Best Russian submarines face difficulties in their creation, experts say

The article “Best Russian submarines face difficulties in their creation, experts say” was published in Vzglyad. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – The mass transfer of the latest military equipment to the Russian Armed Forces, which traditionally took place at the end of the year, was overshadowed by an annoying episode. Immediately to the three newest and most advanced nuclear submarines, including the Poseidon nuclear torpedo carrier, the Russian Navy had questions – and Russia postponed the transfer of these ships to the fleet. What are the problems with this essential weapon for our country?

Read more: Top 5 best submarines in the world

On New Year’s Eve, it became known that the delivery of new nuclear submarines – “Kazan” and “Novosibirsk,” the Yasen-M project, and the special-purpose sub “Belgorod,” the carrier of the self-propelled underwater vehicles (SPA) “Poseidon” is postponed to next year. In the case of “Kazan,” you can add the word “again” – the boat has already, to put it mildly, delayed on trials. This ship launched in 2017 is still not accepted into combat composition.

What is wrong with them?

“Yaseni-M” submarine

First, it is worth turning to the 885M project, known under the code “Ash-M,” is. The tactical and technical assignment for the project 855 “Ash” (without “M”) was signed by the Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Navy S.G. Gorshkov in 1977. Today in the media, you can find information that this boat was supposed to replace both projects 971 multipurpose ships and carriers of project 949 and 949A anti-ship cruise missiles.

This is not the case. To replace the “submarine hunters” – the multipurpose “Shchukam-B” of project 971 – the submarine of project 957 with the code “Kedr” was intended, which never saw serial production. Project 885 “Ash” was born as a replacement for the “batons” of projects 949 and 949A. Only later, when the late Soviet industry did not master the Kedr, the Navy announced that Ash would replace all boats, except for ballistic missile carriers. In reality, this ship did not intend for this; it was a necessary measure after the failure of the “Cedar.” And then, the USSR collapsed, and there was no time for theoretical concepts at all.

Laid down in 1993, “Severodvinsk” (the lead boat of the project) was an attempt to cross a “snake and a hedgehog.” Russia built the ship in agony. Even when the lead “Ash” was on the stocks, it became clear that the attempt to “cross” had led to the ship’s overcomplication. It was also necessary to adapt the project to new realities – “Severodvinsk” was laid back in 1993 when other available subcontractors were designed in general under the USSR, in a single country. The project had to be remade for the existing suppliers of components, and they had to be only Russian. Even before the descent, it was clear that the ship would have many shortcomings, which was confirmed later during operation. The Government decided not to allow the appearance of these shortcomings on new boats.

As a result, the project 855M “Yasen-M” was born. Many people think that this is an improved “Ash,” but this is not true. A similar number and code should not deceive anyone. Much has been completely redone in it, and the point is not only that the new project has a shorter hull, less draft, and more missiles in vertical launchers. The changes are much more significant. This ship’s compartments are differently arranged. The number of torpedo tubes has been reduced; their installation angles have been changed, other mechanisms and ship systems, and radio-electronic equipment are significantly different. It’s just a different boat. And the lead (that is, the first of the built) ships of this type is the “Kazan.”

It is widely known how new types of warships are being born in modern Russia. The defeat of the military shipbuilding, ill-conceived reforms, revisions of the distribution of powers between the Main Command of the Navy and the Ministry of Defense apparatus as a whole led to an intellectual collapse in our shipbuilding. The customer often does not know what he wants, or knows, but cannot formulate, and the builder does not always understand how to do it. As a result, a new project is like a fire. Nothing works in it, and then it has to be redone for a long time. So the delays of “Kazan” and “Novosibirsk” should not be surprising – everything new in our fleet will be born in agony for a long time.

What are the disadvantages of both boats? We can assume something. So, both “Ash” and “Ash-M” were supposed to be armed with anti-torpedoes of the “Last” type. But they are not there, they are not purchased for the Navy, and there is not even information about some practical shooting.

The boats may have some problem that prevents their use because the anti-torpedoes hit underwater targets back in the late 90s, which is not the case.

