Deep Sea Quest
A case for Russia’s Amur submarine for Indian Navy’s P-75I programmeBy Vladimir ‘Vovick’ Karnozov
Moscow: Three recent developments may help the Russians win the ongoing international competition for the Project 75(I): the Russian Navy’s commissioning of the Saint Petersburg, big domestic orders placed with the nation’s largest submarine builder — Sevmash and preparations for underwater trials of the BrahMos cruise missile.
In the middle of 2010, Indian defence minister A.K. Antony gave approval for the Project 75(I), calling for procurement of six conventional (non-nuclear) submarines for USD 10.7 billion. While two vessels are to be constructed in the collaborator country, the remaining four are scheduled to be built in India, under license.
According to the defence procurement practices, suitable companies from major exporting countries were invited to bid. They were forwarded Request for Information (RFI) in the second half of 2010 and the
request for proposal (RFP) is expected in the middle of 2012. If things move on time, the results are expected by 2014, and the delivery of the first vessel by 2016-2017.
Four contenders — Rosoboronexport of Russia, Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft (HDW) of Germany, DCNS of France and Navantia of Spain — are offering Amur 1650, Type 214, Scorpene and S-80 respectively. According to the RFI, circle of possible options was confined to those designs that were based on prototypes in existence.
The Russian Navy operates the Saint Petersburg, head vessel of the Project 677 design, codenamed Lada. The Amur 1650 is the latter’s export derivative. The German Navy operates Type 212 U-boats, from which the Type 214 was derived for export purposes. The French Navy operates only nuclear-powered submarines, but DCNS has already delivered a pair of Scorpene submarines to Chile, another pair to Malaysia and is supplying six to India under license-production contract with Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL). Navantia’s product does not meet the above requirement, but this may change soon as the Spanish Navy takes delivery of its first S-80, now under construction some time in 2013-2015.
The Indian Navy operates four Shishumar class submarines of the German Type 209 and 10 Russian-built Project 877EKM attributed to the Sindhughosh class. It use to have eight older Russian submarines, but the last of those, the INS Vagli, retired in 2011 after 36 years of service. Of the existing fleet, only four submarines are expected to remain operational in 2020 and none in 2025.
India has plans for 24 new non-nuclear submarines, of which, 12 shall be built locally and 12 by the collaborator. In 2003-2005, France won the order for six Scorpene class submarines worth over USD four billion. These are being constructed locally at MDL in Mumbai. Sadly, the construction process has been going slower than originally envisioned.
Meanwhile, India is also developing its nuclear submarine called Advanced Technology Vehicle, with the head vessel, Arihant nearly ready for sea trials. Besides, under a special deal between Kremlin and New Delhi, the Indian Navy is going to operate, under lease terms, a Project 971 submarine. The ship Nerpa, with tactical number K-152, is undergoing acceptance trials. Upon the completion of the trials, she will go south and serve there as INS Chakra. The Indian Navy may have as many as five or six nuclear-powered submarines in 2020. This would be a big development, but the need for modern conventional submarines will remain.Face-Off
Germany, France and Russia have been competing for submarine orders round the world for decades. In this respect, each of the three has its strong and weak points. Broadly speaking, the West Europeans are considered better at air-independent propulsion (AIP) technologies in non-nuclear vessels. The Germans claim their Type 212 can move submerged at speed of three knots for nearly 14 days. This is made possible through the use of 300kWt AIP, based on fuel elements, and the use of stored oxygen.
The Russian submarines have better chances in a duel situation. In this respect, the current production Project 636 (06363) is pictured as prevailing over the contemporary German and French designs. The newer Amur 1650 is even better, due to more powerful acoustic system, lesser noise and lower displacement (1,765t against 2,350t).
As an added bonus, the Russian submarines can be equipped with Club-S missile system from Novator, an export version of the Caliber on the Russian Navy ships. The Club-S can fire three types of missiles, the anti-ship 3M-54, the anti-submarine 91R and the land-strike 3M-14. Today, such missilery is available only from Russia. In the course of modernisation and upgrade, Indian Navy’s Project 877EKM submarines have been obtaining the Club-S.
