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After commissioning in Severodvinsk on December 4, 200 I of the Russian Navy’s first nuclear powered attack submarine of the 21″ century, GEPARD (Project 971, Bars or Acula class), sailed from the White to the Barents Sea. She arrived at the North Fleet’s Submarine Base in Gadjievo on December 21, 2001, and is now in operational status.

A couple of months before her commissioning, on October 9, 2001, a correspondent of the Saint-Petersburg Vedomosti, news-paper, Igor Lisotchkin, took an interview from Vladimir Nikolaevitch Pyalov about that submarine. He is the Head and General Designer of the Saint-Petersburg Sea Bureau of Machine Building (SPSBMB) Malachite. He is also Laureate of the Russian Federation State Prize.

Q -It is impossible to say that Malachite gleams on pages of the press. On the one hand, in your bureau worked Peregudov, lsanin, Tchemishov and other great shipbuilders, and many projects of underwater ships were born in it. On the other hand, I am afraid that the name of your bureau would be unknown for many of our readers.

A -We, former Special Design Bureau-143 (SDB-143), are a half century old. During those decades our business has been the same-to create the base of the contemporary Navy. Our nuclear submarines, which combine stealth, mobility and strike power, are capable of operating in any area of the World’s Ocean, without the necessity to provide even a regional domination on sea and in the air. It is difficult for me to say what your readers know about our Bureau. But its projects and deeds are represented sufficiently in scientific, historical and memoir literature. And Malachite uses its own series of books Underwater Shipbuilding: Past. Present, Future. We published 15 of them.

We have a lot to speak about. The first native nuclear submarine (Project 627) was built by our project. Ballistic missiles were launched for the first time from our submarines: in 1955 from sea surface, in 1960 from underwater. And in 1962 our submarine LENINSKY KOMSOMOL for the first time in the USSR twice sailed under ice of the Arctic Ocean above the North Pole and later three times surfaced on that point.

Q -The bureau is specializing in the design of so called multipurpose submarines. Vladimir Nikolaevitch, please, explain for our readers, what does that term mean?
A -The submarine ships are divided in the two categories. One of them is strategic missile carriers. Their task is to take positions in the World Ocean clandestinely and to be ready to strike an aggressor by a crucial retaliatory nuclear blow. The other category are such submarines which are capable to search in the ocean and destroy any underwater and surface ships of an enemy, to strike land targets with high precision weapons, to provide intelligence, mine laying and a number of other functions. They are called multipurpose submarines. By the way, these submarines are escorting the underwater strategic missile carriers to battle patrols to safeguard them from possible dangers.

Q -It is known that Malachite realized the projects of the third generation nuclear submarines: Bars class (by NATO classification Akula) is one of the third generation. Is it true that these submarines are the best in the World in comparison with other submarines?
A -That’s true. And it is not a bragging of the bureau’s general designer and head. It is generally accepted. The foreign scientific and technological literature devoted a number of good words in the most superlative degree to the Bars. Fourteen such submarines have been built: seven in Komsomolsk on Amur and seven in Severodvinsk. GEPARD is the last launched submarine of that class.

Q -What is her difference from an ordinary Bars?
A -Ordinary Bars do not exist. As a matter of fact, any submarine is built over a long time-several years. During that time the situation in the World Ocean changes, new scientific ideas, kinds of weapons and means of their use appear. So, we need to improve a building submarine. There are government documents, which order us, designers, to do it. And each new submarine is not a simple repetition of her predecessor. Approximately same practice exists abroad. For example, Americans from the beginning of 1970s were building a very big series of Los Angeles class attack submarines (we call them Leses). Class is one but ships are different, because of the fact that their project was modernized significantly five times. To speak about GEPARD, she accumulated all the experience of underwater shipbuilding, last achievements of military science and technology.

Q -In NATO your SSN is called Akula-2 …
A-I don’t know what to answer … Probably it would be correct to say Akula-3. But it is business of NATO specialists, let them do it.

