RUSSIAN SUBMARINE SSGN KURSK
TABLE OF CONTENTS
SSGN KURSK. Technical description
The nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine K-141 KURSK, (project 949A, NATO codename OSCAR-II), was designed by the Central Design Bureau "Rubin", under chief designer I. L. Baranov. Her keel was laid in 1992 at Sevmashpredpriyatiye (Severodvinsk), she was launched in 1994, commissioned in 1995, and. assigned to the 7-th SSGN Division of 1-st Submarine Flotilla of the Northern Fleet. Her home base was Vidiayevo settlement in Ura-guba bay.
Her role was that of a fighting submarine, against enemy aircraft carrier groups, and to be capable of delivering massive long range missile strikes against selective targets from a submerged position.
Displacement: 14,700 t surfaced, 24,000 t submerged. Length 155 m, beam 18.2 m, draught 9.2 m. Full speed: more then 30 knots. Nuclear main propulsion: two OK-6506 reactors (2x190 MW), two OK-9 turbines (2x49000 hp), 4 turbo generators (4x3200 KW), 2 Diesel generators (190 KW). 2 propellers. Double-hull construction, 10 watertight compartments (I - torpedo, II - Control Room, III - different combat stations, Radio Room, IV - quarters, V and V-bis - different stations, VI - reactor, VII and VIII - turbines, IX - electric motors). Complement: 107 men (including 48 officers). rescue devices: emerging camera for all crew (in outer conning tower), personal dive-suits, two emergency and signal buoys. Emergency hatches situated in III-st and IX-th compartments. Reserve buoyancy: 30% (4.5 t water).
Weapons: 24 cruise missiles P-700 ("Granit") with conventional or nuclear warheads. 4x650-mm and 2x533-mm torpedo tubes with 28 torpedoes or ASW rockets. "Molniya-M" communication station, "Medveditsa-949M" Navigation system, "Tobol" Radar station, "Skat-3" Sonar station, "Antey" combat command system.
Cost: 226,000,000 Russian rubles.
K-141 KURSK left its base on 10 August 2000 at 10:00, for exercises in the Barents Sea under the command of Captain 1st rank Gennadiy P. Liachin with 118 men aboard (111 crew's members, 5 officers of 7-th SSGN Division headquarters and 2 designers). Shortly before the crew received the prestigious title of the best submarine crew in Northern Fleet. The last message from her was at (?) o'clock in the morning of 12 August 2000, when the submarine had requested permission for an exercise torpedo launch, and received "Dobro" ("Good").
According to information from the Norwegian seismic service at the NORSAR Institution, there were two explosions detected at approximately 69°38'N, 37°19'E during the morning of August 12, 2000. The first explosion was at 11:29:34 (Moscow time) and had a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter scale, followed by a second one of 3.5, at 11:31:48, corresponding to about 1-2 tons of explosive. Similar data was recorded by seismic stations in Canada and Alaska. Also, two American submarines (one of them -- USS MEMPHIS), which were shadowing the exercises, registered two underwater explosion at 11:38. A Russian submarine and the heavy cruise missile cruiser PETR VELIKIY detected these explosions too. Minister of Defence of Russian Federation said, that the Russian submarine received also the sound of a third explosion at 11:44. The American submarine detected the noise during the interval between two explosions, which they recognised it as ballast tanks blowing or increasing of propeller speed.
Further information received from miscellaneous sources shortly after the incident, indicated that SSGN KURSK was either returning to base or executing practise torpedo launching at the moment of disaster. The submarine lies wrecked at a point 69°40'N, 37°35'E on the muddy, sandy seabed at a depth of 108 m, heeling 25 degrees on the port side and down 5-7 degrees by the bow. As time went by, the submarine became covered more by slurry, and her heel increased for some time but stopped later. The reactor is in the suppressed state. Temperature of water at a depth of 100 m is 3-4 degrees Celsius, on a surface - 7-8 degrees.
The loss of the KURSK caused a huge reaction in the world. During the evening of 14 August, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Norway, United States of America and other countries offered their assistance. Starting August 17, the conciliatory commission working in Brussels started to solve problems of technical compliance and other organisational questions and problems.
The Governmental commission under the chairmanship of vice-premier Ilya Klebanov was created on August 14 to investigate the causes and circumstances of the incident and wreck. In the opinion of the leader of 'Union of the Right Forces' fraction in State Duma, B. Nemtsov, 'it is necessary to create the parliamentary commission for investigation of emergency causes and salvage operations circumstances'.
There were many versions to be discussed, including:
The fact, that the boat had rather high parameters of vitality and that the crew were not able to use one of the many rescue or communication devices, testifies that the damage to the KURSK was very high, and the evolution of emergency situation was very fast.
