Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


  • The Defense Department’s Soviet Military Power 1989 notes: The development of the SS-N-21 SLCM, a nuclear land-attack cruise missile which became operational in 1987, is one of the most significant Soviet submarine-related developments in recent years. The SS-N-21, which is launched from torpedo tubes, may be carried by specific classes of properly equipped current-generation or reconfigured submarines. This complicates Western threat assessments since some newergeneration SSNs are more versatile and can also function as strategic strike platforms. The Soviet’s emphasis on improving their ASW capabilities is reflected by the introduction in recent years of two new classes of SSNs (AKULA, SIERRA) and by the increasing numbers of improved ASW aircraft and surface ships. New Soviet SSNs have demonstrated marked improvement in quieting at specific operating profiles that approaches that of some latergeneration U.S. SSNs.
  • NAVY NEWS & Undersea Technology of 13 November reports India’s intention to return their CHARLIE-class nuclear cruise missile submarine to the Soviets. It was leased in January 1988 and renamed the CHAKRIS. It has reportedly suffered from radiation leaks and is linked to the death of an Indian scientist who spent time aboard. An Indian official said the lessons from the CHARLIE will be applied as India moves to develop nuclear propulsion for submarines.

An article in the 28 October edition of the same publication reported that India would lease a second CHARLIE early next year and it will be named CHITRA.

  • Jane’s Defense Weekly of 24 June shows the Soviet AKULA submarine and notes that the Soviet Navy has four of these submarines operational with a fifth being built.

Note the curved blades of the propeller and the shape and fairing of the submarine’s sail. A look-alike of the ALFA, it “produces noise levels that the U.S. had not projected the Soviets to attain until the early 1990s” according to Rear Admiral Brooks, Director of U.S. Naval Intelligence, and carries the torpedo tube launched SS-N-21 2,000 km range cruise missile.

View full article for table data

  • NAVY NEWS & Undersea Technology of20 November tells of Soviet experiments with an air-independent submarine named the BELUGA It uses a closed-cycle diesel and carries oxygen .. usually in liquid form” for the combustion. Also, “for thermodynamic efficiency, Western researchers have found an inert gas, such as argon, must also be injected in the intake.” The BELUGA at 1900 dived displacement tons is smaller than the Soviet’s massproduced conventional submarine KILO, but travels faster submerged at 22 knots than the KILO’s 20 knots. With 5,350 shaft horsepower (shp) compared to the KILO’s 4,000 shp, the BELUGA’s speed does not reflect the disparity in power-to-weight ratio.
  • Maritime Patrol Aviation of October 1989 notes that the Indian Navy has taken delivery of its sixth “export version” of the Soviet KILO-class diesel electric submarine. And, Israel has decided to acquire two DOLPHIN-class submarines from HOW West Germany, with Litton-Ingalls Shipbuilding managing the program which will use $180 million in U.S. foreign military sales money. Also, Italy is building a closed-cycle diesel engine 300-ton submarine, the S-3000, which will have an endurance of 1400 nm at 6 knots, be manned by seven men and will carry four Whitehead A184 torpedoes.
  • Navy News & Undersea Tcchnolo&r of 13 November notes that the U.S. Navy “would like to use HY 130 steel on later-model SEA WOLF subs — for even greater hull strength.” Only Japan and Sweden reportedly have the technology to make HY 130 steel of the type needed for the SEA WOLF. Japan Steel Works make HY 130 steel for hydro-cracking equipment used in American oil refineries and a Commander in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force confirms that Japan can make submarine hulls of this steel.
  • A PROCEEDINGS/October 1989 article by LT Stephan Flynn of the U.S. Coast Guard notes that in World War II, 338 mines laid by the Germans’ submarines temporarily closed all the ports on the East Coast. “The vital naval port of Charleston, SC, remained closed for 13 days. Current Soviet mines are far superior to those German mines.” Estimates of the Soviet stockpile of mines run as high as 400,000 mines of all types. The author says that the Coast Guard could make a major response to a mine threat against East Coast ports by equipping their vessels larger than 41foot utility boats with a portable side-scan sonar for mine location and a state-of-the-art Loran receiver for navigational accuracy. Then they could “use divers on board the cutters to defuse located mines.” In addition, the possibility of seeing Soviet Spetznaz forces landed from submarines “to infiltrate enemy territory before the outbreak of war to destroy major economic and military installations” must be considered, and the Coast Guard has had the responsibility of port security since World War I. Also, Flynn feels that strategic arms control agreements are likely to produce “a decline in numbers of submarine-based nuclear missiles which would mean that more Soviet attack submarines would be free to operate overseas and in U.S. coastal water.” Flynn doesn’t want to see a repeat of the Uboat slaughter of our merchant ships off the Atlantic coast as in World War II and recommends that the Coast Guard be made more capable to provide an ASW defense.
  • SEA POWER/ July 1989’s article on ASW by L Edgar Prina tells of the “crisis” facing the U.S. Navy due to “the increased capabilities of Soviet submarines over the last several years.” As emphasized by Melvyn R. Paisley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and engineering, in March 1987:

