In the early 1970s the Soviet Navy sent to sea the PAPA and ALFA, the fastest and deepest-diving submarines ever built. These submarine designs were impressive examples of Soviet submarine technology and construction capabilities. While the ALFA has received considerable publicity in the West, little has been said about the equally remarkable PAPA.
A one-of-a-kind guided missile submarine (SSGN), the PAPA was completed at Shipyard No. 402 in Severodvinsk in 1971. She was produced in the yard’s building hall No. 2, which was originally used to construct diesel-electPic propelled GOLF ballistic missile submarines in the late 1950s and early 1960s; the enclosed hall was then upgraded for the advancedtechnology ALF A, PAP A,and MIKE programs.
The PAPA — given the Soviet Navy project No. 661 -appears to have been a prototype and test bed for both advanced hull material and propulsion plant. The single submarine of this design displaces an estimated 6,400 surfaced and 8,000 tons submerged, and with a large, two-reactor propulsion plant credited with between 60,000 to 80,000 horsepower by Western intelligence. Twin shafts can drive the submarine at a reported 42 knots — significantly faster than any Western undersea craft. (U.S. officials have publicly attributed a top speed of 39 knots for the submarine.)
The submarine has an unusual hull design with the outer hull having an extensive circular cross section. Titanium was used for the inner pressure hull. As with all other Soviet combat submarines, the PAP A has a double hull configuration which, coupled with the use of titanium, provides …. a relatively high survivability against enemy weapons. The design also provides a long, low sail structure (the craft having bow planes and not sail-mounted planes). Another unusual feature is the “notched” vertical rudder fin.
Although the PAPA has a titanium hull like the ALFA, there are indications that she is not a deep-diving boat. Possibly because of the method used in welding, as well as other features, the PAP A appears to have a maximum operating depth of only some 1,300 feet (i.e., an “even” 400 meters).
While definite information on the PAP A’s armament has not been made public, she was designed to carry ten anti-ship missiles, launched from fiXed tubes near the bow. The tubes are located between the inner and outer hull structures, and are covered by large, rectangular hatches. There was to have been a missile named “Amethyst,” developed by the missile design bureau headed by V. N. Chelomei. But it is unclear whether a new missile was actually provided or if the PAP A carries the SS-N-9 anti-ship missiles found in the subsequent CHARLIE IT-class SSGN. As with many other aspects of the PAP A, definite public information on this issue is lacking. The missile launch tubes appear to be housed in the bow, five on either side of the “neck down” pressure hull. The submarine also appears to be armed with at least six 21-inch (533-mm) bow torpedo tubes. A large bow sonar dome, similar to the U.S. Navy’s AN/BQQ-5 spherical transducers, is fitted in the PAPA.
The design, the propulsion plant, the fact that only one PAP A was built raise speculation about her relationship to the high-performance ALFA While no official statements have been forthcoming from Western naval officials, one could postulate that the PAP A may have been intended as the SSGN “running mate” for the ALFA SSN. But high costs or technical problems — or a combination of both — led to only the single PAP A being constructed.
During her career the PAPA has seen relatively little operational service, having been engaged in lengthy trials and having undergone at least two lengthy overhauls. Unlike the later titanium-hull MIKE, the PAP A is not believed to have undertaken a forward deployment.
The ALFA and PAP A are said to be called zolotaya ryba – “golden fiSh” — by the Soviets because of their high cost. But the ALFA and PAPA opened new horizons for submarine development in the Soviet Union and may prove to have been a major stepping stone to the next generation of Soviet submarines.