THE KURSK WAS DESTROYED BY ITS OWN TORPEDO

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Vyacheslav Gudkov Kommersant, February 19, 2002, p. 1

A joint news conference has been held by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov and Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov to report on progress in the Kursk submarine investigation. Collision with another vessel has been ruled out. An accidental torpedo explosion is the most likely theory now

The Kursk was sunk by an explosion of a 65-76 Kit practice torpedo. This conclusion may be drawn from a joint news conference in Murmansk called by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov and Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov. Ustinov and Kuroyedov refused to elaborate, saying the investigation is not yet complete. But the problem is that all Russian submarines carry these potentially dangerous torpedoes, and too much information may spark panic in the Navy.

Investigators working on the Kursk have recovered over a dozen logs (including those of the command post, the messages log, the navigation log, and the combat training log for 2000) and five recording devices. The findings didn’t help much. According to Prosecutor General Ustinov, all these documents contain absolutely nothing about emergencies on board the submarine. The investigation only knows at this point that at 10:20 hours on August 12 the submarine “was executing planned maneuvers in the designated area.” The last item was added to the log at 11:15 hours, approximately 15 minutes before the first explosion.

Some conclusions drawn by investigators are directly related to the cause of the disaster. The acoustics log, with coordinates of all surface vessels and submarines involved in the exercise, was found aboard the Kursk and thoroughly studied. The investigation team is 100% sure now that at the moment of the disaster there were no ships or submarines anywhere close to the Kursk. The collision theory is therefore ruled out. Moreover, Ustinov made it clear that collision with a foreign submarine was ruled out too, because neither investigators nor the Northern Fleet have found any evidence of such a presence in the area.

The investigation and the government commission are now skeptical about the collision theory which was believed to be the most likely for so long. The theory of an explosion inside the submarine is an entirely different matter. Carefully choosing his words, as always, Navy Commander Kuroyedov said that scientists, designers, and specialists had placed too much trust in the 65-76 Kit torpedo, which uses hydrogen peroxide.

These torpedoes became standard naval equipment in 1957. Submarines of the 949A class (the Kursk was one of them) were officially cleared for the use of the 65-756 Kit in 1991. No one in Russia had an inkling of the potential threat posed by such torpedoes, even though the rest of the world had abandoned them after an accident on a British submarine in 1995. Only the deaths of 118 sailors forced state officials to consider the question of the risk run by Russian submariners every day. “These torpedoes have been removed from combat duty,” Kuroyedov was quoted as saying. “We intend to abandon them altogether.”

“These torpedoes use kerosene as fuel,” says Duma Deputy Valery Dorogin, vice-admiral (retired) and former commander of the 10th Division of nuclear submarines. “The ignition system is in an enclosed space and does not get inflow of fresh air. This means that the fuel is enriched with hydrogen peroxide. Heated, it releases highly flammable oxygen which is a deadly danger for the crew. Properly maintained, these torpedoes are fairly reliable and are even superior to modern ones in terms of their tactical and technical specifications.

According to one of the theories, when the practice torpedoes were being loaded onto the submarine, one of them collided with something, damaging its container of hydrogen peroxide. The torpedo was examined, but microscopic cracks were overlooked. After the submarine sailed out, oxygen gradually filled the torpedo compartment, then ignited from a spark and from contact with the grease coating the guiding rails. This flame sparked a series of explosions in the compartment.

Ustinov promised to reveal the final conclusions of the investigation after fragments of Compartment One have been salvaged from the seabed. According to Kuroyedov, this salvage operation is planned for May and June this year.

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