0 $
2,500 $
5,000 $
3,492 $

“Black Holes” In The Ocean


“Black Holes” In The Ocean

The “Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky” “Varshavyanka” submarine of Project 636.3 – © Ministry of Defence of Russia

Written by Roman Azanov; Originally appeared at TASS, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

These are the only diesel submarines in the world that have been used to carry out salvo firing in combat conditions

The commander of one of the “Varshavyanka” was once asked if he wants to serve on a submarine of great size, to which he smiled slyly and replied: “You know, our boats are still missing. These “black holes” in the ocean are hard to identify, easy to lose and impossible to find…” They are small, fast and manoeuvrable. And are considered among the most silent in their class.

For the fact that it is quite problematic to find them in the sea depths, the NATO military unofficially nicknamed the electric-diesel submarines of Project 636.3 “black holes” in the ocean.

The Navy of the Russian Federation has already strengthened its combat power in the Black Sea with these submarines – six boats are serving in the Black Sea Fleet. The Pacific Fleet is eagerly waiting for them. It is planned that by the end of this year the St-Andrew’s flag will be raised on the first of six submarines under construction for our Far Eastern borders. On November 1st, two more were pledged. And it will be able to “silently observe” the events taking place in the Pacific region. However, presently the “Varshavyanka” cause concern in the West, being in the waters of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Seas.

Birth of submarines

The name “Varshavyanka” came from the 1970s, when the boats of Project 877EKM (export versions of the submarines of Project 877 “Halibut”) were supposed to be delivered in large series for export to the Warsaw Pact countries. According to Project 877EKM in the 1983-2000 years, 18 submarines were built, which still successfully serve in India, China, Vietnam and Algeria.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

The “Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky” submarine being launched – © Ministry of Defence of Russia

The Russian Navy originally planned to replace its Project 877 boats built in the 1980s with Project 677 “Lada” submarines. However, due to numerous problems with their design, construction and testing in 2010, it was decided to build a series of submarines for the Russian fleet on the basis of Project 636, the production of which, thanks to export contracts, has already been worked out by Russian shipyards.

Now the target construction for the needs of our fleet of submarines of Project 636.3 is carried out at the “Admiralty Shipyards” in St-Petersburg. It is the core enterprise of the industry (as part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation) and the centre of non-nuclear submarine shipbuilding in Russia.

Equipping the Pacific Fleet with new boats of Project 636.3 is carried out as part of the active renewal of the non-nuclear component of the submarine forces of the Russian Navy

Nikolai Evmenov
Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral

This year St-Petersburg shipyards celebrated their 315th anniversary. They are the undisputed leader in the construction of submarines of this class and since 1983 successfully supply them for export. In just six years, from August 2010 to November 2016, the Black Sea series was built: since 2014, the company has transferred two ships to the fleet annually.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

Submarine hull of Project 636.3 in the “Admiralty Shipyards” assembly shop – © Oleg Kuleshov/JSC “Admiralty Shipyards”

At the same time, the construction of a series of submarines takes place under conditions of full production load and large-scale reconstruction of the enterprise. Construction of new facilities and modernisation of existing workshops is carried out without stopping production, and the construction of all orders is clearly in accordance with contractual obligations.


The first experiment of underwater shipbuilding at the Admiralty Shipyards dates back to 1912, when the hulls for boats of the “Bars” type were manufactured. In 1931, the plant began to build hulls for submarines of the “Shch” type. Before the Great Patriotic War, 69 ships (or a third of the submarine fleet of the USSR at that time) left the slipway. Then in the postwar period, large electric-diesel submarines of Project 611 for ocean trips replaced the small boats. Then came Project 877 submarines, which had very low sonic field characteristics. Today this project is recognised and highly appreciated all over the world.

In the 1970-1990 years, the main achievement for the St-Petersburg shipyards was the construction of titanium, complex-automated nuclear submarines of Project 705 – relatively small, but with high combat efficiency. The “Lyres” could pursue any submarine and break away from any pursuit, only taking about a minute to accelerate to full speed. They were the world’s only mass-produced liquid-metal coolant reactor ships.

