Submarines: Newer Isn't Always Better Enough

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December 4, 2011: Russia has begun construction of its second "Improved Kilo" class diesel-electric submarine. These are mostly for the export market, although the Russian Navy is buying a few more of this improved model as well. The Kilos weigh 2,300 tons (surface displacement), have six torpedo tubes and a crew of 57. They are quiet, and can travel about 700 kilometers under water at a quiet speed of about five kilometers an hour. Kilos carry 18 torpedoes or SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles (with a range of 300 kilometers and launched underwater from the torpedo tubes.) The combination of quietness and cruise missiles makes Kilo very dangerous to American carriers. But for the Russians, their Kilos are mostly for home defense. Nuclear subs are used for the long distance work. The successor to the Kilo, the Lada, underwent three years of sea trials before they were declared fit for service two years ago. One has been built and another is under construction and eight are planned. The problem with the Lada is that it is not enough of an improvement on the latest Kilo to attract any export orders.

The Kilo class boats entered service in the early 1980s. Russia only bought 24 of them, but exported over 30. It was considered a successful design, especially with export customers. But just before the Cold War ended in 1991, the Soviet Navy began work on the Lada. This project was stalled during most of the 1990s by a lack of money, but was revived in the last decade.

The Ladas have six 533mm torpedo tubes, with 18 torpedoes and/or missiles carried. The Lada has a surface displacement of 1,750 tons, are 71 meters (220 feet) long and carry a crew of 38. Each crewmember has their own cabin (very small for the junior crew, but still, a big morale boost). When submerged, the submarine can cruise at a top speed of about 39 kilometers an hour (half that on the surface) and can dive to about 250 meters (800 feet). The Lada can stay at sea for as long as 50 days, and the sub can travel as much as 10,000 kilometers using its diesel engine (underwater, via the snorkel). Submerged, using battery power alone, the Lada can travel about 450 kilometers. There is also an electronic periscope (which goes to the surface via a cable), that includes a night vision capability and a laser range finder. The Lada was designed to accept a AIP (air independent propulsion) system. Russia was long a pioneer in AIP design, but in the last decade, Western European nations have taken the lead. Construction on the first Lada began in 1997, but money shortages delayed work for years. The first Lada boat was finally completed in 2005. A less complex version, called the Amur, is being offered for export.

The Ladas are designed to be fast attack and scouting boats. They are intended for anti-surface and anti-submarine operations as well as naval reconnaissance. These boats are said to be eight times quieter than the Kilos. This was accomplished by using anechoic (sound absorbing) tile coatings on the exterior, and a very quiet (skewed) propeller. All interior machinery was designed with silence in mind. The sensors include active and passive sonars, including towed passive sonar.

Russia has 17 Kilos in service (and six in reserve) and six Improved Kilos on order. More than that is on order from foreign customers, and efforts to sell the Lada continue.

 


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