Q -Some people say that GEPARD is the fastest and noiseless submarine… The Chief Ministry of Defense supervisor on the Sevmash Captain 1 Rank Pavel Nitchko said: “Now we can say with pride-there is no such second submarine in the world, which has such tactical-technological characteristics as GEPARD. But there were times when Americans called our nuclear submarines roaring cows and were convinced that they could detect their movements with sufficient accuracy. By the way, it is clear that it is very important who follows whom in the ocean. And in one nice time Americans discovered with amusement that they did not follow somebody, but somebody followed them? When did that happen?
A -In 1980s with appearance of Bars. Till that time we could not solve the problem of stealthness. But all of our submarines always had high speed.

Q -Problem of low noise propellers? There were a lot of talks …
A -Many people thinks so, but it is not quite correct. Certainly the role of a propeller is significant. But its noise appears only on high speeds. The turbine and hundred of submarine’s mechanisms produce noise. And not because of designers’ mistakes. American submarines had less noise levels because of more perfect culture of production in comparison with our culture. We quarreled a long time with our producers demanding absence in all mechanisms of unbalances and eccentricities, which generate not only noise but also resonance of adjacent parts of a submarine. The same task was put to industry by the country’s government bodies. Not immediately, and not fast, but we managed to solve that problem completely. Our first Bars was a low noise submarine, but during building of all the series the noise level of GEPARD was reduced by 3.5 times. And the picture had been changed. Do you remember the case when our submariners transferred a sailor with peritonitis to the British sailors. English military sailors were impressed not by the fact of such a contact. They were shocked for another reason: our submarine had surfaced just in their exercise area and they did not know about her presence there. GEPARD at the working speed, which allows her to scan a sufficiently large area, cannot be detected by existing sonar means. And even when she is increasing speed, she is able to see and hear any potential enemy before he will be able to detect her.

Q -The submarine has a Veveerovsky reactor. One. Why?
A -Use of two reactors on submarines was directed to increase of reliability. But the modernized nuclear power plant OK-650 with one water-water reactor has such power, reliability and safety that there is no necessity for doubling. We go for a long time by that way, it is checked. That is not an innovation.

Q -There were messages that GEPARD successfully passed two stages of the state sea trials, including weapons firings and approbation of all battle systems?
A – I would like to say more exactly: she passed all stages of the sea trials. And with amazing success, practically without deficiencies. Such happens not often.

Q -Now the KURSK tragedy is connected with all discussions about nuclear submarines. What could you tell in that respect?
A -Almost nothing. Malachite did not participate in the investigation of that accident and our designers have not been asked anything. We use the same information of press and television as you. But, if you like to know my private opinion as specialist, I will say: in the death of that ship, there couldn’t be guilt of Rubin designers nor her crew. KURSK was an excellent submarine. And the most probable reason of an accident was an improbable, unexpected combination of a number of circumstances, which could happen in a life time of several generations. It is necessary to understand that now nuclear submarines, in our country and abroad, are on such a high level of development that they can be considered as unsinkable. In essence they are such. Many scientists and designers are convinced in that. I would like to say that our submarines of the third generation had no devices which let a diver to speak with the crew, to give the air into a submarine from a surface ship. Because it was considered that there was no necessity for that. The tragedy of KURSK demanded a correction of many views in the shipbuilding area …

