THE STATE’S PURSE OR SUBMARINERS’ LIVES

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Marina Tokareva Obshaya Gazeta, No. 6, February 7-13, 2002, p. 2

Specialists say that torpedoes installed on the Kursk submarine were very dangerous. In the meantime, Russia did not want to replace them with new models because these were the most powerful weapons of the Russian Navy.

General Prosecutor Ustinov acknowledges the theory regarding the cause of the Kursk disaster announced by Obshaya Gazeta in January 2001: the Kursk sank because of the explosion of one of its torpedoes. Professionals are sure that no one will ever figure out why the torpedo exploded. The mystery of the explosion will not be solved even after raising the torpedo room of the submarine. However, this is not the main question. The main thing is to analyze the history and prospects of the torpedo.

The torpedo was designed in St. Petersburg by the Gidropribor research institute, which is in charge of designing torpedo weapons in Russia. Vladimir Keleinokov, former chief designer of the institute, lives in this city too. The institute has a special department in charge of the maintenance of the institute’s products. Each torpedo is linked with Gidropribor while it exists.

The one that exploded on board the Kursk was built by the Kirov plant in Alma-Ata. The plant has been situated in a new nation (Kazakhstan) after the disintegration of the USSR in the early 1990s. (…) Gidropribor is a secret institute. However, journalists have managed to learn some facts from the history of this institute.

Specialists consider torpedoes which were stored in the first compartment of the Kursk as being “ancient”. However, their characteristics are unique. There were several heavy torpedoes on board the submarine (five tons). Only Russia has such weapons.

Such torpedoes have another peculiarity: a turbine engine working on a gas-vapor mixture. This fuel is very unstable.

A leading specialist of Gidropribor said: “Germany and Britain refused to use such engines many years ago. US torpedoes are working on so-called unitary (stable) fuel. Nothing will happen to our torpedoes if servicemen take all precautions. However, we usually think that our weapons must be reliable and safe in any conditions. There are several peculiarities: dirt or ash may cause fire. Any mistake in the correlation of oxygen and hydrogen, and the torpedo explodes. We have been using this potentially dangerous engine for many years, though we always knew that seamen repair weapons with a hammer. However, strategic tasks were more important than people’s lives.”

Specialists say that designers always tried to improve this engine. The leadership of Gidropribor was replaced in 1996. Two people claimed the post of the director. One of these was a scientist who was supported by the absolute majority of the academic council of the institute. Stanislav Proshkin, the other one, did not have scientific degrees. However, he was supported by the St. Petersburg administration and became the director of the institute. The city administration appointed Valery Chachko as first deputy director of the institute. This person was not experienced in designing torpedo weapons. The system of interior priority tasks changed after that replacement. Specialists say that to date the scenario of the Kursk disaster is clear. The tragedy was caused by incompetence of technicians and chaos in the Navy and arsenals. In addition, the submarine had a low vitality potential – it was not prepared for emergencies. It is natural that the government commission does not want to announce such facts. In these circumstances uncertainty is the best way out. However, the Navy has to draw a conclusion from the tragedy. If Russian torpedoes are not reliable they must be replaced. The main thing is that Russia has other torpedoes.

Gidropribor designed a new generation torpedo in the early 1990s. It was tested by the Navy, and the institute intended to launch a serial production. However, Russia refused to use the achievement of its scientists. Producers did not have money, the Army was sinking in social problems, and the leadership was paralyzed. The new model has never been produced.

The Kursk disaster prompts one conclusion: such tragedies will never happen in the future if dangerous torpedoes are replaced with new models. This will happen if the sinking will solve the main question: what is more important – powerful weapons or people’s lives?

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