This post 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) – Super high-speed sub has created a whole industry for Russia. Exactly fifty years ago, on December 18, 1970, a significant event took place in the USSR Navy: the nuclear submarine K-162 (project 661, code “Anchar”) set a still unbeaten world speed record underwater – 44.7 knots (82, 78 km / h). Because of its enormous price, the boat was nicknamed “The Goldfish.” However, we can say that all investments in it have paid off many times over. How is it?
The most important feature of the K-162 was that it had a titanium case – or rather, chances: lightweight (external) and durable (internal). So, because the enemy had magnetometers on anti-submarine aircraft, instruments for detecting the magnetic field in a submerged position. Titanium is non-magnetic, and no matter how large the sub is, the magnetometer will not see it. It is also easier for titanium boats to provide good tactical and technical characteristics – titanium is lighter than steel. With the same power of the main power plant as that of a steel boat, titanium is more “frisky.”
But titanium is expensive and challenging to work. Even just getting enough titanium sheets and rolling was a problem. The Soviet Union had to create an entire titanium industry to provide future sub-melting with titanium cases. And this industry then gave so much that it is impossible to list.
Without the submarine fleet, there would be no strategic missile carrier Tu-160 or artificial knee joints that would give people a chance to walk on their own feet, who would not have had this chance in another situation. There would be no “VSMPO-Avisma” – the world’s largest titanium producer, hundreds of millions of dollars from world aircraft manufacturers coming into the country every year; there would not be a lot of things. And the titanium submarines that gave birth to all this would not exist without the “Golden Fish.”
But that was all later. In the USSR, following the “Goldfish,” the development of a new type of titanium submarines – “Barracuda” of project 945 began. They were later added to the boats of project 945A, “Condor.” They are part of the Russian Navy to this day. Are titanium submarines justified? After all, the continuation of projects based on the “Barracuda” and “Condor” was abandoned back in the USSR, returning to low-magnetic steel buildings. The answer to this question is complicated.
On the one hand, the perfection of the Americans and the Japanese (two world leaders in the creation of anti-submarine aircraft) is such that it does not matter at all whether the submarine has a magnetic field or not. The Americans have removed magnetometers from their new P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft altogether; they do just fine without them. The realization in the USSR of these things, coupled with the high cost of titanium hulls and the difficulties in servicing and modernizing submarines, led to steel boats’ construction. However, titanium did not release from consideration. The multipurpose nuclear submarine of Project 957 (code “Kedr”), which never appeared in the Navy’s ranks, could appear in a titanium version; this issue was considered.
But there is one nuance that “remained behind the scenes.” For the USSR, with its pace of fleet renewal, it did not matter. For Russia, which has a different situation, it does. When a submarine sinks to great depths, its hull is subjected to the most substantial compression. Dynamic loads during movement are distributing. Differently, even the magnetic properties of steel change from such influences; they are so extreme. Few people know, but for any submarine, in addition to the maximum immersion depth, there is also full time spent on it. And it is never big; we are talking about a matter of days. Exceeding this limit is fraught with disaster. But even without it, diving to great depths seriously shortens the submarine’s life and brings its decommissioning closer. And nothing can be done about it. Over time, each sub receives restrictions on the maximum diving depth. Today this applies to almost all nuclear submarines in our fleet, except for new projects.
Do you need deep care? Contrary to popular belief, the acoustic signature of a boat grows with depth and does not decrease – the greatest acoustic secrecy provides at shallow depths of immersion. There are layers of water with different temperature densities. In-depth, the water is homogeneous, and the sound in it spreads much further, and sometimes, in some hydrological conditions, its propagation rate also increases.
All this is true, but the fact is that the patrol aircraft of the United States and its allies are fully equipping with non-acoustic means of detecting submarines going underwater. Their effectiveness merely is monstrous, and the only action that gives hope of survival for a sub is the depth – the deeper, the better.
And here, it suddenly turns out that titanium and in addition to the missing magnetic field, has something important. The titanium hull is much better than the steel one that works “in compression.” The wear and deformation of the titanium hull are shorter, the time of the limiting finding of the titanium submarine at depth will be much higher than that of steel, and the reduction in the residual life of the hull is also incomparably less than that of a submarine made of steel.
A reason to think, isn’t it? Simultaneously, the price of modern equipment and weapons is such that the difference in cost between the steel and titanium hulls does not look as striking as before. Titanium is still much more expensive, but against the background of the submarine’s final price (the five “Ash” stands like the Olympics in Sochi, together with the restructuring of the city), this will not be noticeable. Considering the level of development of our potential opponents’ anti-submarine forces, it would be worth considering the possibility of building a promising submarine of Project 545 (code “Laika”) from titanium.
Perhaps someday titanium cases will return. Then we will again recall the K-162, which was the first titanium submarine in the world – and thanks to which we have the opportunity to think about such things.
