SSGN Oscar II Class (Project 949.A) (Kursk), Russia


As a cruise-missile submarine, the Oscar was designed primarily to attack NATO aircraft carrier battle groups. To cope with its resource problems, the Russian Navy, in the early 1990s, made an effort at preserving its core submarine force capabilities. The Russian Navy continued to invest in new construction. In the late 1990s it completed several new submarines of the third generation Oscar II. 11 of the larger Oscar II submarines were built between 1985 and 1999 at the Sevmash yard in Severodvinsk. Three have been decommissioned and one, the Kursk, sank. Two Oscar II submarines are active with the Northern Fleet and five with the Pacific Fleet.

DESIGN

Designed to deliver missile blows on groups of ships and coastal installations, the submarine constitutes an updated version of Project 949 with one additional compartment to improve the inner arrangement of the armament and equipment.

The Oscar II is a double-hulled design, and is divided into ten major compartments. The reinforced rounded cover of the sail is intended to break through the ice of the Artic ice cap. The two periscopes, radio-sextant and radar masts are located within the retractable devices area. The HF and UHF radio-masts, radio direction-finder masts and satellite communication and navigation masts are located on the airshaft to feed compressors. The submarine is fitted with a floating antenna buoy to receive radio messages, target designation data and satellite navigation signals at a great depth and under the ice. The bow horizontal hydroplanes are retracted into the hull. The main mechanisms have modular design and two-cascade shock-absorbing system.

As with other Russian submarines, the Oscar features a double hull, comprising an inner pressure hull and an outer hydrodynamic hull. The 3.5m separation between the inner and outer hulls on the Oscar provides significant reserve buoyancy, and improved survivability against conventional torpedoes. These large submarines are said to be slow to dive and manoeuvre, though they are credited with a submerged speed of about 30 knots – sufficient to keep pace with their targets.

The improved Oscar II is about 10m longer than the Oscar I, possibly making room for a quieter propulsion system, and features upgraded electronic systems. The Oscar II is also characterized by a substantially enlarged fin, which should improve underwater manoeuvrability.

OSCAR II WEAPONS SYSTEMS

The submarine is equipped with 24 SS-N-19 Granit (NATO codename "Shipwreck") cruise missiles with a range of 550km. The missile has a length of 10.5m and weighs 6.9t with a warhead weighing 1000kg. Its speed is Mach 1.5. Under the START treaty, nuclear warheads for these missiles have been replaced with high explosive warheads. The missiles, which are launched while the submarine is submerged, are fired from tubes fixed at an angle of approximately 40°. The tubes, arranged in two rows of twelve, are each covered by six hatches on each side of the sail, with each hatch covering a pair of tubes. The launchers are placed between the inner pressure hull and the outer hydrodynamic hull.

The torpedo tubes fire both torpedoes and shorter range anti-ship missiles, and a combination of some two dozen weapons are carried including the SS-N-16 missile. The SS-N-16 has a range of 50km and is powered by a liquid fuel turbojet engine. It can carry either an explosive warhead or a Type 40 torpedo.

In the 1980s the Rubin Design Bureau was responsible for developing a number of third-generation nuclear submarines with cruise missiles, including Projects 949 ("Granit", "Oscar I") and 949A ("Antey", "Oscar II"). The Bureau took the lead in using naval cruise missiles, designing the first cruise missile nuclear submarine – Project 659 ("Echo I"), then Project 675 ("Echo II") and related modifications.

THE KURSK DISASTER

On 12 August 2000, the Oscar II nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine, Kursk (K 141), sank in the Barents Sea, with the loss of all 118 crew. Commissioned in 1994, the Kursk was part of the Russian Northern Fleet. From Norwegian seismological records, it appeared that the submarine was destroyed by two explosions. A subsequent enquiry confirmed that these were caused by the explosion of a Type 65 high test peroxide (HTP) 650mm torpedo, which triggered the explosion in the weapons compartment that caused the vessel to sink. The blast was caused by highly volatile torpedo propellant that leaked and came in contact with kerosene and metal. Vain efforts to rescue any surviving crew were aided by the UK's LR5 submarine rescue vehicle and a Norwegian diving team.

The Kursk was raised in October 2001 and towed to the Russian naval shipyard in Murmansk. The forward weapons compartment was cut out prior to lifting and sections were later lifted in May 2002. Wreckage remaining on the seabed was blown up. The nuclear reactors and Granit cruise missiles were all recovered. The salvage operation was carried out by two Dutch companies, Mammoet Worldwide and Smit International.