Submarine: Military Secret Shows Up on the Internet
Municipal authorities in Sarov, Nizhny Novgorod Region, accidentally revealed the design for the latest Russian submarine when it posted an account of a meeting with its commander on its website. The high level of secrecy surrounding the submarine suggests that it is a unique experiment on the part of scientists and the military.
On September 6, the official site of the city of Sarov (www.adm.sarov.ru) reported on a visit to the city by the commander of the submarine Sarov Capt. 1st Rank Sergey Kroshkin. In the text, it stated that the Sarov was still in the stocks at the Severodvinsk but “the chief commander of the Navy has set the task of finishing work by the end of the year.” The number of the submarine project was given: 20120 and its technical and tactical characteristics as well. those data indicate that the new submarine is very similar to the Project 877 Paltus (Halibut) diesel submarine, but its water displacement is greater (3950 vs. 3050 tons).
On September 11, that information disappeared from the site, but it had already been reprinted by the local media. Russian Navy press service representative Alexander Smirnov told Kommersant, that he “knows nothing” about the Project 20120. Kommersant contacted the Zvezdochka shipbuilding enterprise and Northern Machine Building Enterprise (Sevmash) in Severodvinsk for commentary about the submarine. A Zvezdochka spokesman stated that no new submarines are being built there. Sevmash declined to answer Kommersant's questions. The Rubin central design bureau, a leading developer of submarines, also declined to confirm or deny its involvement with the Project 20120.
The secrecy of the new project caused surprise. In recent years, everything connected with shipbuilding has been widely covered by the media. Not only have the launches of new ship turned into big events, such purely technical operations as the transfer of the submarine Yury Dolgoruky from the workshop to the dock have as well. Officials freely divulge project numbers, names and other details to journalists.
The theory was advanced on an Internet forum yesterday that experimental Project 20120 is to test unique technology – the installation of an atomic reactor on a diesel submarine as a backup energy source. Similar experiments were conducted in the USSR. In 1985, a B-68 diesel submarine was equipped with a supplemental VAU-6 atomic reactor with a capacity of 600 kW, which gave it the ability to spend longer periods under water.
At the Krasnoe Sormovo palnt, which made the first, Soviet diesel-atomic submarine, Kommersant was told that they have no information about the Project 20120. Plant technical director Alexander Tsepilov stated, however, that the unfinished hull of the experimental submarine Sargan, begun in the late 1980s, was sent to Northern Machine Building Enterprise in 2006. It is possible that the Project 20120 was made from the base of the Sargan. There were no diesel submarine hulls at Sevmash. That plant has specialized in atomic submarines for the last 45 years, except for two Project 636M diesel submarines delivered to the Chinese Navy in 2005.
The completion of the Sargan is confirmed in the annual report of Krasnoe Sormovo for 2005, in which, among other work, the “production of a masted lifting apparatus for the Sargan order” for delivery in 2006 is mentioned.
Several countries are working on modernizing diesel submarines to create an inexpensive submarine with the autonomy of an expensive atomic model. Germany has had the most success so far, building Project 212A subs with anaerobic engines (that do not require atmospheric air) since 2000. Those submarines can remain underwater for 20 days without surfacing. Usual diesel submarines cannot remain underwater longer than four or five days.
It is possible that Russian scientists decided to renew the program to install a mini-reactor in a diesel sub in response.
A second theory is that the submarine would test a new nuclear reactor. That possibility was first mentioned in February of this year in an issue of Nizhegorodoskaya delovaya gazeta (Nizhny Novgorod Business Newspaper) dedicated to the anniversary of the Afrikantov Experimental Heavy Equipment Design Bureau, the leading developer of nuclear reactors for submarines. It says in an article that the bureau last year “developed a project for the new atomic submarine Kalitka, on which a principally new steam generating system, the Phoenix KTP-7I, is being installed.” It is possible that the mysterious Project 20120 is connected with the equally mysterious Kalitka project.
The design bureau in Nizhny Novgorod was not surprised by Kommersant's question about the 20120. Assistant to bureau director Evgeny Kusmartsev noted that “the reactors on submarines can interest U.S. intelligence, but not you,” and referred questions to the press service of Rosatom. That agency declined to make any comment.