Submarines: And Then There Were Two...


December 17, 2010: The second of Russia's new Borei class SSBN (ballistic missile nuclear subs, or "boomers"), the Alexander Nevsky, is completed and at dockside undergoing a year of testing and tweaking before it can begin its sea trials. The first Borei is already in the service, and two others are under construction.

Russia is in a hurry to get more Boreis into action. Only eight of the twelve existing Russian Delta IV SSBNs are available for service. Russia originally wanted to have about a dozen of the new Borei class boats, to replace the current Delta IV class SSBNs. The Delta IVs are getting old, and have only about a decade of useful service left. Currently, it appears that the navy will only get eight Boreis. These new boats are expensive, with the announced cost being $750 million each. That's actually cheap by American standards, but apparently does not include development costs, since navy officials said the first and second boats cost the same. Total costs are probably two or three times that.

The first Borei, the Yuri Dolgoruky, was launched two years ago, but commissioning was delayed because of problems with the safety systems, welds on the hull, and the nuclear power plant. These were all attended to, and the Dolgoruky is now being used to help complete tests of the new Bulava missile it is to carry. The construction of the Yuri Dolgoruky began thirteen years ago, but money shortages, and technical issues, slowed progress. The Bulava missile has had a troubled development, and is several years late. But recent tests have been successful and the SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) is expected to enter service next year.

The first of three new Borei Class boats will be based in the Pacific. During the Cold War, most of Russia's SSBNs were based in the north, at several bases east of the Norwegian border, and facing the Arctic ocean. But now Russia is spending over $350 million to expand and improve its submarine base on Kamchatka island. This will enable its new SSBNs to threaten China, as well as the United States.

This is the first new Russian boomer to enter service in 19 years, and the first new Russian sub design since the end of the Cold War. The third ship in the class, the Vladimir Monomakh, began two years ago, and is expected to be completed within 3-4 years.

The Boreis are closer in design to the Delta IVs, than to the more recent, and much larger, Typhoon boats. The Boreis are 180 meters (558 feet) long and 14.2 meters (44 feet) wide. Surface displacement is 15,000 tons, and twelve Bulava SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) are carried. Work on the Yuri Dolgoruky was delayed for several years because the ballistic missile originally designed for it did not work out. To deal with this, a successful land based missile, the Topol-M, was quickly modified for submarine use. The resulting Bulava was a larger missile, cutting the Boreis capacity from twenty to twelve missiles. The boat also has four torpedo tubes, and twelve torpedoes or torpedo tube launched missiles. The Borei also sports a huge sonar dome in the bow.

The Boreis have a crew of 107, with half of them being officers (a common Russian practice when it comes to high tech ships like nuclear subs). Each of these boats were expected to cost at least two billion dollars overall (as opposed to the $750 million claimed by the navy). This high cost, by Russian standards, is partly because many factories that supplied parts for Russian subs were in parts of the Soviet Union that are not now within the borders of present day Russia. So new factories had to be built. All components of the Boreis, and their missiles, will be built in Russia. All eight of these boats probably won't be completed for at least a decade. That could cause problems, because the Delta IV SSBNs may not last that long.

The Delta IVs are getting old, and have only about a decade of useful service left. Earlier this year, Russia changed its mind about retiring its Akula ("Typhoon" in the West) SSBNs. Six of these 24,000 ton "boomers"  were built in the 1980s, and three have already been scrapped. The others were to be retired because they were so expensive to operate. These boats were the largest submarines ever built and each carried twenty of the huge (16 meters long and 2.4 meters in diameter, 90 ton) R-39 SLBNs. These missiles have all been retired from service. One of the Akulas had some of its missile silos converted to test fire the new Bulava SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile), to be used on the new Borei SSBNs. The other two Akulas were put in reserve, but now they will be returned to active service, with their silos converted to fire the smaller (12.1 meters long and two meters in diameter) Bulava SLBM. The Akulas will remain in service at least until 2019, and be replaced by newly built Boreis.




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