The first meeting of the Governmental commission was held on August 17 in the evening. At the same time the official version of disaster was declared. After more precise definition of August 19 and 20 it looked like the first reasons for tragedy was a strong "dynamic external impact" corresponding with "first event" at 11:29. Probably it was the collision either with foreign (?) submarine (by displacement not less than 10,000 t, and moving at a speed about 10 kn.), or with large surface ship, perhaps ice-breaker or dry cargo ship with hull re-enforcement for ice breaking, with a displacement no less than 150,000 t. Or it was hitting an old mine of Second World War period. Most likely version was the collision with a foreign submarine. Owing to large and fast entry of water in the bow compartments, the submarine hit the seabed with a down trim at high speed. This resulted in detonation of weapons in 1-st compartment ("second event" at 11:31). During the rapid development of the catastrophe, it was understood that most of the crew in most of the compartments, except 2-3 at the stern, has perished during first minutes of disaster. During TV-interview August 21, Russian Minister of Defence, announced three pieces of information (without any documentary proofs): 1) about 200 m near the KURSK's bow were detected foreign matters, presumably, fragments of conning tower of foreign submarine (Norwegian divers declared that they, at least, did not see anything like it). 2) In the morning of August 13 on the seabed near the KURSK was detected one more objects of similar dimensions. 3) The buoys of foreign colouring, green and white, were spotted also (but they were not found later). According to Ilya Klebanov and deputy Head of Northern Shipping Route Administration A. Ushakov, there were no civil vessels in exercises area.
Foreign experts, American, English, Norwegian, basically, adhere to the version of an explosion in 1-st compartment. Probably, they consider, there was a detonation of an ASW rocket during the launching from torpedo tube; at first the propellant, then the warhead had blown up. The tests of upgraded VA-111 ("Shkval") torpedoes with a rocket propulsion were supposed to be conducted by the submarine. It explains the presence onboard of two experts of "Dagdizel" military plant. The aforesaid modernisation is supposed to be replacement for the cheaper, hard fuel by the more 'explosive and dangerous liquid one'. The version is founded on the analysis of audio signals obtained by USS MEMPHIS and the NORSAR Service. Additional pieces of information on the upgraded torpedo trials were infiltrating the media from high officer's circles in Northern Fleet, and also from the "Sevmashpredpriyatiye" workers. The version is rejected categorically by the "Dagdizel" director and Governmental commission, however their proofs were not presented to wide public. The official comment concerning presence of the civil experts was they were overseeing the working of a new accumulator battery in a normal torpedo.
On August 18, USS MEMPHIS came to Bergens (Norway). At that day American Embassy arranged a photo-session at the Haakonsvern Naval base for journalists including Russian. The sub was not damaged in anyway.
On August 24, Russian Main Office of Military Prosecutor instituted proceedings against the culprits of collision according to clause 263.3 of Criminal Code ("violation of safety traffic regulations on railway, air or water lines, entailed, on carelessness, death of two or more persons"). Guilty are threatened from 4 till 10 years imprisonment. It is supposed to use space snapshots of Russian Ballistic Missile Forces for ascertaining the vessel collided with the submarine. At the present time all ships, which were at that region, are inspected.
During the first days of disaster there were no data concerning the state of affairs on board, but that in the stern compartments there appeared to be survivors, tapping out distress signals, sending information about gradual flooding and requests for an oxygen supply. Communication with them was lost on August 15. It was not known what the state of the resources of electric power, oxygen, compressed air were at that time. It was also not known what of the submarine's devices were in operation, and what were the speed and order of flooding of compartments. In the opinion of Northern Fleet Headquarters, bow compartments (at least 4-5) were flooded immediately, and in the stern compartments water leaked either through depressurised stern-tube glands, or defective bulkheads. It is also possible that high pressure air bubbles were formed in some of the compartments.
As a result of outboard investigation conducted by deep submergence vehicles on August 14-15, the considerable damages to the 1st and 2nd bow compartments was revealed (hole, hull crack, some inner items around). The conning tower and emerging camera were also damaged, one cover of the missile trunk was torn off. Damage of the conning tower, bent telescopic devices and hole with concave edges was noted. The further investigation goes slowly, as all efforts are directed to saving of crew now. Observations from night August 16/17 brought proofs, that the Submarine is wrecked after the collision.
The investigations on August 20 confirmed that all compartments are flooded, the only hope for finding a survivor is in an enclosures or air pocket. The air lock in IX compartment was flooded, and the hatch damaged. Bow compartments were totally destroyed, and the submarine's hull distorted.
