On December 13, 2010, Vladimir Putin visited Sevmash, a major shipbuilding company in Russia. His visit was timed to coincide with a significant addition to Russia's strategic nuclear naval forces.
In the last few days, the company has released two strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) - the overhauled K-407 Novomoskovsk and the newly built K-550 Alexander Nevsky.
The Novomoskovsk is part of Project 667BDRM and the Alexander Nevsky is part of Project 955. These two types of submarines will form the basis of strategic nuclear naval forces in the foreseeable future.
The Alexander Nevsky: Continuing a princely series
The Alexander Nevsky is the second submarine of its project to be built by Sevmash. The first, the Yury Dolgoruky, took 11 years to build, from 1996 to 2007, and is now undergoing the final stage of testing. The Alexander Nevsky was built in six years, starting in 2004. Construction of the Vladimir Monomakh started in 2006 and is currently in progress. It is scheduled to be commissioned in 2012. The St. Nicholas is also being built. Work began on a fourth submarine in 2009 and should take five years to complete.
This trend of shorter submarine construction times has been made possible by the resumption of regular funding of defense contracts and newly established industrial cooperation. Vladimir Putin had also identified minimizing construction times as a goal. Ideally, the construction of SSBNs should take four to five years, and these timeframes appear to be achievable.
The main problem with the Dolgoruky, the Nevsky and similar missile submarines is the missiles themselves. Ongoing tests of the Bulava have not been been terribly successful. The next launch of the Bulava will take place in coming weeks on board the Yury Dolgoruky. If it is successful, it will be the third successful launch in a row, which will mean that the major issues involved in the production of Bulava missile can be resolved.
A total of eight Project 955 SSBNs are to be built in the next 10 years. Starting with the hull of the fourth submarine, missile submarines will be based on the improved design of Project 955U. Based on available information, the first submarines manufactured under the project will carry 20 missiles instead of 16.
The Novomoskovsk: Proven reliability
Unlike the modern submarines of Project 955, the upgraded submarines of Project 667BDRM were tested and adopted by the fleet a long time ago - in the second half of the 1980s - and they represent the latest stage in the development of the large Project 667 family. Currently four out of six of the Project 667 submarines have been re-armed with Sineva missiles - an improved version of the previously tested R-29RM missiles. Two more submarines will be re-equipped with Sineva missiles in the next three to four years.
Sineva missiles have a much larger range than the basic R-29RM missile (over 11,000 kilometers versus 8,300), greater accuracy and a more advanced set of tools to penetrate anti-missile defense. The standard version of the missile is equipped with four warheads with a capacity of 100 kilotons each. Additionally, these missiles may be equipped with new generation sub-kiloton warheads having a yield of several dozen tons of TNT, which enables pinpoint targeting.
Project 667BDRM submarines with the new missiles will remain in service for another 15-20 years, making them, along with new Project 955 submarines, the foundation of strategic nuclear naval forces for the near future.
Submarines are key to nuclear capability
By 2020, the Russian Navy will have a total of 14 ballistic submarines from Projects 955 and Project 667BDRM. They will carry 244 ballistic missiles and about 1,000 warheads, which will make up approximately half of Russia's entire strategic nuclear arsenal in terms of the number of delivery vehicles, and two-thirds of the number of nuclear warheads. This means that for the first time in Russian history, the submarine fleet will form the foundation of Russia's strategic nuclear forces. This imposes a great responsibility on the rest of the fleet's forces, which must ensure the battle-readiness of missile submarines and protect them from possible attacks.
Great responsibility also rests with the Navy's support system - in order for the "strategics" to effectively perform their tasks, they have to regularly sail out to sea and stay there most of the time. In order to keep such a schedule, large-scale investments in infrastructure will be needed, from educational centers to maintenance plants that will keep the submarines in a state of constant readiness.
A base for new SSBNs is being built in Vilyuchinsk, on the Kamchatka Peninsula, where the Pacific Fleet's nuclear submarines are based. Investments in infrastructure may be just as costly as the submarines themselves (the Dolgoruky and Nevsky cost about 25-30 billion rubles each), but due to heavier use of these submarines, the cost will be recouped many times over.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.