This problem is hardly the only one on the newest ship. Several such issues may well prevent the military from accepting the ship, and then the factor of its design will rise to its full height – the fact is that the Yasenei-M has a very dense layout. This boat is only 20 m longer than “Shchuka-B.” Still, at the same time, they managed to install a much larger bow sonar, 50 missiles in vertical launchers, larger onboard torpedo tubes (located on the side at an angle to the central axis of the ship), and a lot of other equipment that Shchuk-B does not have. But the “Shchuka-B” also has a very dense layout. This fact leads to the fact that more or less severe alteration of some units may require a massive amount of work. Up to cut the body elements in some cases; otherwise, the abnormal operating team may be impossible to dismantle.

So it turns out that the boat runs between the plant and the landfill what we observe. Given that the fleet now turns a blind eye even to the new ships’ severe shortcomings, one can guess that the boats have severe problems. Or at least they were. Let’s hope that next year all questions about Ash-M will be closed.

With the third submarine, “Belgorod,” the situation is different.

“Belgorod” submarine

Belgorod is one of the most mysterious Russian submarines. This sub is not of the Navy, but the Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research of the Ministry of Defense. Strictly formally, this structure is almost not accountable to the Navy’s Main Command; it is commanded directly by the General Staff’s Chief. GUGI’s activities are shrouded in a mass of legends and myths, and the real facts are deeply classified. In the case of the “Belgorod,” a touch of secrecy is further aggravated because this boat is the first carrier of intercontinental torpedoes with a nuclear power plant. Self-propelled underwater vehicles (SPA) “Poseidon.”

Belgorod’s problems lie on a different plane than those of Ash-M. This boat was originally built according to project 949AM and was supposed to be the first modernized missile-carrying submarine of the third generation boats. Its primary armament was to be several dozen cruise missiles of the Caliber or Onyx family. Various sources estimate the volley of “Belgorod” (which will no longer be available now) at 72-100 missiles. This ship would be significantly less noisy than that of unmodernized boats. Such a submarine would be equally useful in a local war like the Syrian one, and as a deterrent, and in a significant battle in which Russia would set itself the task of, if not winning, then at least surviving.

Instead, Russia gave the boat to the GUGI. The submarine was lengthened, behind the wheelhouse, in its light hull, a compartment was made for an unmanned underwater vehicle of the “Harpsichord” type. In the lower part, under the keel, there are grips and a lock for a small-sized nuclear submarine – a deep-water station, such as the now-infamous AS-31 Losharik. The boat will no longer have missile weapons.

So this boat became what it became. The first conclusion follows from this – the problems with the new and untested design that the Yasen-M have, the Belgorod as such, cannot exist. It is still the same “loaf,” and the construction differences are not radical. The infrastructure for the use of underwater vehicles of the “Harpsichord” type and deep-sea stations on board is also not supernatural.

You can guess a lot, but something is known for sure. Namely, not a single test of the Poseidon SPA, announced by the Ministry of Defense leaders or anonymous sources, was carried out on time. This means that if the delay in delivering this submarine connects with something, this weapon is the only new and has never been created at Belgorod before.

The length of a super torpedo is almost twice as long as that of a ballistic missile. Such a product cannot only be left in a torpedo tube or other launcher; it may require service or emergency repair.

Its preparation for launch is not instantaneous, and this is the process associated with the launch of a nuclear reactor. The constructors should do all this right inside the torpedo compartment. Its size, it is impossible to pull it out of the torpedo tube (or whatever is there instead of it) into the torpedo compartment. In turn, such requirements impose on a torpedo tube (let’s call it that), which are never set on a conventional torpedo tube. This also applies to radiation safety, conditions for long-term nuclear weapons storage (warheads of a super torpedo), and much more.

In other words, if you blame for some reasons for the delay in the delivery of “Belgorod,” then most likely, these are the reasons associated with the “Poseidon.” Here, alas, optimism has nowhere to come from – in comparison with missiles, the system is too complex both constructively and in the application. As a result, the delivery of “Belgorod” to the Russian Navy may be delayed, and quite significantly.

“Our military shipbuilding is still going through difficult times, and the delay in the delivery of submarines is clear evidence of this. Unfortunately, only some of the problems are technical. Another and very significant is organizational. Specifically on ships, this is reflected in the fact that it is not always possible to organize both the design process and the construction process correctly. Then, on an already built ship, you have to redo everything that requires both time and money. And if the gaps in the country’s technological capabilities are being addressed for a long time and with difficulty, then bringing the organizational aspects back to normal could well have been done long ago. In the meantime, we can only continue to wait to deliver new ships and submarines to the fleet,” the Russian expert aleksander Timohin said.


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