Written by Maksim Klimov; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The lack of hyperbaric chambers dooms submariners to death, who could be brought to the surface
On September 19, on the state defence department order a review was announced of proposals for tender of the “Development of a Pilot Project” for the “Development of a modular rescue system of submarine crews in emergency situations, lying on the bottom of the sea (code name “Luchina”)”. The implementation of this work opens up the possibilities of a way out of the protracted crisis of the Navy rescue ships.
During the “Army 2018” forum, a round table of industry and the Navy was held on the problems of rescue ships and special underwater vehicles. Today, despite significant financial investments, the possibility of continuous (for a large number of rescued at the same time) decompression of the crew of a sunken submarine has not been provided, and in the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets there are absolutely no such facilities available, and in the Pacific Fleet, the existing facilities, even on the newest rescue ship “Igor Belousov” are not enough to save the crews of nuclear submarines of the Navy.
The question arises: where did the money go, spent on this matter after the death of the nuclear submarine “Kursk”? A significant part was left for the wholesale purchase of imported remote-controlled unmanned underwater vehicles and for the construction of the rescue vessel “Igor Belousov”. From the JSC Tetis Pro report at the round-table: “Of 155 delivered to the Navy, only 27 were domestic”. But at the same round-table there was a report on the domestic remote-controlled unmanned underwater vehicles (RCUUV) from representatives of the Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio-electronics (TUSUR). Among others, long-term work by domestic RCUUVs at great depths to search for the Argentinian submarine “San Juan” was mentioned (these RCUUVs were purchased by a different department of the Russian Defence Ministry, not the Navy). Representatives of 40 Central Research Institutes at the round-table gave lofty appraisals of the RCUUV RTM-500 based on the results of the work on the nuclear submarine “Kursk”. However, none of the RTM-500 was purchased afterwards, all the money was spent on imports.
There were many controversies around the rescue ship “Igor Belousov” and its deep-diving complex GVK-450, during which the main thing was overshadowed, in fact, the deep-sea diving complex “threw away” from a fairly small ship the hyperbaric chambers for rescued submariners, with the remaining only enough for 60 people. It turns out that the Navy’s newest rescue ship is unable to provide a flow of crew decompression of any nuclear submarine and this is a key problem and a mistake of this project.
That is, we knowingly mark more living people raised to the surface from the wrecked submarine as “planned losses”, a number of the rescued either die or become disabled without timely decompression. And the view that in a submarine accident most of the crew “dies anyways”, is not only blasphemous, but simply wrong, as the experience of past accidents shows, and in view of the specific design of our recent generation of submarines (“small feed”).
There is something absolutely incomprehensible what is happening with the hyperbaric chambers: the newer the Navy rescue vessel project, the worse is the situation. Let’s compare (given the size of the crew, for example the nuclear submarine Project 667BDRM, about 140 people) rescue ship of the Navy:
- “Alagez” (built in the USSR), pressure chambers for 100 people;
- “Igor Belousov”, hyperbaric chambers for 60 people;
- Potential rescue ship Project 02981, hyperbaric chamber for 40 people.
It turns out that more than two thirds of the crew of the nuclear submarine is doomed to be among the planned losses on the “promising rescue ship”, and even for the personnel of the diesel submarine this is not enough.
There is no doubt that the plant is able to quickly build a series of rescue ships of Project 02981, but does the Navy need such ships? Rescue ships, of course, are necessary, but obviously with different facilities for rescue operations.
A tough discussion took place at the round table on this issue. The position of the organisation, whose complex is planned to be used, was that, given the installation of the deep-sea diving complex GVK-300, allegedly there is no space for additional hyperbaric chambers. The question arises: why to we need the GVK, if its capabilities are fully overridden by the modern RCCUV, and the atmospheric diving suits? Specialists before have repeatedly raised these questions. So who and for what motives, contrary to professional assessments, persistently pushes the wholesale supply of GVK that the Navy does not need? In fact, the deliveries of carrier ships that are expensive and unnecessary GVKs are being pushed instead of rescue ships for the Navy.
Are there any other solutions? Yes, there is, this was heard at the Naval Salon in 2017 suggesting a modular system of assistance and rescue of submarine crew (IUCN PL), a kind of cascade of pressure chambers, providing the necessary number of them even on unsuitable vessels. In a basic complete set the complex accomodates 60 people with a possibility of an extreme overload of up to 120 people was stated. It is this approach that should be considered fundamentally correct: the modular design allows to increase the capabilities of the hyperbaric complex, taking into account the emerging conditions and features of the rescue work on the boats of specific projects.
The obvious solution to our situation, for the future rescue vessel of Project 02981 is the cascade of hyperbaric chambers, the Modular Rescue and Rescue System for the Submarine Crew (MSOPSE) by providing in-line decompression of at least 60 people for the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets and at least 140 people for the Northern and Pacific Fleets.
Moreover, the autonomous underwater rescue vehicles commonly used in our country are extremely expensive, have a number of limitations in stormy conditions and have poor efficiency for rescue operations. Taking into account the limited displacement of the rescue vessel of Project 02981 and the presence of a dynamic positioning system, it is advisable to install a modern self-propelled rescue bell (“hybrid of a heavy RCCUV and rescue bell”) on it as the main rescue vehicle. The possibility of creating such a domestic apparatus (“bells”) in a short time and for a reasonable price is beyond a doubt. The creation of such a device provides an opportunity in the conditions of really limited funding to actually create a capable rescue system for all theaters of the Navy (the need of about six rescue ships). Thus, the possibility of receiving a rescue ship and the use of an autonomous underwater apparatus must be preserved.