“We are faced with a crisis in our anti-submarine warfare capability which undermines our ability to execute the {U.S.} maritime strategy.” Prina then notes:

“The reality of the increased capabilities of Soviet submarines over the last several years has finally sunk in.

The Soviet improvements have been across the board — in diving depth, speed, sensors, sturdiness, and silencing. Of these, silencing is by far the most important.

The reason for U.S. concern is obvious. The quieter the opposing submersible, the more difficult it is to detect and destroy it. And, if the U.S. Navy’s ASW capabilities were to be seriously eroded, it would have a profound impact on: (1) this country’s ability to reinforce i1s NATO allies in Europe; (2) the survivability of the Navy’s aircraft carrier battle groups; and (3) the defense of America’s coasts from missile-ftring submarines. But do something we must; we must build what will amount to an entire new ASW capability by the time the Soviet Union has built a signifiCant number of new submarines.”

According to Rear Admiral Thomas A Brooks, the director of naval intelligence, the Soviets currently have a force of about 30 modern submarines as first-line ASW platforms – about one-third of their SSN order of battle. The 30 include a few of the relatively new AKULA and SIERRA classes and more of the Victor III type.

“AKULA produces noise levels that the United States had not projected the Soviets to attain until the early 1990s,”

Brooks said. By “noise levels” he meant, of course, nonnoise levels – i.e., the newer Soviet SSNs run much more quietly than their predecessors and are therefore much more difficult to detect by acoustic means.

What may not be known to U.S. intelligence is whether the Soviets intend to backfit their new silencing technology into the VICfOR IIIs and earlier SSNs already in the active fleet

[Ed. note: Although these “3rd generation” Soviets subs create a signifiCant ASW problem for our attack submarines, they do not force our submarine force to shift to a new primary mission — either intelligence collection or land attack using cruise missiles — as evidently called for by some alarmists. By the year 2000, there should be no more than about 50 such very quiet Soviet nuclear submarines, while the rest of the present submarine force of over 300 submarines although tlley may be backfitted with some silencing techniques and become quieter they are not likely to have the quietness of the 3rd generation Soviet nuclear attack submarines. The much publicized improvement of propellers to reduce noise is only one of many sound quieting measures which are necessary to achieve great quietness. Additionally, there are more than 400 submarines in the rest of the world (excluding the Soviet submarines) which might have to be dealt with and which are not backfitted with new sound silencing techniques].

  • SEA POWER/July 1989 also has information on the new periscope for attack submarines: A “non-penetrating periscope,” intended for use aboard LOS ANGELES-class (SSN-688) and next-generation SEAWOLF-class (SSN-21) nuclear-powered attack submarines, will provide electronically-generated images of a wide range of sensor data unobtainable with conventional optical periscopes.

The Kollmorgen system will consist of a rotating sensor module, or pod, mounted on a mast built into the freeflooding sail of the submarine. The two-stage mast will be extendable to 20 feet above the top of the sail. The sensor pod will contain a television camera capable of scanning both the sky and the surface of the sea. An infrared sensor will provide thermal images for night operations. The sensor pod also will be equipped with an electronic support measures (ESM) receiver, for passive detection of surface and airborne threats.

