As U.S. political, military, and industrial leaders debate the possibility of going to only one nuclear-capable shipyard, that decision has already been reached in Russia. The government of the Russian Federation bad decided that in the future all nuclear propelled submarine construction-and probably aircraft carrier building-will take place at Severodvinsk. Recently given the name Sevmash and more formerly known as the Northern Machine Building Construction Enterprise Production Association, the Severodvinsk shipyard No. 402 is the world’s largest submarine construction yard and the world’s northernmost major industrial facility.
Russian President Boris Yeltsen announced in November 1992 that nuclear submarine construction now taking place at four Russian yards would be concentrated at Severodvinsk. The three other nuclear-capable submarine yards are the combined Admiral-ty-Sudomelch yard in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad}; the Krasnoye Sormovo yard at Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gor’kiy}, some 200 miles east of Moscow; and the Komsomol’sk yard in the Far East, about 280 miles south of the mouth of the Amur River.
Further, Russian officials have told the author that with the breakup of the Soviet Union and because the carrier-building yard at Nikolayev South is located in Ukraine, future carrier construc-tion would probably take place at Severodvinsk. However, the Baltic shipyard in St. Petersburg, which has built the four 28,000 ton, nuclear-propelled cruisers of the KIROV class, could possibly be enlarged for carrier work.
Also, it is likely that non-nuclear submarine construction (currently the Kilo class) will continue at Admiralty-Sudomelch. Current Russian planning is for a minimum of two Kilos per year, one for the Russian Navy and one for foreign sale.
A town was founded at Severodvinsk about 1750; there had been a monastery on the site since some 350 years before that. A major shipyard was begun in the early 1930s to help make the Northern Fleet independent of the shipyards in the Baltic and Black Sea areas. The yard’s remote location was also chosen to reduce the vulnerability to enemy attack in time of war.
The yard is located on the banks of Nikolskoye Ustye in the delta of the Northern Dvina River, about 30 miles across the delta from the city of Arkhangel’sk (located to the east). The river opens onto the White Sea. The yard is connected to St. Peters-burg by the White Sea-Baltic Canal system, completed in 1933, as well as by rail lines. (The canal has permitted nuclear attack submarines built at Leningrad/St. Petersburg to be moved to Severodvinsk for completion and trials.) After World War IT a highway was constructed to permit road traffic between Severod-vinsk-Arkhangel’sk and Moscow.
As part of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s plan to build a big ship navy, the original building hall at Severodvinsk was to permit the simultaneous, side-by-side construction of two battleships. (A similar facility was erected at that time at Komsomol’sk in the Far East.)
An estimated 120,000 political and criminal prisoners were brought to the Severodvinsk in the 1930s to construct the shipyard and adjacent facilities. The yard, officially founded about 1938, was initially known as the Molotovsk yard for V.M. Molotov, a leading politician and diplomat in Stalin’s regime. (Ibe name was changed in 1957 after Molotov fell from favor in the post-Stalin era.)
Stalin had envisioned the yard becoming the largest in the world. The eventual work force when the yard was completed was projected to be 35,000 to 40,000 men and women. The building of the yard was. to quote a recent Soviet article,
“Great and tragic. Thousands of boys and girls who consid-ered it their duty to contribute to strengthening the country’s defense capability gathered on the marshy banks of the Northern Dvina. Here under the stem gaze of the escort, GULAG [prison camp] victims built roads across the marshes and erected the building that housed the first ships. Here during the Great Patriotic War [1941-1945] children manned the machine tools, replacing their fathers who had gone to the front. “1
The main building dock, now known as hall No. 50, was erected under cover to permit work to be carried on year round despite the arduous weather of the region. This original building dock measures some 1,100 feet in length and 452 feet in width to permit the construction of two SOVETSKIY SOYUZ class battleships. One of these ships was laid down at Severodvinsk in November 1939, being named SOVETSKAYA BELORUSSIYA; possibly, albeit unlikely, a second of the dreadnoughts was also begun at the yard. The components and materials for the ships were brought to Severodvinsk from shipyards and factories in Leningrad and Nikolayev.
But all work on capital ships in the Soviet Union ceased in October 1940 as shipyards were directed to emphasize turning out smaller combat ships and craft.
