Submarines: Borei Boomers Delayed Yet Again

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October 26, 2012: The new Russian Borei class SSBNs (ballistic missile nuclear subs or "boomers") was supposed to enter service at the end this year. Then problems were discovered in the software that runs the missile launching and other systems on the boat. Because of that the first Borei won’t enter service until next year. This boat, the Yuri Dolgoruky, was launched five years ago, after being under construction since 1996. Money shortages and technical issues slowed progress. Yuri Dolgoruky was further delayed after launch because of power plant and other equipment problems. Yuri Dolgoruky was the first new Russian SSBN since 1990 and there seemed to be no end of problems. Part of this is because the new Borei class boats makes extensive use of modern electronics. It’s all digital and flat screens inside. Lots of microprocessors and modern sonar, which the navy insisted would make these boats more aware of their underwater surroundings than previous designs. The possible complications from debugging all this new tech were never mentioned.

Externally, the Boreis are closer in design to the older Delta IVs than to the more recent, and much larger, Typhoon boats. The Boreis are 170 meters (558 feet) long and 13 meters (42 feet) wide. Surface displacement is 15,000 tons, and 16 Bulava SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) are carried. Work on the first Borei, the Yuri Dolgoruky, was delayed for several years because the first missile being designed for it did not work out. As a replacement, the successful land based missile, the Topol-M, was quickly modified for submarine use. This Bulava was a larger missile, cutting the Boreis capacity from twenty to 16 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 cost at least two billion dollars. 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. A dozen Boreis were originally planned, but for now only eight are being built. All are supposed to be in service by the end of the decade. The last five are referred to as Borei-A and will carry 20 missiles and contain a number of other improvements.

The Boreis will replace the aging Cold War era Delta class SSBNs that are being retired because of safety and reliability issues. Nuclear submarines are one area of military spending that did not get cut back sharply after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but there are still limits to the navy budgets and the Boreis are being built, in part, to be cheaper to operate. Two Borei boats are now completed and waiting for all these glitches to be fixed before entering service. The more recent, but massive, Typhoon SSBNs will be retired in two years, mainly because they are so expensive to operate.

 


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