Onboard temperature decreased, and by August 16-17, it was 8-10 degrees Celsius. Only compartments V - VIII were exceptions, they cooled down more slowly because of nuclear reactor's afterheat (deadened reactor, having remained without refrigeration, raises temperature in its compartment to 60-70 degrees for a while).
There were no nuclear weapons onboard. Metering of radiation in an air lock of IX compartment, conducted at 12:30 on August 21, showed it to be absolutely normal. At this time MARS hydrographic survey ship remains at the scene for radiation inspection. Also, Norwegian helicopter takes samples of water there daily. Radiation is normal. The radiation control is conducted by Kurchatov Institute Scientific Centre. In the near future the dosimeters will be mounted on the submarine hull around reactor compartment.
Probably, on September 8, the Russian Navy will got the results from lab-tests of gas samples taken in IX-th compartment and done by the Norwegian company NUI for the Norwegian Navy. It is already clear that nobody could live in the atmosphere, the oxygen level was to low and carbon-monoxide was at a lethal level. It was more CO than people can produce, which make, which supports the theory of fire and/or explosion.
In the near future deep research vehicles MIR-1 and MIR-2 will participated in inspection of KURSK. They will be conveyed by research ship of Academy of Science of Russia ACADEMIC MSTISLAV KELDYSH.
KURSK had to contact its base at 18:00 12.08.2000. When it had not taken place, the search forces were directed immediately to the area of the disaster. Searching aircraft detected an oil spot. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed Norwegian authorities about an accident involving a nuclear-powered submarine in the Barents sea. Late at night, August 12 the rescue ship (deep submergence vehicles carrier) MIKHAIL RUDNITSKIY arrived in the region. She left Severomorsk at 20:00 and carried two Project 1855 (PRIZ) deep submergence rescue vehicles (DSRV). It was decided to rescue people first of all by docking the DSRV on the emergency hatch in 9th compartment, because two other hatches in 1st and 3rd compartments were inaccessible for the crew.
On August 13 at 04:35 sonar station on Cruiser PETR VELIKIY found an anomaly on the seabed, which at 18:30 was authenticated as K-141. At 07:00 Minister of Defence Igor' D. Sergeyev reported to President Vladimir V. Putin the facts of the emergency, but did not recommend him to go to the scene of the incident. A salvage operation was deployed in the meantime. Admiral Viacheslav A. Popov, Commander of the Northern Fleet, presided the operation from aboard his flagship, heavy missile cruiser PETR VELIKIY. Between 15 and 22 vessels and about 3000 sailors of the Northern Fleet were involved in the rescue operation. The Northern Fleet's aviation arm actively supported the rescue operation. A group of CDB "Rubin" engineers (including Project 949A chief designer) arrived in Severomorsk during the Wednesday morning.
During the night of August 12/13 and morning of August 13 the submarine of Main Intelligence Department investigated the KURSK's bow. The first two descents of a diving bell from the rescue ship ALTAY were carried out at 18:00 and 18:30. The weak knockings "SOS, . Water" were reported to be heard from aboard the KURSK..
August 14, crane ship PK-7500 with one BESTER-type DSRV arrived. Diving bells descended to the submarine. There were some pieces of information that salvage tug NIKOLAY CHIKER participated early in the rescue operation, its deep water TV equipment could be used for obtaining the first pictures of wrecked Submarine. The first message 'there were malfunctions on the submarine, therefore she was compelled to lay on the seabed in the region of the Northern Fleet exercises, in the Barents sea' was made by Navy's Press Centre at 10:45. Sea conditions were relatively calm by day, 1-2 Beaufort scale.
N.B.: there were not any messages about the rescue operation till 16:00, August 15, in mass-media. In particular, there was no mention August 14 in the press about salvage operation, the Navy Press Centre said nothing concerning it too. In the first half of August 15 there were messages only about preparation to "active a phase" of rescue operations. Moreover, the descents of DSRVs on August 15 and 16 were named "first", "second" etc. by Navy Press Centre. The course of salvage operation on August 13, 14 and morning 15 was scored for sound only by evening of August 21, mainly, in TV-interview of Minister of Defence I. Sergeyev. Especially, it was only Sergeyev who said about descents of the diving-bell at 18:00 and 18:30 on August 13, about investigation of the large amount of damage to the submarine by deep submergence vehicle that day, about descents of "Prizes" of August 14, about his decision, that 80% of crew have lost. Being expressed in later time, all this information can be called into question.
