Saturday, November 15, 2014

Construction Pace for Domestic Kilo Submarines

Kilo SS "Rostov-na-Donu" heading out for factory sea trials - October 21, 2014
(Image credit: A. Akentyev)

The Russian Ministry's public affairs office reported yesterday that the test program for "Rostov-na-Donu" - the second new Project 636.3 Kilo-class diesel submarine built for the Russian Navy - was "nearing completion." That sounded odd given that the submarine didn't commence factory sea trials until October 21 of this year. But a closer review suggests the statement may be closer to truth than fiction.

The tables below depict the major milestones in the construction of the first three hulls of the new series.

Keel laid August 20, 2010         -        -
Launched November 28, 2013  1,216        -
Sea trials start May 30, 2014  1,399  +183
Delivery August 22, 2014  1,483    +84

Keel laid November 21, 2011        -         -
Launched June 26, 2014    948         -
Sea trials start October 21, 2014  1,065  +117
Delivery December 31, 2014  1,136    +71

                              "Staryy Oskol"
Keel laid August 17, 2012         -         -
Launched August 28, 2014     741         -
Sea trials start May 2015         -         -
Delivery August 2015         -         -

There are easily identifiable differences in the day counts between the major milestones in the tables. For example, the time between keel-laying and launch of the three units decreased from 1,216 days ("Novorossiysk") to 948 days ("Rostov-na-Donu") and to 741 days ("Staryy Oskol"). That's a nearly 22% decrease in time between the two milestones when comparing "Novorossiysk" to ""Rostov-na-Donu" and nearly 40% when comparing "Novorossiysk" to "Staryy Oskol". Additionally, the shipyard shaved off 22% between the same period of time for the second and third hulls.

The significant decreases in time between keel-laying and launch can be explained by a combination of factors, to include:
  • delivery of design documentation --- the later it arrives, the later the first unit will launch
  • first of the series --- as with any new program, the first unit (even one that is only a slightly modified version of an existing submarine class) is bound to have a few construction/design issues that impact production
  • sub-contractor deliveries --- major components are often ordered in batches, meaning successive unit construction should not be delayed
  • improvements in shipbuilding processes when building multiple orders of the same submarine class
  • workforce availability --- the shipyard has had to seek additional temporary manpower after "Novorossiysk" in order to fulfill both domestic and export submarine construction project timelines
When comparing the differences in the day counts between launches and commencement of sea trials for the first two units, there is another notable difference: 183 days versus 117 days. Admiralty Shipyards could have decreased the time period by 36% for most, if not all, of the same reasons listed above. But one factor that probably only impacted the first unit was the time of year. "Novorossiysk" was launched in November. The Gulf of Finland becomes treacherous and impassable without icebreaker support roughly between late November and mid-April. The initial phase of factory sea trials have to be performed close to the shipyard or in the Gulf of Finland, whereas later testing phases can be performed in the ice-free regions of the central and southern Baltic Sea. This same issue may impact "Staryy Oskol" as it prepares for factory sea trials in the near future.

Finally, if the above MOD report is correct and "Rostov-na-Donu" will be delivered by the shipyard no later than December 31, the projected time period between commencement of sea trials and delivery will be at most 71 days, which is 13 days (15%) shorter than for "Novorossiysk". Using the timeline day counts for "Rostov-na-Donu" and factoring in the time of year, projected timeline dates for "Staryy Oskol" would be late May for commencement of sea trials and early August for delivery.

Projecting timeline dates for the next three Kilos, however, is tricky. In order for Admiralty Shipyards to meet the delivery deadline of 2016, as stated multiple times by various high-level military officials, the shipyard's construction timelines will have to be more aggressive. The last two units, "Kolpino" and "Velikiy Novgorod", were laid down last month. If it takes two years between keel-laying and launch (using "Staryy Oskol" as the model), then both units will be facing the same Gulf of Finland seasonal weather issues that impacted "Novorossiysk". Therefore, unless things change, they will not be delivered to the MOD until spring or summer 2017.