WHY RUSSIAN SUBMARINES SINK AND AMERICAN SUBMARINES DON’T

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Rear Admiral Valery Alexin, former Main Navigator of the Russian Navy Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 16, 2000, p. 8

Specialists think that the Kursk disaster was caused by technical defects in the submarine. It should be noted that three nuclear submarines built by the Rubin Design Bureau (including the Kursk) have sunk over the past 14 years. But Navy Command does not want to consider this

(…)

After the end of the Komsomolets nuclear submarine catastrophe investigation in 1989 a very good plan for improving the Salvage Service of the Russian Navy was prepared. The Navy planned efficient and immediate measures. But due to the economic crisis in Russia 80% of these measures were not implemented. According to the Council of Ministers’ decree of 1993 the Emergencies and Defense Ministries were to submit a program for building new rescue vessels and improving existing rescue and salvage methods to the government of the Russian Federation. A draft program approved by all interested ministries was submitted by the Emergencies Ministry to the Russian government. But the Economy and Finance Ministry refused to approve it. That’s why the program has never been implemented.

(…) In 1997 the Defense Ministry prepared a draft government decree on building four rescue vessels in Germany. It was approved by the Defense, Economy, Emergencies, and Fuel and Energy Ministries. But the Finance Ministry failed to approve the draft, thus scuttling the program.

The Russian Navy took several measures aimed at resolving this problem. (…)

In 1980 the SSP individual rescue complex with the IDA-59M breathing apparatus was created. This equipment makes it possible to rise to the surface from a depth of up to 140 meters through escape hatches, the bridge tower of the submarine, even the torpedo-tubes. As experience shows, an independent escape from a sunken submarine is the most efficient rescue method.

(…)

How should the rescue service be reformed in order to make it efficient? This answer to this question is not simple. It is hardly likely that the Emergencies Ministry would like the idea of taking on responsibility for rescuing people at sea and under water. In developed countries rescue operations at sea are carried out by the coast guard, which is not part of the armed forces. The coast guard of the Russian Border Guard Service is not ready for such tasks. They cannot even cope with their current tasks due to lack of money. That’s why we cannot follow the Western experience: Russia’s economic capabilities and the length of its sea border (38,000 km) make that impossible. Realistic methods are as follows: the Duma and the Federation Council of the Russian Federation must pass a federal law according to which oil and gas companies must make their ships equipped with diving complexes available to the Russian Navy if an accident similar to the Kursk disaster takes place.

(…) Of course, the government will have to pay for their assistance, but it would cost less than building new rescue vessels for the Russian Navy.

There is one more paradox: Russian third generation nuclear submarines do not have the rescue devices which were installed on diesel submarines or first generation nuclear submarines: there are no buoys with signal flares and a telephone for communicating with seamen, designed for marking the location of the shipwreck. (…)

Before it was possible to supply the damaged submarine with air, electricity, water, and even hot food. The end compartments of the submarine are not refuges any longer: they are separated from the adjacent compartments by a thin wall that can sustain a pressure of only 10 atmospheres, like all other walls. Submarines have changed. Considering that the strong hull of a submarine is designed to sustain 60 atmospheres, it would be reasonable to separate the end compartments with walls that could stand a pressure of 40-60 atmospheres. The huge reserve buoyancy of Russian submarines makes this possible. The only wall that could sustain such pressure was installed on the Kursk between the fourth and fifth compartments. That’s why the explosion ruined the rescue capsule, which was installed in the second compartment. The rescue capsule design created by the Rubin Design Bureau would have been just as inappropriate for the Komsomolets as it was for the Kursk. Even if the crew managed to get to the surface in this capsule, injured and burnt people wouldn’t get to land sooner than three to five days after escaoe. By whom, when, and how the capsule would be towed to land is unknown. People could die in this dark, huge barrel. Why don’t foreign fleets use this method?

Why does the Navy follow designers’ taste? Perhaps the explanation is that during last decade the Navy has been headed by senior officers of the surface fleet.

(…)

In total over the past 14 years three Russian nuclear submarines built by the Rubin design bureau have sunk. The K-219 underwater strategic cruiser (project 667AU) sank near the Bermuda Islands on October 6, 1986 because of a fire in a missile silo: four people perished. The K-278 nuclear submarine (the Komsomolets) sank in the Norwegian Sea on April 7, 1989 because of a fire in the stern compartment which spread to other compartments: 42 people perished. The Kursk tragedy in the Barents Sea happened on August 12, 2000 due to unknown reasons followed by a fire and an explosion in the torpedo room: all 118 servicemen perished. Isn’t this too much for one design bureau? Three up-to-date submarines and 164 servicemen have perished over 14 years!

It is evident that these submarines have certain defects.

Why have the crews of American submarines increased by 50% (from 99 to 145 servicemen) in addition to doubling the water displacement? In Russia the increase of submarines’ dimensions has led to a reduction of the crew from 108 to 65-70 servicemen. It is evident that computers installed on American submarines are no worse than those on the Russian submarines. But on American subs all critical mechanisms have three control systems: the main, reserve and emergency systems. That’s why the US has increased the crews of their submarines. Is it possible that the Rubin design bureau and the Navy’s command do not see and understand this?

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