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In the current dynamic environment of peace, all sorts of  strange and at times almost unbelievable things are happening. On a regular basis the press reports on items such as a new initiative from Russia that offers their under-utilized resources (military or civilian) or provides unique insight into Soviet actions or reactions to an event that heretofore we in the West bad only known from one perspective. The demise of Communism and the new world order, coupled with the Russian reaction to them, have been difficult to comprehend, particular-ly if you were a participant in the Cold War.

In my 24 years of active duty service (most of it in the Submarine Community) one common thread drove the short-and long-term thinking of the U.S. Navy: the Soviet Union. It was our objective to be better than the Soviets; be bigger than the Soviets; be faster and more responsive than the Soviets; latow the Soviet threat; and, if called upon beat the Soviets. The Cold War was a set of military equations. Perhaps the two sides were somewhat equal, but I do not believe either military establish-ment ever believed that was the case. And, thus, we always sought more knowledge of one another. Trying to stay abreast of what the other side was doing was the challenge.

Quite naturally, the Navy’s thinking was my thinking. Most of us in submarines actually took part in trying to unbalance that equation of power: Learn more!, Get even! Stay ahead! Knowledge is strength!…etc., etc.

With the foregoing as my mindset, you can imagine the emotions that ran through me when I was invited to be a member of a U.S. (civilian) delegation to travel to Sl Petersburg, Russia. The purpose of the trip was to hold talks with the Russian Navy’s Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering (also known by its acronym RUBIN), concerning the possibility of the U.S. paying for the conversion of, and then leasing a Russian DELTA-III Class ballistic missile submarine. The submarine was to be employed for research under the Arctic Ocean pack ice. For three days in July 1992 our five-man delegation was hosted by RUBIN officials led by its Head, Academician Igor Spassky.

RUBIN is housed in a building that reminded me some of Washington’s old Main Navy: grey stone, 4 or 5 stories tall, long, and narrow. RUBIN is the oldest Soviet/Russian Navy design bureau, having been established in 1926, and my estimate is that the building in which it is located is close to that vintage.

At present, RUBIN employs 2,500 people, 300 of them in the Russian Navy. Thirty percent of the work force is presently engaged in Navy projects. During RUBIN’s peak effort, 4,000 people were employed there.

We were told that the Bureau has designed 19 classes of submarines and 90 percent of the existing Russian submarine force is of RUBIN design– a number that I believe is a bit high based upon what we were told. Most of their designs have been missile carriers. They started with the WHISKEY LONG BIN and sequentially designed every missile submarine through the TYPHOON with the single exception of the CHARLIE Class.

RUBIN also designed the KILO Class and the MIKE. In the case of the latter they remain actively involved with the survey and monitoring of the sunken MIKE. In fact, at least one of those with whom we talked concerning the DELTA-Ill project had participated in surveillance dives on the hulk.

Clearly RUBIN’s contribution to the Soviet side of the Cold War was considered significant in the eyes of the Soviet leadership because the Bureau proudly displays three command awards in its lobby. They arc two Orders of Lenin and a single award of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Two things made RUBIN even more interesting and con-veyed a linkage to U.S. Navy entities. One is the organization’s Museum, and the second is the greenhouses.

The RUBIN Museum is a three-room complex located at one end of the building. It was established in 1976 in recognition of the Bureau’s 50th anniversary. The outer room displays portraits of distinguished members (past and present) of the RUBIN organization and describes RUBIN’s history and contributions to the Soviet State. The two inner rooms contain models of every submarine class designed by RUBIN -all in the same scale. The older diesel submarines were in the first room, the overhead of which was constructed to replicate the curva-ture of the interior of a submarine hull. It included an old Soviet equivalent of the U.S. Navy’s Type 2 attack periscope. In the second room arc all the nuclear submarine models.

When one sees the progression in size from a 1930’s vintage conventional submarine to the TYPHOON, the enormity of the latter can be appreciated.