Q -Journalists tried to get the answer for a long time in Severodvinsk to the question: “What kind of changes have been implemented in rescue means of a submarine in a case of a heavy accident?” They were assured that these means made on the highest technological level, but the specialists did not go to details referring to impossibility to say about design details of a submarine. One can suppose that because all on GEPARD was built on the highest technological levels, you had no need to implement any changes. Is it so?
A -First of all, I think that sailors’ rescue means can not and must not be secret. And second, your supposition is not correct. After well known tragic events we made thorough revisions of all the system of collective and individual submarine rescue means and had implemented noticeable changes. I’ll give only one example. In the process of GEPARD building, remembering about difficulties, which the crew of KOMSOMOLETS had experienced with launching into the water of escape rafts, we suggested to equip the submarine by principally new devices. We had gotten objections on our scientific-technological councils. A year ago the objections had been dropped. Now it is sufficient to push a button by a crew member, and powder charges cut out the covers and throw out an escape raft which will be opened automatically. GEPARD has four of such devices. I am sure that the crew never will use them. But it is known that God saves those who save themselves. By the way, even before the death of KURSK we presented proposals about unification of submariners’ rescue means on the World Fleets. It would provide a possibility in peace time for one submarine to provide help to another submarine independent of her national identity. Our proposal was not rejected and consideration of it is continuing.

Q -But you work in such an area where contacts between designers are hardly welcomed?
A -Why not? Such contacts exist. For example, we met with American colleagues. They chuckled for a long time on super secrecy, which surrounded our activity. Then our military sailors invited Americans on our submarines and showed them in alive shape.

Q -But isn’t it fraught with serious consequences?
A -It is not. Design of a submarine, her arrangements are made according to well known laws of shipbuilding. Secrets are in many know-hows, which concentrate in her mechanisms, aggregates and devices. But they are impossible to watch. And designers are tactful people, they do not put improper questions. Americans promised to show us their submarines. But until now they did not find resoluteness. So now we are chuckling.

Q -Some people are saying firmly that the Russian President will participate in commissioning GEPARD …
A -That decision is up only for the President. But there are such hopes on the North Fleet, on Sevmash and on Malachite. The more so, that Vladimir Vladimirovitch was acquainted with GEPARD. In October of 1999, when he was yet the Prime Minister, he sent her out from # 55 assembly shop to sea trials.

Q -I visited Malachite three years ago. The Bureau was then in such difficult financial situation that it seemed it could not be worse. Now, as I understand, the situation is better?
A -Yes, we think that the most heavy times are behind us. Our industry began to breathe and our clients were able to return to us their not small debts. In addition, our Bureau participated success-fully in some tenders of conversion projects. One plant of our design was bought by Belorussia. Iran expressed interest in it … Certainly, we would like to live better, but it is a sin to complain today.

Q -During the last years you created a number of interesting projects: from underwater icebreakers to a theater on water. With-out any hope for financing. What is it? Stubbornness of professionals?
A -Let us consider a well known phenomenon in today industry. With its reviving a little bit, there immediately appeared the deficit of professionals. Qualified turner, welder, fitter-on gold weight. Enterprises entice them … And a more critical situation, if not to think about it, could appear in science and designing. So, we tried not only to preserve a collective of highly qualified specialists (that we had done) but also to work on the projects (in particular for development of the sea shelf) and scientific ideas related with long range prospects. I am sure that Russian economy will raise from its knees and it is necessary to be ready to do it.

In his interview Vladimir Pyalov also presented general tactical and technical characteristics of his new submarine:

  • Nuclear submarine GEPARD
  • (K-335, Project 971 Saint-Petersburg’s Sea Bureau of Machine Building Malachite)
  • Chief designer: Georgy Nikolaevitch Tchemishov (since 1977: Yury Ivanovitch Farafontov)
  • Category: multipurpose
  • Class: Bars
  • Laid down: 1991
  • Length: 113 m
  • Beam: 13.8 m
  • Draft: 9 .6 m
  • Surfaced displacement: 8,470 tons
  • Submerged displacement: 13,800 tons
  • Number of compartments: 6
  • Crew: about 80 men
  • Maximum speed: more than 30 knots
  • Time of autonomous sailing: more than 3 months
  • Weapons: torpedoes and missiles with warheads of various types, high accuracy weapons, mines.

