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    Russia will start building new fifth-generation Kalina submarines in 2018, according to a Navy source.

    Christmas Comes Early: Russia's Fifth-Gen Subs to Come Sooner Than Expected

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    Commenting on reports that the construction of Russia's new fifth-generation Kalina-class diesel-electric submarine is set to begin in the "imminent future", blogger and analyst Oleg Polevoy dug into the new vessel's expected characteristics, and its implications for the future of the Russian Navy.

    On Friday, Russian Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice-Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov announced that the construction of Russia's fifth-generation non-nuclear submarines, dubbed Project Kalina, would begin in the "imminent future," earlier than Russian and foreign defense analysts had anticipated.

    A high-ranking Russian Navy source clarified to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency that the first Kalina-class sub would be laid down in 2018. The ship, designed by the Rubin Design Bureau, will be built at St. Petersburg's Admiralty Shipyards.

    Earlier reports had indicated that construction of the new sub, which features a new air-independent propulsion system, would begin only after 2020, with some officials and experts stretching the timeframe out to "after 2025" and even "after 2030."

    Commenting on the news of the apparent breakthrough in Russian non-nuclear sub technology in an analysis for the independent Russian online news and analysis hub PolitRussia, journalist Oleg Polevoy wrote that analysts' cautious predictions were not at all unwarranted, "since the backbone of the Russian Navy's current submarine fleet consists of third-generation vessels. Fourth generation subs had begun to come online on a mass scale relatively recently."

    The analyst recalled that submarines today can be broken down into two categories – nuclear and non-nuclear. During the Cold War, he noted, "the Soviet Union possessed the most powerful and most diverse submarine fleet in the world, including both nuclear and non-nuclear vessels. Unfortunately, much of this fleet was all but destroyed in the 1990s."

    At the same time, Polevoy noted, "the ability to build nuclear submarines is something only a narrow circle of leading world powers are capable of. The United States and Britain have staked their resources exclusively on the construction of nuclear submarines, whose main advantage is a powerful reactor, and the ability to remain under water at a considerable depth for long periods of time. Subsequently, in spite of diesel subs' [comparatively] low cost, Washington and London have rejected them. The greater part of the world, meanwhile, has focused on developing non-nuclear submarines – due to their inability to build nuclear vessels."

    "However, this has led to astounding results. Once considered a 'dead-end branch of research', non-nuclear submarines have recently essentially caught up with the characteristics of their nuclear cousins, demonstrating excellent performance at low noise levels and high maneuverability (all the while being significantly less expensive)." 

    For instance, Polevoy recalled, "in 2003, the Swedish non-nuclear submarine Gotland confidently prevailed in training duels over French and American nuclear subs."

    According to the analyst, in their own time, having managed to make major strides in the development of nuclear submarines, Soviet and then Russian designers faced problems when it came to diesel subs' long-term sea endurance, despite advances in the area of acoustics (noise levels). "In the 1990s, for obvious reasons, Russian engineers fell even further behind foreign constructors of non-nuclear subs. The Swedes, Germans and Japanese were busy introducing air-independent power plants, while Russia was forced to rely on the very decent, but nevertheless outdated Varshavyanka-class."

    One of Russia's Varshavyanka class diesel-electric submarines navigates at a harbor in Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, in this Sunday, July 30, 2007, file photo.
    © AP Photo / File
    One of Russia's Varshavyanka class diesel-electric submarines navigates at a harbor in Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, in this Sunday, July 30, 2007, file photo.

    "The first 'glimmer of hope' for our shipbuilders was the Lada-class submarine (designated Amur-class in export markets). The vessel combined the traditional advantages of Russian diesel subs, together with a new air-independent power plant. The latter, however, appears to have come out incomplete – the power plant did not provide the required power."

    The Amur 1650 fourth-generation diesel submarine, a Lada-class vessel featuring improved acoustic stealth, improved weapons systems and an optional air-independent propulsion system.
    The Amur 1650 fourth-generation diesel submarine, a Lada-class vessel featuring improved acoustic stealth, improved weapons systems and an optional air-independent propulsion system.

    "But now," Polevoy indicated, "it has become clear that the problem of creating a truly effective air-independent propulsion system based on the Stirling engine has been solved by Russian designers; otherwise, such a sharp acceleration of the project of fifth-generation non-nuclear sub would be out of the question."

    According to some analysts' estimates, the new AIP system would allow the Kalina to stay underwater for about twenty-five days. In addition, the system has advantages over diesel-electric subs, which need to surface regularly to recharge batteries, and nuclear subs, which must constantly run noisy pumps to cool their reactors.

    What's more, "it's been reported that the fundamental difference between the Russian air-independent propulsion system-equipped vessel and its foreign competitors will be the lack of a need to carry a supply of hydrogen. It will be generated on board as required."

    The vessel's armaments, meanwhile, may well include the "tried and combat tested" Kalibr cruise missile system, Polevoy noted.

    Ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla launching Kalibr-NK cruise missiles against Daesh targets in Syria. File photo
    Ministry of defence of the Russian Federation
    Ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla launching Kalibr-NK cruise missiles against Daesh targets in Syria. File photo

    In addition to the Kalina, "Russian designers are also working on the Project Husky-class fifth generation nuclear submarine. The conceptual design should be completed by 2018. That vessel is expected to be made of fundamentally new materials, and armed with hypersonic missiles."

    Ultimately, the journalist noted, "the appearance of the fifth generation of submarines ahead of schedule is a very important indicator. Of course, the Russian scientific community today has many problems. It's pointless to even argue this point. However, designs such as the Kalina demonstrate that in terms of quality, we are returning to our [once-lost] global positions, from one area of science and technology to another. And those who were once fond of repeating [former German Foreign Minister] Helmut Schmidt's characterization of Russia as an 'Upper Volta with rockets' might now prefer to keep their mouths shut…"

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    Tags:
    analysis, Husky submarine, Project Husky, Project Kalina, Kalina submarine, Russian Navy, Alexander Fedotenkov, Russia
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