Director Spassky carefully described each display (through an interpreter) and added at one point that we were the first Americans ever to tour the nuclear submarine model room. We saw models of YANKEE and DELTA Classes together with their sail arrangements. Spassky also described a model showing a rather unique hull joint system the Russians use to “build our submarines and take them apart quickly.” In a large table-level display case were models of a DELTA’s control room (showing a distinct similarity to the one in the movie Hunt for Red October). The control room had five high consoles arrayed on its perimeter (two on each side and one forward) with places for 16 watchstanders. I suspect the consoles displayed informa-tion for the sonar, fire control, ship control, ESM, and naviga-tion systems. In the center of the space was a low console with two watch positions behind it for the CO/OOD/JOOD as appropriate. Located behind them were the periscopes in what I recall was an enclosed area, to limit the darkened area when the DELTA was at periscope depth.

The model of the SSBN recreation module was also on display next to the control room model. It showed a sauna, a swimming pool (8’x 15′ was my guess as to its size), a lounge area, and a video game room much like those in our shopping malls. Also in the museum was a model <md artifact display of the MIKE Class with numerous pictures of the sinking site and personnel involved in the surveys. Several items recovered from the sunken MIKE were on the apron of the display.

Lastly, in the display case containing the model of the OSCAR Class SSGN were several mementos of the first ship of the class. The one that caught my eye was a clear glass boUle (about the size and shape of a whiskey bottle) tilled with water and on which was a(faxed a label showing an OSCAR submarine. When I inquired as to its significance, I was told that commem-orative water samples were always taken when a submarine conducted its first test depth dive.

In a wall-mounted picture case were the portraits of the current Commanding Officers of the Russian SSBN fleet.

The five greenhouses on the roof of RUBIN arc the remnants of research conducted to perfect the technique for growing vegetables on board SSBNs. The Soviets tried true hydroponics and other growing methods. An experiment control room located adjacent to the greenhouses contained a mimic bus panel that enabled variation and control of fertilizer, artificial light {both frequency and duration) and growing media (various type soils or water). They ultimately centered their growing efforts on tomatoes and cucumbers. Shades of the U.S. Navy’s early SSBN days!

When I asked if the Russian SSBNs continued to produce vegetables at sea, Spassky replfed, “No, because of economic requirements, we had to do away with the billet of gardener.”

One postscript on the greenhouses. Production is now so successful at RUBIN, they sell the tomatoes and cucumbers to local St. Petersburg restaurants.

It was some time during these first 2+ hours at RUBIN that a U.S. Navy comparison came to mind. Igor Spassky was a lot like Admiral Rickover. When he came into the room, the Russians quickly quieted. He set the tone – and total defer-ence to him was clearly the rule. His long tenure as Head of RUBIN, his slight appearance, the sea trial deep dive memen-tos, and the model room all brought back a recollection of NAVSEA08.

By mid morning of our first full day we were deep into discussions with Spassky and his staff on the proposed conver-sion. Arrayed on the walls of the conference room were the general {internal arrangement) plans of the DELTA-III, profile drawings of the five conversion options of the ship the Russians offered, and a plan of action and milestones for the conversion. We were later given copies of these posters with the exception of the general plans.

The specific Russian proposals range from the least expen-sive conversion {= $60M) to the most expensive {= $100M). Following the conversion {in a Russian Naval shipyard on the White Sea), DELTA-III would be leased to the organization paying for the conversion for an eleven-year period at a cost of $8-lOM per year. The eleven-year period would span a one-year shipyard availability, the cost of which Spassky said had been amortized into the annual lease costs.

What form was the conversion to take? First, the missile compartment has to be gutted in order to comply with the START Treaty requirements. The graphics we were shown indicated that there were three compartments after the conver-sion. The missile compartment, which is 45 meters long overall, would next be converted into a laboratory of 3,700 cubic meters and would include berthing for 30-50 scientists, depending upon the stateroom arrangement.