Soviet submarines were faster than American ones for a long time. The realization of how much, in due time, caused a real shock among the Americans. But they appreciated the advantages of speed very quickly. That’s to evaluate – one thing, and use – another, high-speed nuclear submarines must at least be built to enjoy the advantages of speed.
The K-162 was once the fastest submarine in the world. Today one can come across assessments that cast doubt on this fact’s value because speed means a loss of stealth – a boat at high speed roars across the ocean and hears nothing. This fact is actual, but there are situations when there is no choice. The same K-162 became famous for its long-term pursuit of the Saratoga aircraft carrier. But this is in peacetime.
In the course of hostilities, speed is much more critical than demonstrating capabilities. So, separation from anti-submarine forces after a successful attack is due to speed, as well as breaking contact with an enemy submarine, if necessary. At the same time, the specificity of underwater combat is such that hearing a target does not at all mean being able to hit it. The Americans have superiority in torpedo weapons. But finding itself in a seemingly hopeless duel situation, the Russian submarine may well launch anti-submarine missiles from outside the danger zone towards the enemy, which are part of the Waterfall complexes or, in the future, Answer ( not to be confused with the “Shkval,” it’s completely different). And here, the Americans will have to save their lives desperately, and it is not at all the fact that they will succeed, despite their overall technical superiority.
But first, you have to break away from them. And here, speed is essential. And it was K-162 that gave an understanding of the mass of issues related to rapid movement underwater. In the future, this reserve was not used in full, but it was not lost either. Suppose someday Russia will build “hunter boats” again. The task is to track down and destroy enemy submarines. In that case, the developments gained during the “Golden Fish” construction and operation will undoubtedly come in handy.
Alas, something unpleasant connects with speed. The Soviet submarine study gave the Americans an understanding of the importance of superiority in speed in battle. There is every reason to believe that they have achieved this superiority, but they do not want to advertise it. America values being ready for a real war, which means that its actual capabilities must be hidden and not shouted to the whole world about records. Thus, in open sources, a Los Angeles-class submarine’s maximum speed in a submerged position is defined as 33-35 knots. However, in reality, the crews of Russian submarines in the course of some incidents with the Americans (this is one of those things that never get into the press) recorded a quick set of speed up to 38 knots, and it is not known precisely whether this speed is maximum. And here it is worth asking the question: did they set speed records in the USA, similar to ours, but secretly?
The Losi sub is much faster than some experts said. There is every reason to believe that the Americans also underestimate Virginia’s speed.
And they also do a lot of work to increase the speed of low-noise travel: when there is a rate increase, there is no increase in the level of underwater noise commensurate with the increase in speed. The progress they have made in this is awe-inspiring. Now they can advance maneuver and run covert maneuver, which is an entirely different level of threat. Alas, our enemies can learn our lessons. “Goldfish” is just such an example, no matter how unpleasant it is to talk about it.
Underwater launch cruise missiles
In addition to the titanium industry, which changed the country’s face, Project 661 provided another innovation that has since linked with our submarine fleet – anti-ship cruise missiles launched from a submerged position. (RCC). Nobody had anything like it then. Later, the Americans learned how to launch Tomahawks and Harpoons from torpedo tubes; later, they acquired vertical launch systems. Still, in the case of our submarines, we are talking about missiles of entirely different sizes. It was on K-162 that the P-70 “Amethyst” missile system was tested, which allowed our submarines to attack enemy naval strike groups with a salvo from under the water. Before that, submarines armed with anti-ship missiles had to surface, which put their survival in question.
These missiles became the primary weapon of another project – 670. Ironically, they were slow boats, not like the K-162. But they were not intended to conduct torpedo combat with other submarines. Their model of use was completely different – and their targets were surface ships.
These were real “workhorses” of the Navy. If there were a fundamental clash with the United States or NATO, these boats that used anti-ship missiles for target designation obtained from their detection equipment would have the maximum chances to work on the target. Other ships with anti-ship cruise missiles would need external sources of target data and working communications, while the Skats of Project 670 is only required to reach the launch line. And this missile system was worked out precisely on the “Goldfish,” on it, he got a start in life, which is also worth remembering on this day.
More than just a submarine
K-162 was unsuccessful. Too much was done in it for the first time. Designers and engineers did not know many things and could not find out until they tried it: it had irreparable design flaws, and its price was prohibitively high. This boat was not easy to operate. That is why she remained in a single copy.
But she gave our country so much that it is impossible to reflect in one article. It is the country, not just the fleet. However, she gave the fleet no less. We may still need those developments that started on the 661st project. But even without taking this factor into account, all the investments have paid off many times over. And remembering the anniversary of this ship’s speed record, it is worth keeping in mind its significance in general.
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