The modernised Project 636.3, currently under construction at the shipyards, belongs to the third generation of diesel submarines. It was developed in the Central Design Bureau of Marine Engineering “Ruby” team under the leadership of chief designer Igor Molchanov.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

Launching ceremony of the “Stary Oskol” submarine – © Yuri Belinsky/TASS

The contract for the construction of the Pacific series of six submarines was signed at the Army-2016 forum. This was a continuation of the long-term plan of the Russian Defence Ministry to strengthen the combat readiness of the Russian Navy and the programme to improve electric-diesel submarines. On the instructions of the military CDB “Ruby” the main systems of the ship of the basic Project 363 were modernised: a complex of torpedo and missiles weapons, information and control systems, radar and sonar systems. A number of improvements were made to the ship-wide systems in order to increase the stealth of the submarine and improve living conditions for the crew.

Silence and immersion

These non-nuclear submarines (by NATO codification – Improved Kilo) are designed to destroy surface ships and vessels, enemy submarines, patrol, reconnaissance, protection of communications in the near sea zone.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

“Veliki Novgorod” “Varshavyanka” submarine of Project 636.3 – © JSC “Admiralty Shipyards”

Compared with nuclear “pariahs” they are very small: the strategists of Project 955 exceed the “Varshavyanka’s” in displacement by six times, in one nuclear-powered vessel along the length will fit two and a half diesel submarines. The length of the 636 is about 74m, the width is 10m, maximum displacement does not exceed 4 thousand tons. The durable hull provides the submarine with a working depth of 240m and a maximum depth of 300m.

“Varshavyanka” is a two-hull boat with modern contours, high buoyance and unsinkability. Six compartments separated by waterproof partitions, which, according to the developers, allows her to stay afloat in case of emergency flooding of one of the compartments, while maintaining combat readiness. The crew, the power plant, and other critical systems and mechanisms are housed in a sturdy hull capable of withstanding high water pressure. On the outside there is a “light” hull, giving the submarine a streamlined shape. The use of noise-absorbing elements provides high stealth to the boat.

The ship is equipped with modern means to reduce its noise level to the natural background noise of the ocean, which provides the boat with a guaranteed proactive detection and the ability to attack enemy ships with anti-ship missiles from a distance exceeding its detection, as well as timely evasion of attacks.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

“Varshavyanka” submarine during the “Maritime Cooperation” exercise in the Sea of Japan, 2017 – © Yuri Smityuk/TASS

The submarines are equipped with two diesel generators with a capacity of 1500 kW, one main rowing electric motor (about 5500 HP) and one electric motor for cruising speed. In addition, the submarine has two backup diesel engines and two groups of batteries. There is one screw with seven blades.

By the way, the main shaft of the submarine of Project 636 rotates on wooden guides made of the bakaut ironwood. It turns out that this wood has long been used in shipbuilding. Its peculiarity is that it emits a natural lubricant that allows the use the nodes of this wood for 20 years. Not every metal bearing can boast of such a resource.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

Aft part of the hull of the 636.3 submarine in the “Admiratly Shipyards” assembly shop – © Ministry of Defence of Russia

The surface speed of the “Varshavyanki” reaches 17 knots (more than 30km/n), underwater it reaches 20 knots. Autonomy of navigation is 45 days with a crew of 52. These submarines have an optimal combination of acoustic stealth and target detection ranges, the latest inertial navigation systems, modern automated information and control systems and powerful high-speed torpedo and missile weapons ensure the world priority of submarines of this class in the field of non-nuclear submarine shipbuilding.

The main “Kalibr”

The main weapons of Project 636.6 are the “Kalibr” missiles. There are six 533-mm torpedo tubes in the nose; ammunition includes 18 torpedoes or 24 mines and the “Kalibr-PL” cruise missiles complex. The range of these sea-based missiles is more than 2,000 km.