It is interesting to note that certain countries with reputation as capable submarine builders are not bidding in India, this time. At one point, there were speculations that the S-1000 was being offered. This is a Russian design made under contract by Fincantieri of Italy, as an inexpensive ‘no-frills’ submarine, with displacement of 1,000 tons, intended mostly for coastal protection. Respective development contract was signed in 2004 and fulfilled shortly afterwards. However, neither the S-1000, nor its completely Russian equivalent Amur 950, is on offer to India.
Swedish Kockums company is working on the A26 with 1,900 ton displacement, after building a series of three Gotland 1,500 ton submarines. The Gotland features Sterling-type AIP with underwater time up to 20 days. Australia operates six similar Collins class submarines produced in 1996-2003, while Singapore will soon be taking a pair of 1,500-tonne Archer submarines after they were rebuilt in Sweden. It is believed that after HDW took control over Kockums in 2004, it has the right to control the latter’s export operations. And, HDW chose to reply to the Indian RFI with the Type 214 offer.
Starting in 1998, HDW has been supplying Type 212 U-boats to German and Italian navies with eight deliveries, so far. The exportable Type 214 is larger, with displacement of 1,960t against 1,450t. So far, nine deliveries have been made to Portugal, Republic of Korea and Greece.
Early sale success was somewhat marred by media reports about numerous design deficiencies. The U-boats tended to be unstable when surfaced, especially in strong winds, their AIPs produced lower output and overheated. There were reports of water leaking into hydraulics, periscope vibrations, cavitation, which decreased the propeller’s efficiency, and certain onboard sensors worked unstably. In 2010-2011, the RoK Navy reportedly withdrew submarines from active service temporarily for repairs, as nearly 30 cases of loosing bolts were discovered on three vessels.
The fairly advanced and innovative design of Type 212/214 at the turn of the century, could not escape the inevitable teething problems. However, most of them are believed to have been cured by now, and the German product is widely considered front-runner in the ongoing completion.
The S-80 is the largest of the four competing designs with 2,400t displacement. Worldwide economic crisis and the problems in the Euro zone postponed completion of the first Spanish Navy vessel from 2011 to 2013, and then over to 2015. Herein lies its weakest point. The S-80 is a very advanced submarine featuring an all-new but untried AIP solution, with a bio-ethanol processor of hydrogen. The S-80 has a combat management system from Lockheed Martin. While, this insures high quality, such advanced systems of US origin come with restrictions on access to their codes, algorithms and software package.
France has already won Indian order for six Scorpene vessels. Increasing the numbers to 12 may be beneficial to local partner MDL. France does not operate Scorpene for itself, but Portugal and Malaysia operate them in a simplified 1,500-t version without AIP. KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and KD Tun Razak completed in 2009, for the Malaysian Navy, reportedly had problems when getting submerged. Contract worth over Euro two billion raised concerns in the country, with claims made against certain government members. Adding to DCNS’ troubles were charges of corruption.
DCNS has produced unique type of AIP called MESMA (Module d’Energie Sous-Marin Autonome). MESMA makes use of a steam turbine. Steam is generated by combustion of ethanol and oxygen stored under pressure of 60 atmospheres. There is only one submarine actually outfitted with MESMA, the Pakistan Navy’s third hull of the Agosta 90B class. The S137 Hanza differs from her sister ships in having displacement of 2,050 tons against 1,760, and comes equipped with a 200kW MESMA. Reportedly, she did not manage to develop the advertised four knots, her actual speed falling one knot behind the promise.
Naturally, use of compact steam turbines predetermines relatively low efficiency, in range of 15-26 per cent compared to 42-46 per cent for the German AIP
solution and 50-55 per cent for the Russian. The latter two centre on use of fuel cells and electrochemical generators and have power output in the region of 300-350 kW, just enough to make three-four knots under water.BrahMos
BrahMos Aerospace under the leadership of Dr Sivathanu Pillai is a joint venture between India and Russia. The company develops the PJ-10 supersonic cruise missile able to strike at stationary and moving surface targets, such as warships. Based on the Russian systems known under names of the Onix, Alfa and Yakhont, the PJ-10 has a launch weight of four tons. If a decision to use the BrahMos missiles on the Project 75(I) ships is taken, the resulting submarine will appear to have a stretched hull, to house one more compartment amidships. This one will house a number of vertical launch containers. Models of the Amur 1650 exhibited at international show how this will be done.
There could be varied reasons to integrate BrahMos in the existing European hulls, but it seems to be a difficult proposition. For instance, the Germans keep reservoirs for hydrogen storage in the upper part of the hull just aft of the conning tower.