Commentary to the Interview

The interview of Vladimir Pyalov is the honest and high quality product of a distinguished professional. He is also Chief Designer of the fourth generation Russian SSN or SSGN SEVERODVINSK, which is being built in Severodvinsk for several years. It is possible to agree with him that GEPARD (Project 971 submarine) is the best in that class of SSNs of the Russian Fleet. As a responsible high official he did not give GEPARD’s diving depth and full speed. They are known in professional literature: test depth-600 m and maximum speed-up to 33 knots. He also did not give a number of her torpedo tubes (4-650 mm and 4-533 mm) and number of torpedoes and torpedo size missiles (40) 12-650mm and 28-533mm and type of her sonar (modernized Scat-3).

So, it is probably correct that GEP ARD is more effective in comparison with an American serial SSN, even of 6881 flight. But she is probably a little bit inferior in comparison with the U.S. Seawolf class submarines (the same number of torpedo tubes, number of weapons 40 and 50, speed 33 and 37 knots (hp-50,000 and 60,000) with approximately the same test diving depth, some 600m. The advantage of GEP ARD is her 6 compartment architecture, up to 30 percent reserve buoyancy and surface unsinkability with any one flooded compartment. Minus: bigger underwater displacement (13,800t compared with 9,150t) and less speed.

The assumption of Vladimir Pyalov about participation of the Russian President in commissioning of GEPARD had been fulfilled. On the 4111 of December, 2001 Vladimir Putin christened GEPARD in Severodvinsk.

It seems that in only one aspect about the cause of the KURSK’s tragedy he showed himself more as a diplomat but not an independently thinking chief designer. It is understandable. On GEPARD the control room is also in the second compartment, although in principle it could be the third compartment. And his remarks about liquidation on the Russian third generation submarines devices to provide air into a damage submarine, which is laying on the bottom, and communicate with her and a diver as unnecessary, are very questionable. He also did not tell a word about danger of using 650mm 65-76 torpedoes with kerosene and hydrogen peroxide as fuel and oxidizer (one of which was the established cause of the KURSK death), because GEPARD wilt carry other similar and, might be, the same torpedoes.

The architectural scheme of a Project 971 submarine is shown below.
1) towing sonar antenna;
2) first deck;
3) second deck;
4) sail;
5) conning tower-surfacing escape chamber;
6) pressure hull;
7) deck of the torpedo room;
8) torpedo room;
9) flooding part of bow;
10) bow part;
11) place for Scat-3 sonar antenna;
12) bow different tank;
13) electric storage battery;
14) third deck;
15) hold;
16) fourth deck;
17) internal tanks;
18) reactor room;
19) pumps room;
20) deadwood tube;
21) helm compartment;
22) stern different tank;
23) non-passing corridors;
24) tanks of torpedo complex.5

The figure shows a six compartment naval architecture of the submarine, which with about 30 percent reserve of buoyancy provides one compartment surface unsinkability and two spherical bulkhead and the surfacing chamber, which give all her crew a possibility to surface from the depth 200 m.

Pictures show the absence of the stern gondola (I on the figure) for the towing sonar antenna. In its place is a small device, through which the towing antenna is directed from space between pressure and outer hulls.

In conclusion it should be mentioned that Vladimir Pyalov did not say a word about the Project 885 Severodvinsk class newest Russian SSN or SSGN submarine, on which he is Chief Designer. The submarine had been laid down in Severodvinsk in December of 1993 and had to be commissioned in 2000.

She had to have several new conceptual and naval architectural decisions: first in the Soviet and Russian submarine history spherical bow sonar antenna, eight again only 533mm side torpedo tubes with 40 torpedoes and torpedo size tactical missiles and eight vertical, some 2m diameter, tubes in a separate compartment for strategic long rang1.. cruise and possible ballistic missiles.

But probable difficulties with implementation of such decisions and competition from Projects 971 attack and 941 and other project ballistic missile strategic nuclear submarines, did not allow fulfilling or postponed the plans of 1993 about SEVEROD-VINSK.


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