The first submarines to be completed at the Molotovsk/Sever-odvinsk yard were the L-20 and L-22, begun at the Bal-tic/Ordzhonikidze yard in Leningrad, but after World War ll began they were moved via the inland river-canal system to the new Arctic yard. The L-20 was completed in September 1942 and the L-22 in August 1942. In addition, three submarines of the S class that bad been built at Leningrad and Gor’kiy were brought to Severodvinsk through the canal-river system for completion and fitting out. Destroyers were begun at the Severodvinsk yard during the war, but none was completed until after the conflict had ended. During World War II the yard had a peak work force of about 5,000 men, women, and children.
Subsequently, the yard began the construction of surface warships of the postwar programs-SVERDLOV class light cruisers and SKORYY class destroyers. Two of the graceful but already obsolete 17,200 ton cruisers were constructed, the MOLOTOVSK (later renamed OKTY ABRSKA YA REVOLUTSI-YA) and the MURMANSK, and 18 of the 3,100 ton SKORYYs.
More consequential, the Severodvinsk yard made preparations to construct advanced submarines and in 1953 completed the first of eight Zulu class (Project 611) diesel attack submarines built at the yard. Three Foxtrot class (Project 641) diesel submarines were also built at Severodvinsk (most of that large class was constructed at the Sudomekh yard in Leningrad). In this period the Severodvinsk yard also produced 16 of the 23 Golf (Project diesel-electric ballistic missile submarines. These were the last conventional submarines build at Severodvinsk, after which the yard produced only nuclear-propelled undersea craft. Signifi-cantly, the yard did not participate in the massive Whisky (Project submarine program, in which 215 submarines (plus sections for 21 assembled in China) were completed at four shipyards between 1950 and 1957.2
Preparations to construct the first nuclear submarine began at Severdovinsk in 1953-a year after the first U.S. nuclear subma-rine, NAUTILUS (SSN-571), was laid down. The lead November class SSN (Project 627) was begun at Severodvinsk in 1954 and completed in 1958, four years after NAUTILUS . The Severod-vinsk yard built all 13 of the November class SSNs, the last unit going to sea in 1964.
Lagging slightly behind the November SSNs were two other nuclear submarine classes built in this same period at Severod-vinsk, the Hotel ballistic missile submarine (SSBN Project 658} and the Echo II guided or cruise missile submarine (SSGN Project 675M}. Severodvinsk built 16 of the Echo II class SSGNs (the other 13 and the five Echo I SSGNs were built at Komsomol’sk}.
Production of the Hotel SSGN class was halted prematurely. Only eight units were built at Severodvinsk; they were completed between 1959 and 1962. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered a halt to work on ballistic missile submarines in 1959-1960 when he established the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF} as a separate service with full responsibility for the country’s nuclear missiles.
It is likely, had Hotel SSBN construction continued, that additional units would have been build at Komsomol’sk; indeed, one U.S. intelligence analyst had posited that the five Echo I SSGNs built at Komsomol’sk had been intended for another configuration, probably Hotel SSBNs, “and converted during late design or early construction stages to a cruise missile submarine” as the Echo I design.3 Also, there may have been a cutback in the Hotel program as details of the more advanced U.S. Polaris SSBN design became available and the Soviet leadership realized that their design was already far outdated by its American counterpart.
Subsequently the Severodvinsk yard became the principal SSBN building yard, producing most of the Yankee and Delta SSBNs (Project 667 variants), and the six giant Typhoon SSBNs (Project 941). Although the yard shared Yankee and Delta I class SSBN construction with Komsomol’sk in the Far East, beginning with the first Delta II class SSBN which was completed in 1974, all strategic/ballistic missile submarine building has been carried out at Severodvinsk because of the shallow depths ofthe Amur River. Accordingly, Severodvinsk has build all of the Delta II/III/IV and Typhoon submarines.