Besides, it is not about simply making a stretch to accommodate one more hull section — the effort also requires combat management and other systems to serve the missiles and insure their effective employment in wartime. Of the three European bidders, only France has experience of launching missiles vertically from under water depths.
The Russians can smoothly integrate the BrahMos on their ships, as they have a rich experience in vertical launches and, more importantly, invented the BrahMos itself as a derivative of the Onix system, in use on Russian submarines.
Russian weaknesses are chiefly aftermaths of the system crisis in their defence industrial complex that developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Meeting offset requirements is particularly an issue. Negotiations on the matter of offset need active participation of Russia’s integrated structures such as the United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) and Russian Technologies State Corporation.
Options and Possibilities
India may choose to buy more submarines from abroad in addition to acquisitions under the Projects 75 and 75(I). This may involve more Project 971 ships and, perhaps, the Project 636 as well. The latter has been popular with China, which added six improved ships in 2004-2006 to a pair acquired in 1997-1998. Besides, China has commenced building copies known as the Yuan class. Algeria took two vessels in 2009 and Vietnam signed for six. Last year, the Admiralty Shipyards in St Petersburg laid down the Novorossiysk and the Rostov-upon-Don for the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. The local customer has ordered four more improved Project 636 (06363) vessels.
The Project 636 was on offer in India sometime ago. This time, however, the Russians responded to the new Indian RFI with the more modern Amur 1650. The decision was influenced by the Russian Navy commander’s order dated 6 May 2010, on inclusion of the St Petersburg, the head vessel of Project 677, into inventory of the Baltic Sea Fleet, supplemented by ritual hoisting of the Russian Navy flag.
Development of the Lada commenced in the middle of Eighties. It was meant to be a sort of interceptor, able to defeat US fast-attack submarines, operating off Russian coasts which were trying to detect and then shadow Russian strategic nuclear submarines on deterrent patrols. For this purpose, the Project 677 was made quieter and smaller than its predecessor Project 636, yet equipped with much more powerful acoustic sensors.
At the turn of the century, the Admiralty Shipyards laid down two series hulls, the Kronshtadt and the Sevastopol for the Russian Navy, and a third for export. In November, Rubin chief engineer Igor Vilnit told the media: “Construction of these vessels for the navy goes on in accordance with respective Russian government orders. Meantime, the head vessel, the St Petersburg, is undergoing modernisation and overhauling work in preparations of her operational trials in northern waters, according to the plans of the Russian defence ministry and the navy.”
The Admiralty Shipyards reports that the series hulls are 40 per cent and 10 per cent complete respectively, while the export hull is ready for outfitting with systems. This creates good foundations for fulfilling would-be foreign orders, should overseas customers buy the Amur 1650.
n 2011, the Sevmash company (also referred to as SMP) declared its intent to built diesel-electric submarines along with the Admiralty Shipyards. Sevmash specialises in nuclear-powered submarines, with 128 units having been built in Severodvinsk so far, following commissioning of the K-3 in 1958. The company says that, without slowing down construction of nuclear-powered submarines for the Russian Navy, it can produce at least one diesel-electric submarine for export customers annually.
This statement comes along with another one: Sevmash and its patron OSK are talking to the Russian defence ministry on construction of three to four improved Project 636 submarines for the Russian Navy. Initially, the customer wanted to take six units from the Admiralty Shipyards, but latter was booked to capacity with previous orders, including that from the Vietnamese Navy. The builder is moving out of St Petersburg city to a new site on the island of Kotlin.
The importance of Sevmash is that, it adds considerably to the Russian export capabilities, especially in terms of production quality, and fulfilling industrial offset requirements. With workforce of 27,000, it is not only the largest shipbuilder in Russia, but also the best equipped and financially stable.
In November 2011, the Russian defence ministry awarded OSK and Sevmash orders for construction of four Project 955A Borey-A strategic nuclear submarines, in addition to three Project 955 Boreys, already built in Severodvinsk. The customer had ordered five Project 885M Yasen-M nuclear fast-attack submarines, in addition to the head vessel, now under sea trials. The exact sum of these contracts has not been made public but it is known that the Alexander Nevsky, a second Borey-class vessel, was build under contract worth Rouble 23 billion, which equates to USD 0.75 billion.
