The head of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, Alexei Rakhmanov, said that the decision to build proven Project 636 Varshavyanka diesel-electric submarines for the Pacific Fleet was absolutely correct. Otherwise, in the case of a decision to build boats of the more modern project 677 Lada, USC would have to disrupt delivery. At the same time, he admitted that the boats of Project 677 are "significantly ahead" of the Varshavyanka and are a striking representative of the next generation of submarines. The fact that we have not yet learned how to build them, he chose to modestly keep silent...
In general, Project 677 can rightfully be called “long-suffering” - the head boat of the project, “St. Petersburg”, although it was handed over with great difficulty, did not take up combat duty. Instead, it has been in trial operation for many years in the Baltic Fleet, and they still have not been able to fix all the flaws that were found on it. Two other boats of this series, "Kronstadt" and "Velikie Luki", have been under construction for 15 years, but still no one knows when they will be commissioned, and whether this will happen at all. Both boats were initially suspended in construction, and in 2013 and 2015 they were re-laid down according to the updated project 677D.
It must be admitted that the boats of the 677 project are also far from new - the lead boat, which is mentioned above, was laid down in the distant 1997, and commissioned in 2010. Commissioned, despite many flaws - the combat information and control system "Lithium ", The advanced sonar complex at that time (the most important instrument of the submarine, its eyes and ears!)" Lyra "did not show the declared characteristics, and the newest batteries, which were supposed to provide the boat with greater underwater autonomy, for some reason worked at 60% of their face value. It is clear that with such a set of gifts from designers and builders, there could be no question of putting "St. Petersburg" on alert. Therefore, although it was put on the balance of the Navy, it remained a guinea pig for scientists and designers.
True, then they promised that all the shortcomings would be promptly eliminated and we would get an excellent advanced diesel-electric boat of the new generation - almost silent, highly automated, hearing every rustle and armed with the latest technology. Alas, watching the construction of the next two submarines of the already updated project, we can conclude that the optimistic forecasts are in no hurry to come true. And then there's import substitution...
So, the decision of the USC and the Navy to build Varshavyanka for the Pacific Fleet was absolutely correct? It turns out so. True, with one clarification - this decision was not made from a good life, and it is still impossible to call it optimal for the fleet, the state's defense capability and the country's budget. It looks more like, excuse me, to the saying "from a black sheep, even a tuft of wool".
Although knowledgeable people will now probably object to me - project 636.3, according to which the Varshavyankas are being built for the Pacific Fleet, is not such a "shred of wool". This is a significantly improved design, in which only the shape and some basic components remain from the initial boats of this type. That's right, and yet let's try to figure it out.
Varshavyanka are export versions of Project 877 "Halibut" submarines developed in the 70s of the last century. Excellent ships for that time. But at the moment, alas, most of the boats of this project have either been withdrawn from the fleet or are waiting for their turn. The Varshavyankas created on their basis were initially even simpler than the Halibuts, but some successful solutions (as well as the export potential) forced the Rubin OKB to focus on further improving this model. The result was a boat for its time, very, very worthy.
One of the main advantages of diesel-electric submarines is stealth. If the nuclear submarine cannot shut down the reactor in a submerged position (more precisely, it can, but then it will not be able to start it up), then the diesel-electric submarine, while submerging, turns off the diesel and continues to move on electric motors. On an economical run, the noise from modern electric drives is very small, while a switched on reactor, no matter how you isolate it, always gives some kind of vibration. In addition to the noise of the shafts and propellers, this makes the nuclear submarine a priori somewhat noisier than the diesel-electric submarine.
And Varshavyanka, according to some estimates, were among the recognized champions in this matter. The nickname "Black Hole" was given to them by NATO sailors for a reason. It was assumed that, due to their low noise level, these submarines could outplay the best American submarines of the Los Angeles type at that time in a duel situation. And this, at a tenfold lower price, is a serious argument in favor of our boat.
But with the appearance in the American submarine fleet of boats of the "Seawolf" type, and then "Virginia", the situation changed. The Varshavyanka was no longer superior to them in secrecy. But as a sonar equipment, we traditionally lost. And the alignment of forces has changed exactly the opposite - some of our most secretive submarines have ceased to be a serious argument in the dispute between the submarine fleets of the two superpowers, which means that a whole range of tasks to control the water area in the areas of combat duty of our strategic nuclear submarines has become inaccessible to them.