At night on August 15, the submarine's bow was inspected for the first time by deep submergence vehicle, data about damaged bow was obtained. It was decided that the two forward compartments were flooded. However, in the morning the rescue operation was temporary stopped due to a force 4 - 5 storm at night. Wind force reached 20 m/s, waves up to 4 m. Only at 20:00 when the weather had dropped to force 2 - 3 (8 m/s wind) could the attempts of diving and docking the DSRV could be resumed by the two PRIZ-type vehicles. The first dive lasted from 20:00 till 5:30 (four unsuccessful docking attempts). This day the surviving crew members stopped the sending the distress signals. Yet this very day the Commander-in-Chief Vladimir N. Kuroyedov informed the media that the oxygen reserves aboard were sufficient to middle of day of August 18.
On August 16 at 08:00, BESTER-type DSRV joined them. These DSRVs tried to dock with an emergency hatch, but all attempts were unsuccessful because of strong, variable currents, the submarine's heel and absence of co-ordination of rescuers' activity from the submarine crew. In the morning, sea condition was 2 - 3, wind 10 m/s, but in afternoon storm became stronger to force 4, wind 15 m/s, wave height 2 - 3 m. One of the DSRVs was damaged after hitting against the hull of the vessel. After repairs during the night, it returned to operation on August 17. 'The situation is valued as heavy, critical' (President V. Putin). In the evening of this day V. Putin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, gave an order for Navy Commander-in-Chief to accept foreign assistance.
As a reserve version of rescue, attempts were to be made to lift the KURSK using pontoons and 'band belts'. However simultaneous usage of DSRVs and pontoons was inexpedient, the two activities would only mutually hamper each other. The third idea was to connect to special holes cables with electric power and an oxygen supply, but to do this, good weather was necessary.
On August 17 at 12:00 Norwegian vessel NORMAND PIONEER with the English DSRV LR5 left Trondheim port (Norway). The Norwegian support ship, SEAWAY EAGLE, with Norwegian deep sea divers aboard, also headed to the disaster area. There were pieces of information, that a Norwegian plant in Kirkeness had received an order to manufacture 'transferring device' to fit between the between English DSRV and Russian emergency hatch.
From August 17, a fourth DSRV was involved in the operation. Attempts by the 4 DSRV to dock on the emergency hatch of IX-th compartment was prolonged by strong underwater currents, up to 2.5 knots, low underwater visibility and the submarine's heel. In the evening the sea condition was 2 - 3, 10 m/s wind. Rescue ships MIKHAIL RUDNITSKIY, ALTAY, Project 563 (SB-365 or SB-523) and Project 712 (SB-406) seagoing tugs, Project 141 hulk, deep submergence station AS-35 (?), radiation control vessel (probably, GS-526), BCGN PETR VELIKIY, DDG ADMIRAL KHARLAMOV, fleet oiler, KARAGANDA auxiliary ship were probably operating in the rescue area then. Heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser ADMIRAL FLOTA SOVETSKOGO SOYUZA KUZNETSOV was within 15 miles of the rescue area, and ready to render helicopter support immediately. The situation aboard the submarine is valued as 'nearly catastrophic' (Prime-minister M. Kasyanov), however Navy Press Centre said that people aboard will be able to live till 23-25 of August, if they use the resources and oxygen sparingly.
During numerous divings on August 18-19 it was possible to make 15 attempts to be docked to an emergency hatch, however all attempts to pump out water and to open the hatch were unsuccessful. It was connected with (as it was supposed to), but could not make a seal because: 1) after striking against seabed there was a deformation of the hatch coaming, because of which it was impossible to dock hermetically; or 2) someone inside tried unsuccessfully to escape through the air lock, and it became depressurised and was flooded. Rescuers hoped to analyse the problem with the help of the divers. On August 18 the altitude of waves has decreased 1-1.5 m, the wind abated to 5 m/s, and on August 19 the sea calmed.
On August 18 the situation was valued as "supercritical" (Governmental Commission Chairman I. Klebanov). For the first time data was published about the leaking in compartments and about the rising high-pressure air in there, and contradicted the calculations published earlier, that air will suffice till 23-25 August. Under the message of Chief of Northern Fleet Headquarters of 17:00 August 19, 'the border of members of the crew surviving had been crossed on August 18-19-20'. 'The zero information from the submarine means, that the critical state of seamen has set in'. Nevertheless it was decided, that attempts to penetrate into KURSK will be prolonged with former intensity.
