[Ed. Note: Reprinted with permission from Notes of Foreign Systems Research Center of Science Applications International Corporation. George Kraus is a member of the League and is a retired Naval Intelligence Officer.]
Over the years, the Soviet Union developed a very large infrastructure to build nuclear submarines. Facilities were dispersed throughout the country, with relatively steady addi-tions expanding the capacity and providing the widely dispersed Northern and Pacific Fleets with indigenous nuclear submarine construction yards. None of these yards were located outside Russia proper, nor were the nuclear boats’ home ports. Now, however, the resources to continue to support this infrastructure seem to have evaporated and the substantial construction rates of the 1970s and 1980s have slowed. As the service draws down, the large construction base must find other things to do.
On 8 May, an article in Red Star noted that President Yertsin had designated the Northern Machine Factory (Sevmas-zavod) at Severodvinsk the State Center for Atomic Submarine Construction. The article stated that Severodvinsk would henceforth be the only yard producing nuclear submarines, and the other facilities that formerly also produced these vessels would be converted to civilian production. In addition to submarine building, Severodvinsk will also dismantle military and civilian ships and salvage radioactive waste from submarine reactors.
This means a substantial reduction in the Russian yards and ways devoted to submarine building. In addition to Severod-vinsk, the current infrastructure includes the United Admiralty yards at St Petersburg, formerly producing VICTOR ill nuclear and KILO diesel boats, the Gorkiy yard that has been produc-ing KILO and SIERRA in low volume, and the Komsolmol’sk shipyard on the Amur River in the Far East, producing KILO and the AKULA SSN. This system of yards has produced tenor more submarines a year for most of the past twenty years and bas enough covered ways to expand well beyond that number. Severodvinsk is, however, the largest submarine construction yard in the world, with three large building halls and the largest submarine ways in Russia. This facility is the only one large enough to have built TYPHOON and DELTA IV SSBNs, OSCAR SSGNs, and that has the capacity and facilities to build any of the most modem nuclear boats. Nevertheless, the consolidation has significant costs and implications.
Single Yard, Smaller Force
First and foremost, fewer facilities translates directly into fewer submarines in the immediate future (once current submarines on the ways in these facilities have been rolled out). Admiral of the Fleet Chemavin bad observed during remarks at the U.S. Naval War College (November 1991) that the Russian Navy would, in the near future, be building only two AKULA SSN and two KILO SS per year. This low construction rate was hard to correlate with an infrastructure of four yards and the disparate programs noted above, but does fit well with the newly-reduced infrastructure. Clearly the decline in naval resources has been a driving force in this drawdown.
However, there are several additional implicatio.ns for the navy. If the Komsomol’sk yard is converted to civilian produc-tion, there will be no submarine construction in the Far East. Since the majority of the nuclear submarines resident in the Pacific Ocean Fleet have been built at Komsomol’sk, this development portends a possible decline in the size of the force there. Although units have been transferred from Northern Fleet in the past, this practice has been very selective. The most modem SSBNs, TYPHOON, and D-IV for example, have not been transferred to the Pacific. As the number of sea-launched ballistic missiles is reduced to meet much lower START ceilings for reentry vehicles, it is possible that the Pacific Fleet will lose its SSBN force.
It may also be significant to see what “civilian” tasks the newly released shipyards take in hand. The large number of nuclear submarines coming out of the inventory provide an almost unsolvable problem for the overtasked repair infrastruc-ture, and the use of these former building facilities could make the prospects for dealing with this problem much brighter. However, in other instances where conversion of shipyards has been tried, the inability of the Navy Department to pay in hard currency (or in some cases in any currency), has moved the Navy’s work to the very back of the queue. It remains to be seen if this time a rational confluence of resources and tasks will occur to help with the Navy’s submarine repair and dismantlement problems.
A final observation is pertinent for those also watching the decline of submarine construction in the United States. Even with the reduction Ia Russia to a single facUlty for nuclear coastructioa, the Severodviask shipyard bas more ways and is larpr by itself than both Newport News and Electric Boat taken together. If it Is maintained Ia evea this reduced status, the surge capacity of that one facllity Is potentially formidable. However, it is also clear from previous open-source material that the loss of secondary tier suppliers is also a problem for the Russians. The loss of these subcontractors is likely to continue as the three other yards shift production from nuclear subma-rines. Ultimately, this may be the major limiting factor for any future surge in production.