The TV (color or high-resolution black and white) and thermal (infrared) images will be shown on either of two monitor displays — built by Singer Librascope — housed in a single console.

The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), in cooperation with DARPA, will install the Kollmorgen prototype aboard the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS MEMPHIS (SSN-691) in June 1990 for testing.

  • The Foreward to Jane’s Fighting Ships 1989-90, by the editor, Captain Richard Sharpe, RN(Ret.), in summarizing the status of naval activities worldwide, provides some information as recorded here:

New Soviet submarines are entering service at the rate of about five/six nuclears and four diesels (with three for export) per year, which is a reduction on new hull numbers, but not in weapons capabilities. The increased size and magazine capacities of the TYPHOON and OSCAR II classes more than compensate for the slight reduction in annual building rates over the period. TYPHOON and DELTA IV class SSBN programmes continue and new attack submarine production centres on the lengthened OSCAR ll SSGN at one a year, the AKULA SSN, also at one a year (which could double if normal precedent is followed and a second yard is involved), the VICfOR III at one a year and the SIERRA at one every other year. The AKULA is the multi-purpose successor to the VICfOR with the SIERRA being the much more expensive followon to the titanium hulled 45 knot ALFA class. In addition, the nuclear attack submarine numbers are being augmented by the conversion of the older YANKEE class SSBNs, which have had their ballistic missile tubes removed so that overall SLBM numbers remain within SALT limits. Three have completed conversion with an enlarged central section, which it is assumed is a cruise missile/torpedo/mine magazine. The conversion takes about two years and up to another 13 of the class are in dockyard hands.

The impression of Soviet incompetence is too easily overstated. Ships and submarines deploy for long periods and seldom get into difficulties. In the Indian Navy, which is in the unique position of being able to make direct equipment comparisons, at least one commanding officer is on record as preferring the robust, simple and workman-like Soviet weapon systems to the complicated, manpower intensive, and tess reliable technology of the West. And how much tactical skill do you need to launch a homing torpedo or guided missile against economic and reinforcement shipping, which by its own admission NATO has insufficient forces to defend? Time and again the eye is caught by the sheer numbers of modern submarines and major warships. Neither should we forget the weight of experience which is slowly being acquired, not least by contact at sea with Western navies. If self criticism is allowed to flourish and Command initiative given some encouragement, this could become a navy with even more formidable potential than it has already. Forecasts of the de’to·elopment of the Soviet Aeet in the next decade tend to focus on the speed of the technology transfer by a combination of Western commercial greed and Soviet theft and espionage, all of which in the Gorbachev era are flourishing as never before. Of greater significance would be liberalization of their officers and men from the dead hand of central control and slavish adherence to the training manuals. Although this is an issue recently much discussed in Soviet military journals, there are few signs yet that it is having much of an impact at sea.

  • SEA TECHNOLOGY/October 1989 has an article by Arthur Lee and Brian James on “Power Sources for Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.” The goal of the current UUV Prototype Program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is to produce a prototype platform. The current design calls for an energy subsection of 104-inch length with a usable inner diameter of 39 inches.

The power source for this prototype is a secondary silver-zinc battery with a usable energy density of 65 watt hours per pound. The battery will provide 300 kilowatt hours of energy. But the energy objective is to provide a power source of 3,360 kilowatt-hours representing a draw of 10 kilowatts for 36 hours. For the current design, a vehicle transit speed of 9.5 knots with an active payload requires 14.5 kilowatts and an on-station loiter draw of 2.5 kilowatts. So, for 3,360 kilowatt-hours a mission profile of 1,000 nautical miles transit radius with 184 hours (7.7 days) on station or 650 nautical miles transit radius with 590 hours (24.6 days) on station is possible. Of the attractive power sources examined, the advanced proton exchange membrane cell (APEM) was found to be the most suitable for a compact, mobile application like the UUV.