Also built at Severodvinsk were the single Papa (Project 661} and all Oscar (Project 949) cruise missile submarines; three of the advanced technology Alfa (Project 705) SSNs; and the one-of-a-kind Mike SSN (Project 945). With closing of the Krasnoye Sormovo yard, construction of the Sierra SSN was also initiated at Severodvinsk. In addition, those nuclear submarines built at Admiralty/Sudomekh in Leningrad and at Gor’ldy were moved on transporter docks through the inland waterway system to Severod-vinsk for completion and sea trials. There appear to be separate fitting-out areas for the submarines produced by those yards.
The battleship building hall begun in the early 1930s has been supplemented by two other large submarine construction halls. The original facility, generally referred to as building Hall No. l, built the November, Hotel, Yankee, and Delta submarines; Hall No. 2, about 1,100 yards north of the older hall, was used to construct the Golf SSBs and was then upgraded for the advanced technology (titanium hull) Alfa, Papa, and Mike programs. Hall No. 3, adjacent to No. 1, produced the large Typhoon SSBNs and Oscar SSGNs. These halls are fully enclosed and heated for year round work, and all undertake horizontal construction. Hall No. 2 has special atmosphere welding areas for working with titanium.
The submarine repair and overhaul portion of the Severodvinsk yard is located on the adjacent island of Zaganay and is known as the Little Star shipyard. This is where the major conversions of Yankee SSGNs to attack (SSN) and cruise missile (SSGN) configurations as well as submarine overhaul work is undertaken.
Some commercial ship work was done at the yard into the 1950s, although details are unknown. Like other Soviet military industrial facilities, Severodvinsk has long produced consumer goods, mostly for local consumption. According to Soviet data, 20 years ago the yard produced approximately 2 million rubles’ worth of consumer goods; today its output is tallied at over 30 million rubles (calculated for Soviet-era rubles, i.e., just over one dollar per ruble). This effort includes upholstered and kitchen furniture, gas stoves and other kitchen equipment, sports and physical training equipment, garden buildings, and vacuum boilers for processing animal wastes.
The yard has also built commercial excursion submarines called IKHTIANDR and NEPTUNE for the tourist trade, with a 20 year contract having been signed with an Italian firm for producing several more tourist submarines for operations in the Caribbean. Also under construction at Severodvinsk are several ore-carrying barges for a Dutch finn.
While some commercial work will continue, surface warships and submarines will be the yard’s primary products. Yu. I. Soldatov, a deputy chief of the Ministry of Shipbuilding Industry, bas said,
“This plant is now fully adapted to the output of nuclear submarines, as they say, 24-hour and very large-scale output. To change its profile would cost billions, and this is not permissible because the shipbuilding production base would be almost completely undermined. “4
Still, construction at the yard has slowed. Soldatov has noted that some of the submarines are not being worked on, while sections for new submarines are not being assembled;
“The hull processing shop, which is capable of handling many thousands of tons of metal per year, today processes half as much as before… There is less than a year’s work left for the assembly and welding shop.”
Meanwhile, the Zaganay/Little Star facility appears to be heavily engaged in defueling older nuclear submarines and preparing them for scrapping, an effort that will provide consider-able work for the foreseeable future.
The current employment of the yard is not publicly known. However, the yard is the principal employer for Severodvinsk’s population of 280,000 while the yard uses components produced throughout European Russia as well as procuring material from more than 1,000 firms in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic and Transcaucasus states.5
Mention of Severdovinsk has rarely appeared in the Western press or military journals. Admiral H.G. Rickover, USN, long-time head of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, had often cited the yard in his testimony before Congress as having more nuclear submarine building capacity than all U.S. shipyards combined. But the lack of discussion of Severdovinsk in the Western press obscures the fact that it remains the largest nuclear submarine yard in the world, easily exceeding the combined capacity of the two yards that still build such craft in the United States, Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, and General Dynamics/Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut.
According to the head of the Russian Navy’s Shipbuilding Directorate, Vice Admiral Veniamin Polyanksiy:
“Severodvinsk .. .is today not just the most advanced Russian plant in this specialist area, but also the enterprise that has achieved the lowest prime cost for nuclear-powered vessels. In terms of the level of its equipment, Sevmash is on par with and in some respects is ahead of similar plants in the United States and Europe. For example, the degree of mechanization of hull assembly and welding work at Sevmash is 97 percent, which is at present out of the reach of any other shipyard in theworld.”6