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THE TYPHOON SSBN: An Inside Look at the Boat and Its Crew

Reprinted from Analytical notes or the Foreign Systems Research Center
of Science Applications International Corporation
Greenwood Village, Colorado.

[Ed. Note:  These notes complement the foregoing SubGuide article)

Typhoon in the News

In a series of front page articles, Izvestiya in late February reported on its correspondent’s “three days on the Typhoon.” These articles were in some ways reminiscent of the early CBS documentaries when the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON first went on patrol, or of the more recent PBS program based on an entire patrol on a Trident SSBN. The Izvestiya coverage is notable for both the detail provided on these largest of subma-rines, and for the candid discussion of problems within the force. The reader is left with a sense of the Soviet (Russian) pride in technical accomplishment, the skill of professional crews, and wonder at the incredibly difficult conditions under which these men serve. It seems clear that the inadequate shore support provided for Typhoon SSBNs and crews will lead to reduced readiness, continued manning problems, and potential premature retirement of some units.

TyphoonForce-Wide Problems

Personnel difficulties [Ed: noted in the earlier article] are but one of the problems for the Typhoon force in particular, and Northern Fleet more generally. Key shortfalls noted by Northern Fleet Commander Admiral Gromov include the “dire shortage of ‘(funds) for equipping ships.” The correspondent observes that this tits the old, “peculiarly Soviet tradition – the weapons and combat equipment first, all the rest sometime later.” He notes that the Typhoons were built at great expense, but little was done to provide bombs, repair shops, arsenals and depots, or housing and facilities for the crews. For example, plans for a diesel charging unit and a nine-story training block for submariners, to include extensive simulators for every specialist, have not been carried oul The training facility in particular is a major loss, as its simulators would have reduced the requirement to operate the boats, thereby saving “engine time and equipment.”

Moreover, the only training facility for submariners today remains the lone center in Paldiski, Estonia — no longer even in the CIS, much less Russia (“‘ndeed, Paldiski is now abroad: you cannot go there without visas, without agreement with the republic government”).

The lack of supply depots and armament storage arsenals is also a big problem. Construction was begun on such facilities, but was abandoned when money ran out. Now ammunition is kept in unfinished depots and the spare parts for submarines and instruments are kept in inconvenient buildings that submari-ners built themselves. Trucks, graders, and other equipment are kept in the open in all weather. The inadequate facilities and harsh climate make any work more difficult and rapidly degrade the equipment.

Transport for the crews from their quarters is also a prob-lem. Submariners live 14 km from the Typhoon facility and have practically nothing to take them to and from the pier, a unique difficulty in view of the frequent bad weather. Subma-rine officers and warrants pay up to RSO each a month for bus service under contract, but even with the large salaries paid the drivers (see above), civilian drivers don’t show on “icy Arctic nights.” As a consequence, young sailors never go anywhere-they stay on board — and officers make the hazardous journey in any way they can.

Another personnel problem has been the small increment of sea duty pay for officers over that paid to their shore-based brethren, only RlSO a month. This is the price of a kilogram of sausage, and is widely viewed as inadequate. A shore-based officer gets quarters, a food ration with which to feed his family, and works from 0800 to 1800. The sea duty officer eats on board and stands watch every third day, doubling his normal “40-hour” work week.

This situation of shortage and lack of support seems unlikely to improve soon. There is no money for construction, and thus crews must continue to depend on their own resources, however limited they may be. Shortages extend to the families of the men as well. The 6,000 children in the garrison attend school in four shifts, and there are only 800 places in the 3 kindergar-tens.

Even more fundamental shortages exist For the three days that the correspondent spent aboard the boat, the crew did not have fresh meat once. Canned meat or fatty sausage was the rule. The ship still lacks heated rescue suits, a requirement for survival in the waters patrolled by Typhoon. It has been three years since the KOMSOMOLETS was lost and there are still “no effective rescue facilities.” As equipment like these rescue suits is not produced in Russia, and there is no money to purchase them abroad, the shortage will likely persist Even shoes and boots are in short supply. The divisional depot serving the Typhoon force is short 2,000 pairs of footwear.

In the face of such conditions, Captain Yefimenko has seven letters of resignation from his officers. These are “experienced. able specialists … [and] by no means all those who want to leave the Navy.”

Typhoon -A Tempest Without a Teapot?

This series of articles highlights again the endemic Soviet, CIS, and Russian Navy problem: expensive units are built and deployed with inadequate attention to the supporting infrastruc-ture. Shortages abound, even for the SSBNs and their elite crews. Similar critiques have appeared regarding the KIEV and KUZNETSOV class carriers, citing the lack of pier or mooring space and facilities, poor or nonexistent shore support, inade-quate provisions for crew and families, lack of even simple requirements — much less amenities – and lack of safe storage for everything from gear to ordnance. This is now complicated by the independence of republics, which has caused further erosion of key facility access such as Paldiski, and the wrenching split of loyalties and expectations as navy men contemplate their future. The impact on morale is obvious, and the loss of trained officers and warrants will be particularly hard to absorb as the ability to replace them with experienced hands is questionable. Ultimately, readiness suffers. Add to this the shortfalls identified by the fleet Commander, and one must estimate the situation will get worse before it gets better.

[Mr. Kraus is a Senior Analyst at the Foreign Systems Resean:h Center specializing ill naval, space and strategic issues, as weU as in U.S. national security policy.]

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