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Editor’s Note: Dr. Sviatov currently is a Director of a company involved in U.S./Russian trade. While on active duty he was a submarine designer.


As the United States was building the Seawolf class nuclear attack submarines, and designing and building the New Nuclear Attack Submarine (NSSN or Virginia class), Russia finished building its Acula II (Project 971) SSN and Oscar D (Project 949A) SSGN and began construction of the Severodvinsk class (Project 885) SSN (or more exactly SSN/SSGN).

Existence in the Soviet and Russian Navy of modem individual SSGN class submarines is the result of cruise missile designers’ domination in submarine designing and building, and the wish of the Navy’s leadership to get long range supersonic, larger caliber, submarine cruise missiles as soon as possible for creation of a serious missile threat to American aircraft carrier groups.

The ultimate result of that long way of development (it commenced in the beginning of 1960s with the Papa (Project 661) SSGN titanium nuclear submarine with 10-1,600 mm caliber Ametist cruise missiles, 12-533 mm torpedoes and more then 44 knots speed) and had become Project 949A Oscar class SSGN nuclear submarines which have a submerged displacement of 24,000 tons, 24 Granit supersonic cruise missiles, 4-650 mm and 4-533 mm torpedo tubes and 24 torpedoes and torpedo size missiles, and a speed of up to 33 knots with a test depth of 600 m. The designer of Oscar was the St. Petersburg’s Rubin Design Bureau, a competitor of the Malachit Bureau which designed Severodvinsk.

But the major prototype of Severodvinsk is the Project 971 Improved Acula class nuclear attack submarine. In the 1984-1997 period the Soviet and Russian shipbuilding industry built 16 submarines of that class which are the most stealthy, deep diving, fast and heavily armed Russian nuclear attack submarines, comparable to the United States Seawolf class. This Russian submarine, with a submerged displacement of 12, 770 tons, 4-650 mm and 4-533 mm bow torpedo tubes and 40 torpedoes and missiles, a speed of 33 knots and a test depth of 600 m, is the best product of the St. Petersburg’s Marine Bureau of Machinebuilding (SPBM), Malachit and Komsomolsk and Severodvinsk shipyards.

What is Known About the Seyerodvinsk SSN?

Despite the unprecedented openness of Russian publications in recent years, official information about the newest Russian nuclear submarine is limited because of its classified character. Nevertheless, some things are available, mainly from Russian and American publications.

It is known that the Severodvinsk Project 885 SSN is a Russian nuclear submarine of the fourth generation. The Project was developed in the period from the end of the 1980s to the middle of the 1990s by the St. Petersburg’s Malachit Design Bureau (Head and General Designer A. V . Kuteinikov) under the leadership of General Designer V.N.Pyalov, which also developed the well established Project 971 Bars-or in U.S. terminology, Acula class SSN.

It should be noted that before Severodvinsk, the Malachit Bureau developed a Project 971 version with 8-533 mm torpedo tubes and 40 weapons and the new antiship cruise missile Biruza, and a version with 12-533 mm torpedo tubes and 50 weapons and a new big diameter spherical sonar array and side arrays.

Laying down of the lead Project 885 submarine, which was named SEVERODVINSK, took place on 21 December, 1993 at the famous huge Severodvinsk shipyard which built almost as many nuclear submarines as all the shipyards in the United States of America.

It was expected that the lead submarine would be commissioned in 2000, and later six more submarines will be built. These subs will have to provide the main body of the new Russian Fleet.

Creation of this submarine coincided with the country’s (and its economy’s) transitional period. The social system crisis, progressing deindustrialization, and the collapse of economic connections with former Soviet Republics drastically complicated delivery of contractors’ equipment and weapons. It negatively influenced building programs of the third generation submarines’ and the tempo of the fourth generation submarines design and construction.

To overcome all of these problems it was necessary for the Malachit Design Bureau to struggle constantly for the survivability of Project 885.

The building pace was slowing down for SEVERODVINSK because of insufficient financing of the ship’s improvements required in the process of her building. The Malachit Bureau solved this problem successfully, showing a big potential of Project 885 modernization. As a result it became possible to broaden the ship• s combat missions significantly.

For example, initially, a fourth generation submarine building program had three submarine classes: 1) anti-submarine; 2) anti-aircraft carriers; 3) anti-surface warships and transports. General development of submarines in various countries and economic factors in Russia demanded cancellation of this approach with several classes and narrow specialization. To realize the fourth generation nuclear attack submarines development, only one class ship was chosen-Project 885 SSN, which, after the finishing of her technical project, had been equipped with new weapons for solving broadened tasks. As a result, by opinion of Malachit designers, Project 885 submarine became a truly universal submarine-a new step in the development of a multipurpose submarine concept and naval architectural image.

The submarine will be significantly different in comparison with a Bars (Acula) submarine. For the first time in the history of Soviet and Russian submarine development its sonar array will be spherical (with a diameter of some 7 m) and will be placed in the extreme forward part of the sub, not sharing space with torpedo tubes. Russian submariners can say: “it is better to get it late then never.” The 8-533 mm torpedo tubes and 32 reserve torpedoes will be shifted back and placed approximately in a scheme such as on the Seawolf class U.S. subs.