Subsequent modifications of Varshavyanka squeezed out of this project the maximum of the remaining possibilities. But I must say that potential adversaries also did not stand still, and several fleets had new, more advanced diesel-electric submarines. They, among other things, were distinguished by the presence of air-independent power plants, which made some diesel-electric submarines almost equal in terms of underwater autonomy to nuclear submarines. In addition, the old project began to lose the race for stealth, and competitors from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain and other countries created submarines that surpass even the later versions of Varshavyanka in terms of their characteristics.
That is, the need for a new diesel-electric submarine was very great, and one can only guess why such problems arose in Russia. Perhaps, by the way, it is precisely because of the presence of a generally good Varshavyanka - why come up with something new if there is such a "workhorse"? Although it is clear that there are significantly more reasons, and the main one is the technological lag in some industries.
In order to understand whether it was the right decision to build Project 636.3 boats for the Pacific Fleet, we need to at least roughly imagine what kind of opponents these boats can meet in this theater of military operations. And here the picture is not very happy for us ...
It is clear that, first of all, this is the US submarine fleet, in which the main striking force is made up of the Virginia multipurpose nuclear submarines. Probably, it cannot be said that upon meeting with this boat the Varshavyanka is doomed - she may have some chances. However, they are most likely associated only with passive waiting, working from an ambush. While patrolling, even at the smallest speed, the advantage will be with the "Virginia".
The Japanese submarine fleet also poses a significant threat. The newest diesel-stirling-electric submarines "Soryu" are potentially very formidable fighters, combining high stealth, great autonomy and excellent quality of onboard equipment and weapons. The Stirling engine provides them with excellent underwater autonomy, the traditional Japanese quality of manufacturing of components and assemblies, coupled with the borrowing of the best Western developments, presupposes the highest stealth, and torpedo and missile armament makes these boats a formidable enemy, even for submarines, even for surface ships. At the moment, the Japanese submarine fleet has at least 12 such boats, and this figure may increase.
South Korea's submarine fleet is also moving forward. In 2019, sea trials of the newest nationally built submarine SS 083 DosanAnChang-Ho began in this country. This boat is the lead in the KSS-III project, and it is assumed that its capabilities will be at the level of the most advanced non-nuclear submarines in the world. The boat will be 83.5 meters long, 9.6 meters wide, the submerged speed will reach 20 knots, and the cruising range in economic mode will reach 10 thousand miles. In addition to 8 bow torpedo tubes, the submarine will have 6 vertical launchers for cruise missiles with a range of 1,500 kilometers.
It should be noted that at the moment diesel-electric submarines of the German project 214 (KSS-II) are being actively built for the South Korean fleet. These boats are more modern than our Varshavyanka, and besides, it can be assumed that Korean shipbuilders (some of the best in the world) received in this case both invaluable experience in building modern submarines, and the most advanced technologies, in particular, technologies for creating high power lithium-ion batteries.
In total, it is planned to build 9 new diesel-electric submarines of the KSS-III project, in three series of three each. The project should be completed by 2028.
With all due respect to our shipbuilders, we must clearly realize that both near Kamchatka, and in the Sea of Japan, and in the Kuril ridge region, our submariners will be waiting for our submariners superior in quality and numerical strength of the submarine fleet of neighboring states. Only the Chinese submarine fleet is not completely clear - it is clear that in terms of numbers it already significantly exceeds ours, but so far there is hope that technologically Chinese submarines of all types are not more perfect than ours.
Of the advantages of the mentioned decision, one can only note the appearance at the Pacific Fleet of six carriers of Kalibr cruise missiles. This, taking into account the "special warheads", and simply nuclear warheads, can be quite a serious argument in any dispute. But this is, perhaps, all the serious advantages of such a decision...
In conclusion, I would like to note that there was a slight hitch with the Project 636.3 submarines, which were well mastered by our industry. As it was reported in August, the USC still got out of the schedule for the construction of Varshavyanka for the Pacific Fleet. The laying of the fifth and sixth boats was postponed "due to problems with suppliers".
Also, for comparison, we note that South Korean shipbuilders began developing a completely new submarine for themselves in 2012. After 7 years, the lead boat of the new series entered the factory tests. And there is little doubt that the series will be perfected and will replenish the South Korean submarine fleet in less than a decade.
We have been suffering with the Lada project since the nineties of the last century. And it is very likely that it will become obsolete before our fleet is replenished with at least one combat-ready submarine of this project.
Therefore, we agree with Mr. Rakhmanov - it's good that they decided to build Varshavyanka for the Pacific Fleet. Sad but good...