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Alleged patrol by Russian nuclear submarine in the Gulf of Mexico

On 15 August 2012 some news made headlines, above all in US media, about an alleged reconnaissance patrol of about one month by a Russian SSN of the “Akula”-Class earlier this year. Although the Pentagon rejected such news next day, it nevertheless admitted that reconnaissance missions of such kind by “Akula” submarines could well occur at any time. With that, obviously reference is made to several reconnaissance and shadowing operations by “Akula” SSNs against western SSBNs and in sea areas off submarine bases of the US Navy and the Royal Navy. Caution is advised to that recent piece of news as the breaking news was spread by a very conservative medium (Washington Free Beacon), which most certainly wanted to point at the dangers of the cuts in the US defence budget and the gaps in the military capabilities of the country caused by the Obama administration.

Die K-322 Cachalot im Jahre 1994
The K-322 Cachalot in 1994

The “Akula”-Class SSN/ SSGN are assigned to the Russian Northern Fleet as well as the Pacific Fleet, and they have generated headlines during their years of operation repeatedly because of their reconnaissance and shadowing operations against western Naval forces and the coast of the USA and the UK. Most spectacular the penetration of K-461 into the Mediterranean in December 1995, and in 1998 the shadowing by K-317 of an US Navy SSBN for more than 6 days, with its Commanding Officer being awarded the honorary title “Hero of the Russian Federation” for that achievement.

Some 15 submarines of the “Akula”-Class (Project 971) in versions “Akula I”, “Akula I mod” and “Akula II” have been built between 1984 and 1997 at the shipyard 199 at Komsomolsk at the river Amur and shipyard 402 (today: Sevmash) at Severodvinsk, and being commissioned between 1988 and 2007. Two units (K-284 and K-480) of these submarines (K-284/ K-263/ K-322/ K-391/ K-331/ K-461/ K-480/ K-317/ K-419/ K-295/ K-152/ K-328/ K-154/ K-157 and K-335) have been de-commissioned in 2001, respectively 2002, and another unit (K-263) has only reserve status since 1997. K-152, that experienced a severe accident on 08 November 2008 in the Pacific Ocean with 23 fatalities, was handed over to India in January 2012 (see “Flotsam 03-2012”). In total, 11 units of the “Akula”-Class are currently in service.

The nuclear propelled submarines have a length of 110.3 m and a beam of 15.4 m, their displacement is 8,140 t at surface and up to 13,800 t submerged. Speeds are said to be up to 15 kn at surface and more than 35 kn under water, maximum operational diving shall be 600 m. Weapon engagement is facilitated by 4 torpedo tubes 53.3 cm and 4 torpedo tubes 65 cm, some 40 torpedoes can be taken on board. Also, mines can be delivered besides or in combination with torpedoes. However, main armament are the anti-ship missiles SS-N-15 (NATO designation: “Starfish”) and SS-N-16 (NATO designation “Stallion”), as well as the cruise missile SS-N-21 (NATO designation: “Sampson”). The crew is said to be 73 men.


China tests successfully new submarines based strategic missile

According to corresponding media reports the Peoples Republic of China has successfully launched a type “JL-2” (also: Julong-2) intercontinental missile from a strategic submarine of the “Jin”-Class on 16 August 2012. The departure of the submarine from its base Jalian for the Bohai Sea west of the Korean peninsula has been reported already on 08 August 2012 by the Shenzhen satellite TV station.

Allegedly, the ballistic missile “JL-2” has a range between 10,000 and 14,000 km and has up to 10 nuclear capable warheads. Each of the “Jin”-Class SSBN can carry up to 12 of these missiles. The “JL-2” missile is a Naval version of the shore based “Dong Feng 31″ (DF-31, also CSS-10)” missile.