The APEM cell uses a thin ion exchange membrane in place of a flowing electrolyte. This polymer membrane, also called a “solid polymer electrolyte,” consists of a perfluoro linear polymeric backbone with immobilized side chains of sulfonic acid radicals. The electrodes are fabricated with a thin film of platinum catalyst supported on carbon and are bonded onto each face of the solid polymer electrolyte. At the anode, hydrogen gas becomes ionized and the electrons are fed to the external load. Hydrated hydrogen ions diffuse through the polymer chain from anode to cathode. At the cathode, the hydrogen ions react with the oxygen molecule and the electrons to form water.

The use of a membrane instead of a flowing electrolyte allows the cell to operate very simply, with few moving parts, and the cell occupies only a small volume relative to the fuel and oxidant volumes. In addition, the APEM can operate at a low temperature (1800-200″F), allowing a quick startup time when used with H2 and 02 When a complex fuel is used, an external hydrocarbon reformer or fuel processor is required to react the fuel with water to generate hydrogen for use in the fuel cell.

Liquid oxygen was found to be the most volumetrically efficient means of oxidant storage for mission durations of up to six months. The combination of a chemical hydride and LOX can offer as much as nine-fold improvement in UUV mission time over the baseline silver-zinc system, but the combination of a hydrocarbon fuel and LOX was found to be the best overall performer in terms of enhancement of mission capability and minimization of logistic burden.

  • SEA POWER/November 1989 in an article by James D. Hessman says that “Despite Gorbachev’s rhetoric about cutting the USSR’s defense expenditures, the Soviet Union today spends an estimated 15 to 17 percent of their gross national product on defense, while the U.S. spends less than 6 percent” And, that Secretary of Defense Cheney disclosed that the Soviets have “opened a second production line for the AKULA-class cruise missile submarine.”
  • A report by Admiral C. A H. Trost on the posture and Fiscal Years 1990-91 Budget of the U.S. Navy includes these thoughts:

I am palticularly mindful of Soviet submarine capabilities and the threat they pose to our ability to suppolt our interests and allies overseas. Thus our own antisubmarine warfare efforts remain my top warjighting priority. The new SSN-21 SEA WOLF attack submarines and the Long Range Air ASW Capability Aircraft are the essential next generation of ASW forces. There are no silver bullets or easy pat answers to ASW. Nor is there a technical breakthrough on the horizon to make ASW simple. The combined effons of all our ASW forces -sun•eillance systems, attack submarines, ASW aircraft and helicopters, and surface combatants — are needed to defeat a large submarine threat To succeed at ASW you have to do it the old fashioned way; work hard, keep the pressure on enemy submarines in their home waters, and combine all forces at your disposal. Numbers and capability make the difference in ASW –a lesson we learned in World War II that remains valid today.

  • NAVY NEWS & Undersea Technolo2}’ of 21 August says a presidential report on the TRIDENT’s D-5 missiles suggests that if a new arms reduction agreement requires a reduction in nuclear arms, TRIDENTs might carry fewer than 24 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. To stay within the guidelines of a potential treaty, the report suggests reducing the number of missiles carried on each sub in order to keep the number of TRIDENTs high. The alternatives for the U.S. are either to develop an entirely new SLBM with fewer warheads or reduce the numbers of missiles per submarine. The 475 kiloton warheads of the D5 are the first SLBM warheads sufficiently large and accurate enough to eliminate Soviet missile silos and bunkers.”
  • NAVY NEWS & Undersea Technolo~ of 14 August tells of a study done by the Congressional Research Service which looks at the effects on submarine force numbers if current shipbuilding plans are followed. “If budgetary pressures limit the Navy to two SSN-21s per year, the sub fleet size drops to the low-to-mid 80s by the year 2005 and stays there. The only other possibility for maintaining a 100-boat force is to extend the service lives of our SSNs beyond 30 years. But it is not clear whether this option is either technically feasible or cost effective.” The Navy 21 study — an examination of the service’s needs in the next century — proposes an even larger submarine, an SSGN, for construction. “It would be capable of carrying several hundred long-range missiles for land attack, anti-air warfare, anti-satellite missions, anti-ship strikes and even launch of satellites.”

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League