Sunday, June 7, 2015

Upgrading Barents Sea Undersea Surveillance

Sierra II nuclear-powered submarine "Kostroma" after collision with "USS Baton Rouge" in 1992
The Russian Ministry of Defense is planning to install a new, modernized MGK-608M fixed undersea surveillance system in the Barents Sea by the end of 2016. The announced contract covers the installation, set-up, and calibration of the system, but not the production of the system – which suggests that the system has already been produced. The contract also covers training of operators at the Northern Fleet’s Experimental Sonar Facility in Severomorsk. The total cost of the MOD contract is RUB 216,349,700.

Based on the contract (RA/1/04/Р/0347/2015), at-sea installation of the MGK-608M will be performed by a Northern Fleet cable ship. This most likely will be the fleet’s only operational Klasma-class cable ship – “Inguri”. The contract also contains other interesting details:

  • this MGK-608M will replace a prototype MGK-608M system installed some time earlier
  • there are passive and active elements of the system
  • the current passive section will be lengthened by 105 kilometers
  • the system will be connected to an Alevrit “functional surveillance control system” [procurement and installation of the Alevrit system is covered under state contract RA/1/04/Р/0346/2015]
  • the cable ship will spend 218 days in port and 50 days at sea loading, checking, installing, and calibrating elements of the system

An earlier version of the undersea surveillance system, MGK-608, has been in operation since the mid-1990s. Contracts for repairs of the MGK-608 in 2007-2008 indicate that the older system was still functional at that time.

Annual stockholder reports (2011-2013) for the Special Draft Design Bureau of Control Systems showed that the company was working on software improvements for MGK-608 systems under a State Defense Order for the “Severyanin” program; its efforts were to continue into 2015. Additionally, the reports indicated that the company has been working on a component of a Scientific Research Project (OKR) called “Silda” under state contract 253/10/8/К/0028-07 (signed September 28, 2007). The contract stipulated that work on OKR “Silda” was to occur between September 2007 and March 2015. Thus, while there appears to be a link between MGK-608, the “Severyanin” project, and OKR “Silda”, the link between these efforts and either the prototype or newer MGK-608M is not yet clear.

MGK-608E undersea surveillance system offered for export
(credit: Atoll Scientific Research Institute)

The MGK-608 has been offered for export (MGK-608E) by the Atoll Scientific Research Institute. According to the company’s website:

The MGK-608E fixed passive sonar system is made up of a number of linear phased antenna arrays, consisting of receiving elements (hydrophones), which are installed on the seabed and can be extended to a range of dozens or hundreds of kilometers from the shoreline.

The system, which has a reported 90% accuracy rate in detecting submarines, can be installed at a depth of up to 1,000 meters, with the hydrophones extending up to 200 kilometers from shore.

Locations of 1992-1993 submarine collisions in the Barents Sea
(credit: Wikipedia)

With claims of multiple detections of foreign submarines operating in the Barents Sea dating back as far as the 1960s, Russia views the presence of NATO submarines in the Barents Sea as a constant irritant. Submarine collisions in 1986, 1992, and 1993 have added to Moscow’s concerns that NATO boats regularly operate in their back yard with impunity. In August 2014, Russian submarines detected what they believed to be a Virginia-class submarine conducting operations in the Barents Sea. This February, Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer published an article written by Rear Admiral (retired) Sergey Zhandarov in which he stipulated that the U.S. Navy Virginia-class submarine “New Hampshire” operated in the Barents Sea for some period between February 11 and August 13, 2014, likely referring to the same submarine detection reported above.

Daily Operations Center at the National Defense Command Center - 2015
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)

While installation of the newer MGK-608M undersea surveillance system may provide local officials improved warning of the presence of foreign submarines in the Barents Sea, it will also keep decision-makers at the new National Defense Command Center apprised of ongoing activity in the area as part of the growing Common State Maritime and Undersea Surveillance System (Rus: ЕГСОНПО). The MGK-608M, along with other sensors and data sources, will provide Moscow with a common operating picture of activities occurring in and around Russia. Not only will duty officers in Moscow be informed in near-real time when the fleet has detected a foreign submarine, they will be able to monitor the fleet's response to the intruder, as well.