Monday, September 15, 2014

New SSBNs Will Not Transfer to Pacific Fleet in 2014

Dolgorukiy SSBN "Aleksandr Nevskiy" and crew - December 2010 (Photo courtesy of SevMash)

Despite multiple claims of the transfer of one or more Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet this year, there are serious issues preventing this from happening.

"Aleksandr Nevskiy"
The submarine was accepted into the Navy on December 23, 2013, and it arrived at its new homeport of Gadzhiyevo a week later. The day after its arrival, SevMash (which builds the Dolgorukiy SSBN) reported plans to repair a "damaged shaft" on the submarine sometime in 2014. The estimated repair cost was stated at just under RUB 1.8 million, considerably less than a new shaft. The scope of damage is not known, but it appears it was damaged sometime during the transfer from Severodvinsk to Gadzhiyevo. If it was known that the shaft was damaged before leaving the White Sea, the submarine would have returned to SevMash.

To date there has been no mention of the shaft being repaired. More importantly, there has been no reporting of "Aleksandr Nevskiy" conducting even one day of underway training since arriving at Gadzhiyevo. All news articles mentioning the submarine this year have focused on speculation of an inter-fleet transfer or possible SS-N-32 Bulava SLBM launches.

"Aleksandr Nevskiy" Crew 1, until recently commanded by Captain 1st Rank Vasiliy Tankovid, underwent submarine training at the 270th Training Center (Sosnovyy Bor) in January-April 2014. Following a brief vacation period, Tankovid apparently was replaced by Captain 2nd Rank Aleksandr Nadezhdin, who was the commanding officer of "Vladimir Monomakh". Reporting this year continues to show Nadezhdin on board "Vladimir Monomakh", which could suggest he will not transfer to "Aleksandr Nevskiy" until its repairs are completed.

The window for conducting an under-ice inter-fleet transfer is quickly closing. A review of prior under-ice transfers shows August-September as the optimal period for such an operation. Before such an operation can be undertaken, however, you need to have a fully functional submarine and a highly trained crew, neither of which appears to exist today.

Finally, an anonymous "source in the Navy Main Staff" told ITAR-TASS in late March that, in fact, "Aleksandr Nevskiy" and "Vladimir Monomakh" would conduct under-ice transfers to the Pacific Fleet in the fall of 2015.

Base infrastructure
Waterfront infrastructure upgrades at Rybachiy Submarine base (Russian Far East - Kamchatka Peninsula) to support Dolgorukiy SSBN basing have been underway for at least two years. In 2013, construction of a new weapons handling pier at Mys Kazak (near Rybachiy Submarine Base) was underway. Contracts related to the pier covered the delivery of Japanese-manufactured sheet piling, 5,000 cubic meters of concrete, and multiple electrical connections to the local power grid, to name a few.

The infrastructure upgrades have been plagued by at least two significant worker accidents. On October 28, 2013, a 28-year-old bulldozer operator from the Monolit construction company was killed when 50 tons of dry cement fell on a shed where he was taking a break. And the source of that cement, which is being used for the Rybachiy Submarine Base infrastructure upgrades, may be imported through shady dealings (business as usual in the Far East) via ITA, according to a Kamchatka local newspaper.

On February 11, 2014, a sling operator was seriously injured after the sling of a wheeled crane broke during the removal of sheet piling. The accident occurred 22 meters from the end of a new deep-water pier under construction at the 3002nd Missile Handling Facility (Mys Kazak).

Complicating the situation was a court case in July of this year in which Mikhail Lunyakov (Chief of Special Construction-Engineering - Federal Special Construction Agency (SpetsStroy)) received an administrative fine of RUB 20,000 by the 289th State Architecture and Construction Oversight Office (headed by Vadim Lapushkin) for failing to receive permission before beginning construction work related to Pier 1 of the missile handling facility. It's never a good thing when government agencies sue each other.

Despite these minor setbacks, SpetsStroy continues to report progress in the infrastructure upgrade project. In June 2014, the agency claimed construction of the "pier zone" was on schedule. In July, SpetsStroy reported renovation of a 400psi high-pressure air compressor station and a personal rescue equipment inspection station also were on schedule.

In late August, General Surovikin, head of the Eastern Military District, stated "Aleksandr Nevskiy" should transfer to the Pacific Fleet by the end of 2014. But reporting during Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Viktor Chirkov's visit to the submarine base in early September is strikingly different. Instead of the submarine arriving this year, defense ministry reporters stated Dolgorukiy SSBNs would join the Pacific Fleet "in the future."

So, regardless of claims you have already heard and others you may hear later this year, no Dolgorukiy SSBN will be transferring to the Pacific Fleet in 2014.