Lada Goes Through its Paces
Five years of the St Petersburg’s operational trials have highlighted issues that need to be resolved before the Project 677 goes into full scale production. It is a standard Russian practice that head vessel of a brand-new type goes through vigorous testing before permission is given for full scale production. For instance, a previous generation Russian design had a 4-year operational trails period on two ships during which the navy made nearly 30 major and half-a-thousand minor claims, and these were subsequently addressed and resolved by the industry before launching the type into quantity production.
Since entering service, St Petersburg sailed Baltic waters regularly every year, for trials and working out war tactics. Work on preparations of improved design for the Russian Navy is proceeding well, in view of the completion date of 2013.
In relation to the Project 75(I) competition, AIP is the hottest issue. By the time the Indian tender committee comes to the selection process of the most suitable supplier, work on shaping Amur 1650’s AIP would be complete. Due to huge investments in new technologies in the Soviet times, the Russian scientists have amassed large experience in fuel cells, and have tried them on submarines and spacecraft, and more recently, on unmanned air vehicles.
The Amur 1650 is offered with AIP that employs fuel cells and reforming of diesel fuel for hydrogen by means of electro chemical generator. This solution permits to escape the need of storing hydrogen onboard submarines, as the Germans do, and rather generate it, as necessary. This eases issues with coastal infrastructure and crew safety.
Experimental unit is under bench trials, and is available for inspection by Indian specialists. Next step in the programme is construction of AIP full-scale prototype. This work is being done by Rubin under the company’s initiative, in reply to requests of potential foreign customers.
It is interesting to notice that unlike certain Europeans, the Russian Navy is not interested in AIP. As a result, no R&D work is being pursued in relation to Project 677. The Russian thinking is that underwater time can better be enlarged by increased capacity of accumulator batteries. The classic acid batteries are giving way to newer ion-lithium. As of now, the St Petersburg is equipped with a classic battery, but in future, it will be replaced by ion-lithium, when latter gets available. It is expected that the Amur-1650 with ion-lithium batteries can get a two fold increase in underwater time – from 9 days currently up to 16, which is comparable to the current levels of German U-boats with AIP. What may happen is that Indian specialists working on the RFP to the Project 75(I) would finally drop their early requirement for AIP and rather specify underwater time and other parameters of autonomous operations.Duel Situation
Another example illustrating difference in Russian and European approaches is a duel scenario. Starting from the Project 641B, the Soviet (and then Russian) thinking was focussed on lowering acoustic fields so that diesel-electric submarines could be effectively employed on defence of naval bases and coastal waters against US fast-attack submarines, seeking to shadow Russian strategic nuclear submarines. The Soviet Union invested heavily in powerful acoustic sensors that would enable its submarines to detect enemy ships at greater distances, and allow for timely execution of evasive manoeuvres or first-see-first-strike sort of action.
Acoustic signature can be decreased by means of employing electrical motors on permanent magnets. The Russians and the Germans went that way, brining to life, motors like Siemens Permasyn on Type 212/214, a unitary engine for ‘creeping’ towards target, economic cruise and full speed. This has been a new direction in conventional submarine development, which met numerous difficulties. Higher-than-advertised noised levels were reported for RoK and Helenic navy vessels. In turn, the Russians managed to achieve noise levels, but still worked on their SED-1 motor, trying to make it deliver the full advertised power. During sea trials of St Petersburg, underwater speed tended to increase, but it is still some two-three knots below specification.
The Project 677 features state-of-the-art Lira acoustic detection system from Elektropribor company, complete with huge quasi-conformal antennae. As a result, the Saint Petersburg fared better in simulated duels with previous-generation submarines. The Lira has demonstrated stable work in Baltic waters but still needs checking in deeper ocean waters. Following completion of the Saint Petersburg modernisation and repairs, the ship will go to the Arctic for testing purposes in 2012.
During public discussions on future of the Russian Naval forces in the time when the Russian Navy was choosing between the improved Project 636 and Project 677, to equip the Black Sea Fleet, lots of information became available on results of Saint Petersburg testing. This included making public certain facts about her teething problems such as that with SED-1. Bits of that information have been skilfully used by interested parties in a campaign against the newer Russian project, seemingly in an effort to decrease its chances in the global marketplace. Competition in the Project 75(I) tender is expected to be hot, and in many ways, decisive of the future of Russian non-nuclear submarines.
(The writer is a Russian journalist based in Moscow)