Nuclear naval vessels

Publish date: February 5, 2003

In the period from 1955 till 2001, a total of 248 nuclear powered submarines and five nuclear powered surface ships were built for the Soviet (later Russian) Navy.

The nuclear powered submarines can be divided into the following four groups:

  • Ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)
  • Guided cruise missile submarines (SSGN)
  • Torpedo attack submarines (SSN)
  • Special mission purpose submarines (SMS)

    Nuclear submarines were built at four shipyards in the former Soviet Union. These are Sevmash in Severodvinsk, Amursky at Komsomolsk-na-Amur in the Far East, Krasnoye Soromovo in Nizhny Novgorod and at Admiralty shipyard in St Petersburg. Today, construction of nuclear powered submarines is only undertaken at the Sevmash yard in Severodvinsk. One unfinished Akula class submarine is still in the workshop at Amursky shipyard.

    The technological development of submarines can be divided into generations. Three generations of nuclear powered submarines have been built, and the first of the upcoming fourth generation is currently under construction at the naval yard in Severodvinsk. All submarines of the first generation have been taken out of service and are awaiting decommissioning. Also, most of the second generation as well as some third generation submarines have also been taken out of operation.

    The first generation submarines were built between 1955 and 1966. The second generation submarines were built from 1963 to 1992, and the third generation submarines have been built in the period from 1976 until the present. Construction of the first submarine of the fourth generation began in 1993.

    In addition to the three generations of submarines, three prototype submarines and seven attack submarines of the Alfa class with liquid metal cooled reactors have been built. None of them is in active operation today. One prototype Severodvinsk class submarine is under construction in Severodvinsk. Information on this submarine is very scarce. Three classes of nuclear mini-submarines were also built, but it is unclear whether they remain in operation.

    Since 1974 four nuclear powered cruisers, Project 1144 — Kirov class, have been built. These are Admiral Ushakov (1980), Admiral Lasarev (1984), Admiral Nakhimov (1988) and Pyotr Veliky (1995). Today, only Pyotr Veliky is in active service, based in Severomorsk. A nuclear powered communication ship, Project 1941 — Kapusta-class (SSV-33 Ural), was commissioned in 1989 but it was taken out of service shortly after entering service.

    Following the development and launching of the different generations of submarines, four generations of submarine reactors were developed, including a number of prototype reactors. The great majority of reactors used in the naval vessel were pressurised water reactors (PWR).

    Some of the prototype reactors were cooled with liquid metal. One of these was installed in the hull of a November class vessel. Only one type of the prototype liquid metal cooled reactors (LMCR) went into serial production. This reactor was used in the submarines of Project 705 — Alfa class.

    The reactors onboard the surface vessels are similar in design to the PWR-type reactors onboard the civilian nuclear powered icebreakers. The thermal power of Russian submarine reactors varies from 10 MWh for the smaller reactors used in the mini submarines, to 200 MWh for the reactors in the fourth generation submarine(s). The majority of Russian submarines carry two reactors, but the newer submarines are equipped with one single reactor.

    The future of Russian nuclear powered submarine forces
    Despite the end of the cold war, Russia has clearly stated that the Northern Fleet will remain the most important part of her nuclear strategic arm forces. If Russia fulfils the terms of the START-II treaty, by the year 2007 more than 50 percent of Russia’s strategic nuclear warheads will be placed on nuclear submarines, most of them assigned to the Northern Fleet. According to the START-II treaty, a maximum of 1,750 nuclear warheads may be placed on submarines. Most likely, the number will be even less than this by 2007.

    It is likely that the Northern Fleet will maintain its fleet of seven Delta-IV submarines until the new Borei class strategic missile submarines enter service sometime after 2007. In addition, the attack submarines of the Akula class and the Oscar-II class cruise missile submarines will be maintained in active service. The nearest future of the Typhoon submarines is unclear, but most likely the Typhoons will be taken out of active service within the next few years.