The laboratory space would occupy three deck levels and would contain all the electrical conversion equipment to accommodate U.S. laboratory and scientific electronics systems. (The DELTA-III’s power generation capability is 3,000 kilowatts, 3 phases and 380 volts at 50 hertz.)

Other elements of the conversion would be the addition of bow and stem athwartship thrusters and various configurations of small submersibles. The most elaborate conversion (in which the U.S. science delegation was not interested) was an ocean bottom coring modification which required addition of a second anchor astern and erection of a huge drill tower on the missile deck just aft of the sail — almost 30 meters above the keel. The RUBIN designers believed the submarine could collect core samples when within 200 meters of the bottom while sub-merged. (Can you imagine in a Cold War scenario the reaction of Western intelligence analysts to the first sighting of this submarine with its huge tower — 2112 times the height of the sail?!)

Lastly you might ask: What about the DELTA-III capabilities and arrangements? About the best thing I could suggest is to read the description of the DELTA-III Class in Jane’s All the World’s Fighting Ships. The data contained therein is very close to the information we were given.

The submarine, which is double hulled over its full length, has eleven compartments — five were devoted to engineering spaces and six were forward (the missile compartments were three of the six). There are apparently two reactor and two engineering compartments and a stem room where I guessed the emergency propulsion motors and shaft clutches were located. The two shafts were canted outboard about 5 degrees. In general the engineering spaces appeared (on the plans) to be very crowded. I was told all air regeneration equipment was located aft. This perhaps accounted for some of the tightly packed appearance. The presence of the emergency diesel generator in one of the engine rooms also contributed to the crowding.

The remainder of the first day was devoted to technical presentations from the senior technical staff of RUBIN includ-ing the Chief Designer and Chief Engineer.

They first addressed the built-in Arctic under-ice capability possessed by the DELTA-III. That capability included an ahead-looking under-ice sonar, an ice profiling system, and fairwater planes which rotate to the 90° rise (vertical) position.

The platform also carried a “water clarity” detection system and a series of three upward looking 1V cameras located in the sail, near the bow and forward of the stem. The presenter said that the DELTA-Ill had the ability to penetrate 0.8 – 0.9 meters of ice routinely and in an emergency it could penetrate from 1.5 to 1.8 meters. That emergency capability “had been confirmed”, he added. (I’ll bet that event made a good post-deployment story!)

The second day of meetings was devoted to scientific discussions by both U.S. and Russian delegations which ad-dressed the many advantages of using a nuclear submarine as an under-ice Arctic Ocean research platform. It was clear to me that the Russians were as enthusiastic about the platform’s availability as they anticipated the U.S. science community would be.

The third day of discussions were devoted to additional scientific and technical presentations by the Russians which covered submarine survivability when operating under sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and to preparing a meeting summary. The two sides agreed to continue a dialogue in the months ahead. The senior U.S. representative, retired Rear Admiral Dick Pittenger, who is now the Director of Operations at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, agreed to work toward arranging an international conference in the United States on the subject.

While it has not been my objective to address. either the practical or political merits of the DELTA-III project in this article, I must say in conclusion that the meetings were uniform-ly cordial and, certainly, the Russians were extremely candid by all standards. Only on one occasion was residue of the Cold War shown. On the first day of our meetings, as we were about to leave the main conference room to tour the RUBIN Subma-rine Museum, two of us who had brought our cameras asked if we could take them into the Museum. Director Spassky looked at us rather sternly and said, “No, we haven’t come that far yet.”

Needless to say, I still reflect upon the trip frequently. Where I was. What I saw and heard. Who /talked to. For a submariner who devoted almost his entire Naval career working to counter the Soviet submarine threat, to have spent three days across the table from the designer of the TYPHOON (and many other submarine classes) was truly an out-of-body experience. How times have changed!

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