As part of the remarkable build up of forces the 255,000 strong Chinese Navy maintains at least 6 nuclear propelled submarines besides the 60 or so conventional submarines. China operates nuclear propelled submarines for more than 30 years. In the mid 1960ies China built its first SSBN of the type 031, based on the Soviet “Golf”-Class submarine. Currently, there are 3 older SSNs of the “Han”-Class (Chinese=Type 091) and already 2 SSNs of the “Shang”-Class (Chinese=Type 093), the latter being introduced in 2006 as a replacement for the “Han”-Class. 1987 the first SSBN was commissioned, a 7,000 t displacing submarine of the “Xia”-Class (Chinese= Type 092), which could carry 12 “JL-1” (“Julang-1″/ or CSS-N-3) ballistic missiles (length 10 m, nuclear warheads, range 3,000 nmi).

For the first time in October 2006 a SSBN of the new Type 094, designated Jin, was spotted in the Naval Base of Xiaopingdao, which allegedly was under construction since 1999 and launched in July 2004, to eventually being commissioned at the end of 2007. In 2007, a second unit under construction at the Bohai shipyard at Huludao was discovered, and there are reports of the construction of a third SSBN of this type. Construction of a total of 5 units of this type is assumed. It is expected that the single “Xia” -Class SSBN will be then decommissioned, as it still faces severe operational problems and has not seen any routine patrol of several months yet. The new 113 m long SSBNs are said to have a displacement of some 8,000 t at surface and up to 11,500 t submerged. It also can carry 12 nuclear capable ballistic missiles. The “Jin”-Class submarines have 6 torpedo tubes to launch 53.3 cm torpedoes. There are no data yet on the crew strength, but it should not exceed the number of 100, as the crew of the “Xia” is stated to be 84.


Keel laying for 3rd submarine of improved “Kilo”-Class for Russian Navy

On 17 August 2012 keel-laying ceremony was celebrated at the Admiralty Shipyard at St.Petersburg for the 3rd unit of 6 planned for the improved “Kilo”-Class for the Russian Navy, meanwhile designated as “Kilo II”-Class (Project 636.3 “Varshavyanka”). The Diesel-electric submarine will be called Stary Oskol (B-262), and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2015. It follows the First of Class, the Novorossijsk (B-261), which was keel-laid on 20 August 2010, and the second unit of this class, the Rostov na Donu (B-237), which was keel-laid on 21 November 2011. The Novorossijsk is scheduled to be commissioned in 2013, the Rostov na Donu will follow in 2014.

The “Varshavyanka” or “Kilo II”-Class constitutes a significant improvement of the “Kilo I”-Class, such as improved outer hull design, improved range and capabilities against targets under water, at surface and ashore.

The “Kilo II”-Class submarines have an underwater displacement of about 3,900 t, which makes them much larger than the “Kilo I”, and they have a speed of up to 20 kn submerged. There range is said to be 6,000 nmi at 7 kn and up to 400 nmi at 3 kn under battery. Arms are up to 18 torpedoes, to be launched from 6 torpedo tubes, alternatively up to 24 mines. There are 8 missiles of the “Strela-3” type (NATO Designation SA-N-8 “Gremlin”) or the “Igla” (NATO Designation SA-N-10 “Gimlet”) for air defence on board. The crew is said to be some 52 soldiers.

“Kilo”-Class submarines are under construction since 1980. Some 24 have been built for the Soviet/ Russian Navy yet, with 16-17 still in service with all four fleets of the Russian Navy. The “Kilo”-Class is also a major export success, already 6 nations have received submarines of this type (China=12, Poland=1, Romania=1, but de-commissioned in 1997, Algeria=4, Iran=3 , India= 10), and Vietnam has ordered 6 “Kilo II”-Class submarines, currently under construction in Russia.

The new “Kilo II”-Class submarines will continue to be mere Diesel-electric propelled submarines. The now-a-days state-of-the-art air independent propulsion for conventional submarines will be introduced to the Russian submarine force only through the new “Lada” or “Amur”-Class (Project 977) which still needs some time of development.