June 27, 2014:
On June 17
, after two decades of construction effort and nearly six months of acceptance trials the Russian Navy finally put the first of seven Graney (Yasen) SSGNs (nuclear powered cruise missile sub) into service. This boat, the Severodvinsk, set some of the wrong kind of records on its way to join the fleet. For one thing construction of the Severodvinsk began in 1993. Then there were the sea trials, which took two years during which the Severodvinsk was at sea 30 percent of the time (222 days) and submerged over a hundred times. There were at least five live firings of its cruise missiles. Sea trials are not supposed to go on for that long, but these SSGNs were special in so many ways.
Putting the Severodvinsk into service was delayed twice in 2013. Early on the sea trials revealed that the nuclear reactor did not produce the required power and that the ability of the boat to remain quiet while under water was not what it should be. An underpowered and noisy sub was not acceptable, and the navy demanded that the builder make it all better before 2014. This proved hard to do because in the 1990s lack of work and money meant that most of the best people left the companies that produced the nuclear subs and their complex components. Those left behind have produced a growing list of embarrassing failures. Earlier, undisclosed problems with the first Graney postponed it from entering service for at least a year. These problems are not restricted to the Graney, as other new subs are also encountering numerous construction and design problems.
In early 2011, the crew of the first Graney took their boat to sea, or at least around the harbor, for the first time. Sea trials were to begin three months later but first the sub took baby steps to ensure that everything worked. These harbor trials were seen as a major progress. Things went downhill again after that, with a growing number of delays as more and more problems were encountered.
Russian submarine building has been on life support since the Cold War ended in 1991. Many subs under construction at the end of the Cold War were cancelled, and the few that avoided that spent a decade or more waiting for enough money to resume construction. The first Graney crew was put together in 2007 and then spent years training, and waiting. The crew now has their new boat in service, but only after record delays and time spent in the shipyard getting tweaked.
The 9,500 ton Graneys are armed with 32 Yakhont cruise missiles, as well as eight torpedo tubes. The Yakhonts are designed as "carrier killers." The torpedo tubes were originally supposed to be larger so they could use some new torpedo designs. Those designs did not work out as planned so the standard 533mm torpedo tubes were used along older but proven torpedo designs.
The Graneys are highly automated, which is why there is a crew of 90 that is a third less than the 134 needed to run the new U.S. Virginia class boats. The Graney design is based on the earlier Akula and Alfa class SSNs. Russia had originally planned to build 30 Graneys, but now eight seems the most optimistic goal. In response to this Russia has gone ahead with a program for refurbishing Cold War era boats just to obtain a respectable number of subs in the future.
Russia considers the Graney their answer to the American Virginia class. But the Virginias are a more recent design while the Graney is a late Cold War effort that had some tech upgrades in the two decades it took to build the first one. The first Virginia began construction in 1999 and entered service in 2004. So far ten are in service, five are under construction and a total of 30 are to eventually enter service.