Written by Maksim Klimov; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
It is meaningless to build fifth generation submarines without taking into account modern methods of their detection
The main tactical property of submarines is stealth. With this in mind, the dramatic increase over the past quarter century of the effectiveness of their search and defense sharply raised the question of revising the appearance of modern and promising submarines, their role and models of application in modern war. Until the issues of protection against detection are resolved, it is pointless to start designing the next generation boats.
According to the theory on the matter, science is arguing still, but the fact remains that a number of successful detections and search operations performed by anti-submarine aircraft of the naval aviation with a special configuration of a conventional search radar “Initiative” (development of 60s), ensuring the detection of submerged submarines by traces on the surface.
The head of the Department of Advanced Design Research Institute Andrey Vasilyev Krylov reminisces on the Deputy commander of the Navy for shipbuilding and weapons Admiral Fyodor Novoselov: “At the meeting, he did not give a word to the head of the Institute, eager to talk about experiments to detect the surface trace of the submarine using radar. Much later, at the end of 1989, I asked him why he had dismissed the question. Fyodor Ivanovich replied, “I know about effect, it is impossible to protect against such detection, why upset our submariners.””
The question arises: does the principle of “No need to upset” also apply to the military and political leadership of the country? The issue is very relevant in view of the huge material and financial investments in the submarine fleet.
Today we have a sharp increase in the capabilities of anti-submarine forces, which ask extremely tough questions about the appearance of modern submarines, their tactics and weapons. And it is necessary to understand objectively by carrying out special research, tests and research exercises. Only after such work is done can the question be raised about the beginning of the technical design and creation of nuclear-powered fifth generation ships.
There is another aspect: is it necessary to raise such critical special issues in the public media? This depends on the situation, but in the one that we have with the Russian Navy today, when many problems are hushed up or varnished, when the Armed Forces under the guise of new and promising models of the Air Force sometimes supplies known antiques, there is no other way.
So what are the actual problems that shipbuilders need to solve?
Stealth in the primary hydro-acoustic field (low noise) is characterised by the levels of broadband noise (BBN) and narrow-band discrete components (NBDC) of the spectrum. Today, an extremely important factor is the preservation of low levels of BBN and NBDC at high speeds and at great depths under compressed pressure robust housing and means of acoustic protection of submarines. Contrary to the advertising statements of some individuals and organisations, there is a noticeable lag of our submarines behind the western ones in terms of low noise, however, taking into account the achieved levels, this difference is small and with competent tactical actions it allows us to act with dignity against opponents. Today, the main direction of reducing the submarine noise should not be reducing the specification levels, which are low, but the expansion of the range of low noise in speed and depth.
The next question is secrecy of the secondary sonar field (sonar visibility). Taking into account the width of new active low-frequency search systems, the role of low sonar visibility becomes extremely important, and sometimes more important than low noise. New tools provide effective detection of even completely silent submarines, when the active low-frequency “illumination” resonates the light hull structures and the reflectivity of the submarine is significantly increased by a set of external frames. And if the vibration excitability of light structures is extinguished by the use of composites, the problem of a strong secondary “response” of the set is sharp.
Stealth on extremely low frequencies fields is a code name, implying fluctuations in the water column caused by the submarine. It depends on the size of the submarines and the accuracy of their depth retention, maneuvering in the vertical plane. This issue must be dealt with very seriously, first of all from a practical point of view: under what conditions the secrecy of our submarines can be ensured in the adjacent seas with shallow depths. At the same time, the registration of anomalies on the water surface by radar is only one of the directions of non-traditional methods of search.
Next is the field trace of the submarine. Contrary to popular belief of not having domestic analogues of systems to search the trail abroad, there are similar models, not for exploration, but serial production, including military submarines.
The effectiveness of western search facilities, such as electronic reconnaissance, is increasing in relation to our submarines because of a design error. In pursuit of reducing the number of holes in the robust housing and, accordingly, the number of retractable devices, we combined on one mast the radar and the radio intelligence station (RIS). As a result, the high visibility of the locator unmasks our submarines and makes it extremely difficult to maintain the RIS in the area of active operation of enemy aircraft.
In addition, the effectiveness of magneto-metric search tools has improved significantly in recent years.
In recent years, laser scanners have been added to the classical optical detection tools, which provide the detection of submarines in the near-surface layer to a depth of 100 metres.
In view of the possibilities of new means of search, the task of ensuring secrecy today has no absolute technical solutions. Even a completely silent submarine will be detected due to the low-frequency active “illumination”. A high search performance of new tools and the possibility of their use from the air allow to quickly increase the anti-submarine potential in the area of primary detection, in fact depriving the submarine of the chance of evasion.
That is, the solution to the problem of stealth and combat stability of submarines is possible only at the tactical and operational levels. In many cases, today the most effective way to restore the secrecy of the detected submarine will be tactical, to destroy the carrier of anti-submarine weapons that have made contact with it.
There is also an obvious need to include submarines in the network-centric control system and data exchange of the theatre. There is a problem of ensuring the secrecy of communication, but this is a complex concept, and the inclusion in the network is now one of the conditions for ensuring the combat stability of submarines. In fact, it is now being implement in the US Navy.
Objectively, our sonar lags behind those of the western countries. However, this gap is technically minimal, and in the new prototypes we demonstrate a decent level. True, only for the technology. In the implementation of modern concepts of the use of hydro-acoustics, we are lagging behind critically.
The most serious drawback of our new anti-submarine ships with helicopters, the Project 20380 Corvette and Project 22350 Frigate, are the absence of multi-position work of sonars. Helicopter buoys, its lowered sonar station and the sonar ships operate in completely different frequency ranges.
The problem of conceptual backwardness is further exacerbated by our underestimation of operational oceanography, which is the foundation of modern anti-submarine action for our competitors.
Taking into account the environmental factors dramatically increases the ability of forces to search for submarines and to ensure its secrecy, but an effective system requires a comprehensive consideration of issues. Instead, we have a series of disparate papers exploring various factors, but often without any connection to each other. The practical usefulness of such work is extremely low.
Given the state of stealth, sonar and general operational environment in most tactical situations, the battle will begin with a sudden attack on us. Due to the significant backlog in torpedo issues, we have an unreasonable hope for anti-ship missiles (ASM). However, since the start of the first ASM, our boat actually loses stealth, after which a strong opponent will arrange her raid with aircraft.
At the same time, today there are technical capabilities to perform hidden torpedo attacks from outside the anti-submarine warfare zone of the target. The west implemented this in new samples of torpedo weapons. We also have an acute problem of noise of spent torpedoes. In fact, the question is: is it realistic, given the capabilities of our industry, to meet the promising requirements for low noise torpedoes of caliber 53cm or need to switch to a larger caliber? This directly affects the shape of our future submarines, without careful consideration of any “Husky” in a practical sense is out of the question.
In view of the expediency of reducing the size of submarines, the question arises of the necessary ammunition (especially missiles). Obviously, we will not get the answer as long as the latest “Zircon” will not fly confidently.
The appearance and effectiveness of weapons are the defining parameters of promising submarines. We are, without a satisfactory answer in weapons or in stealth, already actively developing the budget for the design of fifth generation boats.