four fleets of the Russian Navy. It is to be noted that these units (length about 67 m, beam about 7 m, displacement at surface 1,756 t and submerged up to 2,700 t) will not receive an air independent propulsion system.

On 16 May 2013 statements were published with regard to the running modernization program for 5 SSKs of the “Kilo”-Class of the Northern Fleet at the Svesdochka shipyard at Severodvinsk. According to that, the SSK Kaluga (B-800) is completed and ready for sea trials in July, and the SSK Vladikavkaz (B-459) is to finish her maintenance period in 2015. Between 2015 and 2017 the SSKs Yaroslavl (B-808), Magnitogorsk (B-471) and Lipetsk (B-177) are to follow. There is no news about the Northern Fleet´s other SSKs, the Novosibirsk (B-401) and Vologda (B-402). The return of the Kaluga to active service marks the end of a longer phase of uncertainties around the submarine, because this submarine had been taken out of active service already in 2002 for scheduled maintenance, but obvious budget problems did prevent any maintenance until 2010. The “Kilo I”-Class (Project 977) and “Kilo II”-Class (Project 636) SSKs of the former Soviet and today´s Russian Navy have been built since 1980, some 24 are said to still in the inventory, although just 16 to 17 of those in active service. Moreover, the “Kilo”-Class submarines are an export hit of Soviet/ Russian military shipbuilding. Meanwhile there have been more “Kilo” submarines sold to other Navies than to the own Navy, some 37 have been or will be delivered to 7 Navies (ALG-2/ CHI-12/ IND-10/ POL-1/ IRA-3/ ROM-1/ VIE-8), being built either the Soviet Union/ Russia or under license at shipyards in the receiving countries.

A few days later, on 21 May 2013, news were published about the decision to de-commission two SSBNs of the “Typhoon”-Class, the Severstal (TK-20) and the Archangelsk (TK-17) by the end of this year, to scrap them until 2018. It was stated that that their further operation and necessary modernization would be too expensive. Six “Typhoon” SSBNs (Project 941) were commissioned in the time of the Cold War between 1981 and 1989, their size of well beyond 20,000 t raised much attention and they gained enormous popularity when this type was the star in the famous movie “Hunt for Red October”. After three SSBNs “Typhoon” (TK-12, TK-13 and TK-202) were decommissioned and put to scrap, the two SSBNs mentioned above and the Dmitri Donskoi (TK-208) were the only ones remaining in active service after 2009. Interesting enough that the Severstal and the Archangelsk were sailing without any SLBMs on board any longer during the recent time. Only the Dmitri Donskoi was use as test platform for the trials for the new SLBM “Bulova”.

Finally, in early June 2013 the “Marineforum”, which is the periodical published on a regular basis by the German Naval Institute, a useful overview was provided with regards to the older SSNs of the Russian Navy still said to be in active service, i.e. the “Akula”-Class (Project 971 Schtschuka B), “Sierra I”-Class (Project 945 Barrakuda) and “Sierra II”-Class (Project 945A Kondor), as well as the “Victor III”-Class, the latter the predecessor of the “Akula” SSNs. According to that the last 4 remaining SSNs of the “Victor III”-Class will be de-commissioned by 2015 for good. Also, maintenance and some modernization will be carried out for two SSNs each of the “Sierra I”-Class (Karp/ B-239 and Kostrawa/ B-276) and the “Sierra II”-Class (Subatka/ B-534 and Pskow/ B-336), as well as for two “Akula”-Class SSNs, with allegedly still 5 “Akula I”-Class SSNs and 6 “Akula II”-Class SSNs being still in active service.


Setback for the SLBM development in France

On 05 May 2013 a test firing of a advanced SLBM Type “M-51” of the French Navy failed in the Audierne Bay at the southern coast of Britanny. Although the French SSBN Le Vigilant (S-618) managed to launch the missile and to direct it to its planned target area in the western Atlantic Ocean, some 50 seconds after the launch, however, the missile, without any warhead, exploded, apparently due to an unexplainable activation of the self destruction mechanism.

The ballistic missile “M-51” (range up to 9,000 km, length 12 meters, weight about 50 tons, up to six 100 KT nuclear warheads) is the successor to the SLBM “M-45” (range up to 6,000 km and up to six 100 KT nuclear warheads) which were the standard armament of the French SSBNs. The development started in the late 1990ies to equip the new French SSBNs of the “Le Triomphant”-Class under design when being introduced to the fleet. It was said that about 3 Bill. Euros had been spent on the development so far. The first SSBN of the four new strategic submarines of the French Navy to receive 16 new “M-51” was the Le Terrible (S-619) when she was commissioned in 2010. This SSBN had already executed a successful test launch of the new missile. It was scheduled then to equip step by step the remaining three SSBNs as the carrier with the new SLBMs, with the four submarines carrying the French nuclear deterrence. The SSBN Le Vigilant was the next in line of the three remaining submarine to receive the new missile as she just had completed her 30months long main overhaul period. The Le Triomphant (S-616) and the Le Téméraire (S-617) were to follow in the years to come, planned in line with their upcoming main overhaul periods.

The recent failure is the first to happen for the “M-51”, as it had meanwhile passed successfully 5 test firings, to be declared fully operational thereafter. The self destruction in early May of this year will now force a comprehensive investigation of the causes of the failure, before the operational readiness of the “M-51” can be confirmed again subject to the result of the examination – or further developments have to be initiated.