According to the Ministry of Defence, missiles of this type have low radar visibility and due to the envelope at ultra-low altitudes of the terrain are difficult to detect by any air defence means. The accuracy of the target, despite the range of application, is several metres. The weight of the “Kalibr” warhead is 500 kg.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

The bow end of the hull of the Project 636.3 submarine in the “Admiralty Shipyards” assembly shop – © Oleg Kuleshov/JSC “Admiralty Shipyards”

The complex includes five different missiles developed on the basis of the anti-ship cruise missile 3M 54E “Grenade”. The export version of the complex (Club) can use ammunition of various types with a range of up to 300 km.

The ratio of target detection range and acoustic stealth of the 636s is optimal: “Vashavyanka” can “see” the enemy at the maximum distance, get close to it and not be detected, watch it, and if necessary, use their formidable weapons.

The first combat use of these submarines took place on December 8, 2015 during the Russian military operation in Syria. Located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, the submarine Rostov-on-Don launched missiles of the Kalibr-PL complex at terrorist targets in the Syrian province of Raqqa.

This was the first time in the history of the submarine fleet of the Russian Navy off missile strikes on a real enemy. During 2017, other boats of this project, “Krasnodar” and “Veliky Novgorod”, also showed their high efficiency, inflicted similar strikes on Syrian terrorists.

The anxiety of the West

The United States and Europe have repeatedly acknowledged that Russia has a powerful submarine fleet and invests in its improvement. The new Russian submarines, according to Western admirals and generals, are extremely effective and pose a great danger.

In an interview, the commander of the US Navy in Europe and Africa, Admiral James Fogle, who concurrently heads the Joint command of NATO forces in Naples (Italy), spoke about our “Varshavyanka”: “They are armed with Kalibr cruise missiles, they are very effective combat systems. And from the places where the Russians use them, they can hit any European capital”. “Will they do it? I don’t think so, but nevertheless we need to be aware of where they are at any given time,” he added.

The admiral made the claim that Russia has expanded the presence of its submarines in the North Atlantic Ocean, as well as in the Arctic Ocean. “They let us know that they are there. There are many more of them, and they operate in places where they did not operate before”, he said.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

“Stary Oskol” submarine in the Bosphorus Strait – © REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The Daily Telegraph newspaper wrote about how “Varshavyanka” can operate in the territorial waters of the UK, while remaining invisible. According to the sources of the publication, these submarines allegedly pose a security threat by monitoring the movements of the British Fleet in the North Atlantic and connecting to underwater communication cables. The interlocutors of the Daily Telegraph consider this a powerful argument in favour of increasing the funding of the Royal Navy.

“Varshavyanka”: “Take it and use it”

Project 636 has quite good export prospects. And it became possible because the ship has good modernisation capabilities; initially successful layout solutions were laid out. And an important point – its low noisiness, because “noisy boats will not be saved by any modernisation”.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

“Stary Oskol” and “Rostov-on-Don” submarines – © REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov

“This is a kind of “Kalashnikov”: it seems to be nothing special, but everything is simple, convenient, clear – take it and use it. And here we have about the same principle. The competitiveness of this project is supported by its constant modernisation. The catalyst for success in the last decade, of course, has been the integration of the Club missile system. As soon as it was first implemented for India, it stimulated a great interest in the ship”, – already in 2014 in an interview with the magazine “Arms Export”, the Deputy General Director of “Ruby” for foreign economic activity Andrei Baranov described the export prospects of this boat.

Experts note that the ships of this class have a significant modernisation reserve, which allows the optimisation of the project for the requirements of the customer. According to the developers, the “Varshavyanka” differs from foreign submarines of its class by its exceptionally powerful universal armament, which is able to fight against surface ships and submarines. It can also strike at ground targets – while such a possibility does not exist in any of the European submarines that are offered for export.

“Black Holes” In The Ocean

Submarines of Project 636.3 – © Oleg Kuleshov/JSC “Admiralty Shipyards”

With the construction of the Pacific series of ships of this class for the Russian Navy will be much larger, and these “black holes” will operate in those places of the world’s oceans where they did not operate before. At the same time, it is still secretive, fast and quiet.




Do you like this content? Consider helping us!