Silent deep-sea hunter marks its 20-year-long service
This Russian submarine made Americans to come down with money to aid Russia. This sub has been given various names like ‘aircraft carrier killer’, or ‘deep-sea gangster’, or ‘silent hunter’, to name a few. The multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarine K-284 of Project 971 was commissioned June 16, 1984 crowning the efforts of the Design Bureau Malakhit and the Amurskiy Zavod shipyard in Komsomolsk-na-Amure. In total, 15 boats of that class have been built. In 1996, those involved in the creation of the submarine were awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation.
For the first time, the shipbuilding yard at Komsomolsk-na-Amure rather than at Severodvinsk or Leningrad had been chosen as the place to lay down a multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarine coded Project 971 Shuka-B. That was an indication of a considerable development of shipbuilding in the Russian Far East.
NATO’s classification ‘Akula’ (Shark) given to the newest submarines of the Russian Navy caused confusion since the name of another Soviet sub, Alfa of Project 705, also began with the letter ‘A’. The acoustic signature of K-284 was 12-15 dB lower (i.e. 4-4.5 times) than that of 671RTM, the most noiseless Russian submarine of the previous generation. Improvement in this key parameter of underwater technology placed Russia among the world’s top submarine shipbuilders. The Akula’s design and acoustic signature had been honed throughout the mass production stage.
The boats of the project were given personal names, so K-317 was dubbed ‘Pantera’. The first submarine built in Severodvinsk, K-480, received the name ‘Bars’, which soon became the class name of all nuclear-powered ships of Project 971. Commander S. V. Efremenko became the first captain of Bars. In December 1997, at the request of the Republic of Tatarstan, Bars was renamed ‘Ak-Bars’. Some years ago, the attack submarine Gepard was commissioned at Severodvinsk. In 1996, the submarine cruiser Vepr was commissioned at Severodvinsk. She had a new design of the pressure hull and different ‘stuffing’ at the same time retaining the shape of its class. Besides, with her another major advance was made in noise reduction. In the West this sub and the subsequent SSNs of Project 971 were designated Akula-II. Integrated automation cut the crew to 73 (31 officers), that was almost twice as less than that of the American Los Angeles class sub (141 men).
According to some US experts, the degree of stealth of the improved sub of Project 971 has caught up with that of the US Navy multi-purpose fourth generation submarine Seawolf (SSN-21). Speed, diving depth and ordnance make these ships approximately peer. Between December 1995 and February 1996, K-461 Volk (manned by the complement from K-317 Pantera under the orders of captain S. Spravtsev and captain V. Korolyov, assistant division commander acting as senior officer on board), had been operating in the Mediterranean Sea to provide long-distance anti-submarine support for the Admiral Kuznetsov heavy aircraft carrying cruiser. The mission included long-term tracking of several NATO submarines, including an American SSN of the Los Angeles class. According to US Navy sources, at tactical speeds 5-7 knots the acoustic quietness of Improved Akula class boats searched by sonars was lower than that of the most advanced US Navy SSNs such as the Improved Los Angeles class. The then chief of US naval operations Admiral Jeremy Boorda said that the American ships were not able to track the Improved Akula at a speed less than 6 to 9 knots (the new Russian boat was eventually contacted in the spring 1995 off the eastern coast of the USA). According to the Adm. J. M. Boorda, the low noise acoustic profile of the improved Akula-II met the requirements of forth generation subs.
After the end of the Cold War, new stealth nuclear-powered submarines in the Russian Fleet aroused serious concern in the USA. In 1991, this matter was even discussed in Congress. American legislators were offered some solutions to turn the situation around to the advantage of the USA. Proposals comprised demands that Russia disclose long-term underwater shipbuilding programs, or establishment of coordinated limits on the number of attack SSNs for both Russia and USA, or calls to assist Russia to convert shipyards building nuke subs to produce non-defense items.
The international environmental NGO ‘Green Peace’ also joined the efforts against the Russian underwater shipbuilding disguised as a drive to ban nuclear-powered submarines (Russian ones, of course, presented, according to ‘Greens’, the greatest environmental hazard). In order to eliminate ‘nuclear disasters’, ‘Green Peace’ recommended Western governments to tie financial aid to Russia with the moves the latter would make to solve this problem. However, as the delivery of new attack submarines to the Russian Navy dramatically slowed down by mid-90s, the issue for USA ceased to be burning, though ‘environmentalists’ (many of whom are known for their tight links to NATO special services), have been pursuing the same policy against the Russian Fleet up to date.
Norman Polmar, а well-known US naval analyst, once said that the arrival of submarines of the Akula class and other Russian SSNs of the third generation demonstrated that the Soviet shipbuilders had bridged the gap in the acoustic quieting level unexpectedly fast. Some years later, in 1994, this gap was closed altogether.
What in Project 971 specifically frightened Western analysts? Maybe its innovative solutions such as integrated automation of battle and technical facilities, concentration of ship control and its armament in one place – the main control room, and a state-of-the-art rescue chamber, which demonstrated its efficiency on Project 705 boats?
The following technical data based on open sources may help get the picture: length – 110.3 m; beam –13.6 m; draft – 9.7 m; full displacement – 12,770 tons; maximum diving depth: 600 m; operating depth: 520 m; maximum submerged speed: 33 knots; endurance: 100 days; propulsion: one pressurized water reactor OK-650B (190 MW) with four steam turbines; 1 shaft, 50,000 hps; one 7 bladed propeller with improved acoustic properties and low rotation speed. The Skat-3 MGK-540 sonar system provides digital data processing, enhanced sonar detection and location capabilities. A submarine of Project 971 features double hull construction. The pressure hull material is high strength steel.
An Akula-II class sub can boast highly effective, unique wake-homing capabilities to identify the wake of a submarine many hours after its passing. She is fitted with the Simfonia-U navigation system and Molniya-MTS satellite communications with Tsunami communications antenna and a towed array.
Armed with 40 torpedoes launched from four 533mm (for 28 torpedoes) and four 650mm torpedo tubes, she can also fire Granat cruise missiles, underwater missiles and rocket torpedoes (Shkval, Vodopad, and Veter), torpedoes and torpedo mines. Besides this sub can lay ordinary mines, too.
Currently, all Project 971 multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarines are assigned to the Russian Northern and Pacific Fleets, and by contemporary standards, they are active enough.
In the event of actual conflict, each Project 971 sub is capable to pose a threat to the enemy, draw off its essential forces, and keep the Russian territory intact from strikes.
Translated by Zaghid Yusoupov