From these torpedo tubes, which will be inclined to the ship’s centerline approximately 8 degrees, it will be possible to use all kinds of homing and wire guided torpedoes, missile-torpedoes and cruise missiles, including the supersonic (3.5 Mach) Alfa anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of more then 100 miles and the antiland Granat cruise missiles with a range of up to 3,000 km. New models of mines will be installed also.

Traditional SSN torpedo-missile weapons will be supplemented with 8 vertical missile tubes of some 1.6 m diameter placed in an additional compartment. This compartment will carry Oscar class submarine weapons: RK-55 or RKB-500 very long range anti-land cruise missiles and X-35 and P-100 (Onix) anti-ship big supersonic cruise missiles. The Severodvinsk designers believe this composition of missile weapons will allow the submarine to strike land targets and surface ships more efficiently.

The quietness level of Severodvinsk will be the same as the newest Bars class submarines, or better, because of natural progress in submarine quieting development.

In an official U.S. Navy’s publication some information about the SEVERODVINSK and an artist’s depiction have been presented. The general information is approximately the same as in Russian publications and the artist’s depiction is probably almost correct. But only almost.

In this depiction the submarine has 9 compartments. After the big spherical array there is I small compartment-sonar equipment and living, then II compartment-control room, living and sonar equipment, the III compartment-torpedo room and living, then IV compartment-missile, then V compartment-living(?), then VI compartment-reactor, then VII compartment-auxiliary mechanisms, then VIII compartment-turbine, then IX compartment-electric motor, rudders and planes devices.

A Net Assessment of Published Information

This artist and his advisers evidently underestimated abilities of Russian naval architects as designers of submarines. So, let us begin with a probable general arrangement naval architectural scheme.

  • Bow part-spherical sonar array with a diameter of some 7 m of the Irtish-Amphora hydroacoustic station and #1 ballast tank.
  • I compartment-sonar equipment and storage battery.
  • II-torpedoes and living.
  • III compartment-control room, periscopes and living.
  • IV compartment-radio, radar, sonar and other electronics rooms, other masts, diesel-generator and other auxiliary mechanisms.
  • V compartment-missile room and living
  • VI compartment-reactor, upper part of which is separated by a pressure deck with biological shield.
  • VII compartment-turbine with autonomous electrical turbo generators.
  • VIII compartment-auxiliary mechanisms, rudders and planes devises.
  • Stem part-stabilizers, rudders and planes, propeller.

In a recent Malachit author’s publication it says that the Severodvinsk will have such characteristics: missile launchers with big cruise missiles-up to 8-650 mm torpedo tubes, 4-533 mm torpedo tubes and a surfaced displacement of 9,500 t, a submerged displacement of 11,800 t, with a length of 120 m, a beam of 15 m, a 10 m draft, a 28 knots speed, and a complement of 85. Data about the number of torpedo size weapons, test depth and power are absent.

It seems that more probable Severodvinsk characteristics are:

Surfaced displacement 9,500 t
Submerged displacement 14,000 t
Length 120 m
Beam 13.6 m
Draft 9.7 m
Reserve of buoyancy 23%-25%
Surface unsinkability with one flooded compartment
Test depth 600 m
Hull material AK-32 steel with yield point 100 kg/sq. mm
Torpedo tubes, amidships 533 mm torpedoes and 8-533 mm
cruise missiles 40
1,600-mm vertical launchers and big cruise missiles 8
Sonar Irtish-Amphora with spherical bow, side and towed arrays
Underwater speed 32-33 knots
Reactor some 200 mgwt, with high degree of natural circulation
Turbine 1, some 50,000 shp
Manning 85 officers, petty officers and men


In designing the fourth generation SSN, Russians did not go by the American way; they did not reduce displacement, diving depth, speed and number of torpedo tubes and weapons. They eliminated the 650 mm torpedo tubes and torpedoes because they did not have significant advantages in comparison with 533-mm torpedoes and missiles, but they added 8-1,600-mm vertical big cruise missile launchers inside the pressure hull.

It seems that the latter decision is wrong because it is an inheritance of old Soviet design philosophy to put cruise missiles with more than 533 mm diameter on submarines. Now Russians have anti-land 533 mm cruise missiles with a range of 3,000 km and supersonic anti-ship 533 mm cruise missiles with a range up to 200 km and very effective anti-submarine and anti-ship 533-mm torpedoes (by the way, Russian 533 mm torpedoes are 2 meters longer than American torpedoes).

It is this author’s opinion that the future of SSNs is not connected with the increasing number of missile launchers but with keeping 8-12 533 mm torpedo/missile tubes and increasing the number of their weapons up to 80-IOO with fast reloadable firing systems. Such a fast firing tempo is difficult to accomplish with wire guided torpedoes but much easier with cruise missiles.

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