Delta-I incident in May not an exercise: No Russian subs patrol for three months

Publish date: September 17, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

The Northern Fleet's strategic missile submarines (SSBNs) were withdrawn from patrol for three months after the May incident with one of its Delta-I class submarines.

The Northern fleet has major problems with its Delta-class strategic missile submarines. According to the September issue of Jane’s Navy International, all SSBNs were withdrawn from patrol for three months after the May incident with the Delta-I submarine in the Barents Sea. Following the incident, inspections were carried out fleet-wide. The Delta-I submarine suffered a leak in one of the SS-N-8 fuel-tanks. Reports from Russia shortly after the incident claimed that the missiles were being checked, and that corrosion and weakening of the weapons was heightening the risk of an explosion.

On May 6, rumours about the incident started to circulate in Severomorsk, the Northern Fleet’s main base at the Kola Peninsula. The Delta-I class submarine surfaced from its position in the Barents Sea. Observations from a Norwegian military aircraft in the area showed that one of the submarine missile’s hatches was open, in an attempt to ventilate potential toxic gases from the leaking missile. The submarine went to one of the bases on the Kola Peninsula, presumably Vidyaevo or Gadzhievo.

On May 7, high-ranking officers from the Northern Fleet assembled a press conference in Murmansk to explain the situation to reporters. According to them, the fleet units were engaged in an exercise for an emergency situation on a nuclear submarine.

In reality, the “exercise” was a real emergency, and the fleet was afraid of an explosion on board the nuclear-powered submarine. Worst-case scenario preparations were undertaken.

The Delta-I submarine has two reactors and presumably 12 missiles with nuclear weapons. The two only Delta-Is still in operation in the Northern fleet were put into active service in 1973 (K-447) and 1974 (K-457). This makes them the oldest operational strategic missiles submarines in the fleet.