On Saturday, at 19:30 the vessel NORMAND PIONEER with the English vehicle LR5, A. Hoskins with his team of 21 rescuers, engineers and doctors arrived. Also SEAWAY EAGLE with 4 Norwegian and 8 Scottish deep sea-divers aboard arrived at 23:00. Royal Navy officer, Commodore David Russel, co-ordinated the activity of British rescuers, and Norwegian Vice Admiral Einar Skorgen, the Norwegian rescuers. The Ministry of Defence of Great Britain was sure, that docking of LR5 with the KURSK submarine was technically possible. During the night activity of Russian DSRVs was prolonged, and both Norwegian ships were carrying out preparations for diving work.
On August 20 about 09:00, the Norwegian TV camera was lowered. The data obtained confirmed the fact of destruction of the 1-st and 2nd compartments, and also deformation of all of the hull. They also confirmed the fact of significant deformation and damage (crack) to the emergency hatch coaming plate in the 9th compartment. At 13:15 three Norwegian divers descended in a diving-bell. A reconnaissance by tapping the hull shown, that probably all the boat is flooded, and that it was doubtful if there was any survivors. Any survivor could remain only in enclosures and air bubbles in the 7 - 8th compartments. The air lock was filled by water, probably by aman trying to escape unsuccessfully.
Naval Commander-in-Chief, Fleet Admiral V. N. Kuroyedov, and Governmental Commission Chairman I. O. Klebanov arrived at the scene during the morning to co-ordinate the actions. Later English and Norwegian rescuers charged Russian military men with deliberately impeding their attempts to reach the KURSK as soon as possible, and also with being given misinformation. 'From time to time, Vice Admiral E. Skorgen read the Norlanddsposten newspaper, the information given by the Norwegian side, was so inauthentic, that it threatened the safety of divers'. In particular, strong underwater currents were not noted, as well as poor visibility. Only after threat of termination of rescue operation, Admiral V. Popov personally interfered and corrected the problem, sending 2 divers by helicopter to another Project 949A submarine to learn about the hatch and air lock system. A member of the British rescue team. Paddy Heron, arriving at the scene of the catastrophe, together with mini-sub LR5, stated that it was repugnant to him to hear the Russian statements about they having done their utmost to saving KURSK. As he said, all command was severely disappointed by the Russians discharging them from the rescue operation.
That day the weather was a little spoiled, in the evening the state of the sea was 1. The Norwegian and Scottish divers were divided into 4 crews of 3 men, each crew to work for 6 hours. During afternoon all efforts were directed to opening of the upper door of the hatch (it had been decided to try to break it by using a ship's crane). During that night, until 06:00, two Norwegian divers were trained at the Russian base in Vidiayevo on a similar air lock and compartment.
On Monday, August 21 at 07:45 the Norwegian rescuers opened the upper door of the emergency hatch. There were no people in the air lock. About 13:00, the lower hatch of the air lock also was opened. They ascertained that the IX-th, and probably the VIII-th compartments were flooded. In IX-th compartment, the body of a seaman was found. Admirals V. Popov (Commander of Northern Fleet) and E. Skorgen (Commander of Armed Forces of Northern Norway) came to a conclusion, that all K-141 crew has perished and that the Norwegian rescuers had fulfilled their mission. At 21:00 the Military Council of Northern Fleet officially recognised the loss of all crew, and expressed condolences to relatives. August 23 was declared as a day of national mourning.
NORMAND PIONEER and SEAWAY EAGLE after an onboard mourning ceremony left the scene of the tragedy at 14:00 August 22, they had done everything that could be done. The hatch in IX compartment was battened down. In the tragedy area will remain 1 or 2 warships of the Northern Fleet to guard the site, as well as the hydrographic survey ship MARS.
On 21-22 of August, Igor' Sergeyev, Minister of Defence; Vladimir Kuroyedov, Navy Commander-in-Chief; and Viacheslav Popov, Commander of Northern Fleet sent in their resignation. President V. Putin did not accept them, and appointed no blame to them, because no one could be personally responsible for the catastrophe.
The Russian Federation officially applied to Norway for help in removal of the sailor's bodies, and received consent in principle. The bodies of the perished seamen will be removed through eight special apertures (1.5 x 0.7 m), that will be made in hull. The final agreement between "Rubin" Bureau (Saint Petersburg) and Norwegian "Stolt Offshore" Company (Stavanger) has to be concluded. Estimated contract value is $5-7,000,000. All work will be carried out by foreign and Russian divers at the end of September. Russian divers will be in training in Norway, and only Russians will work inside the submarine. The work is expected to start on September 28 or 30, and will take about one month. Probably, SEAWAY EAGLE will be used again.
On September 8, DSRV AS-34 from MIKHAIL RUDNITSKIY made a number of dives to KURSK, its main purpose was deploying marker buoys and monitoring radioactivity levels.
The first idea of lifting (by using pontoons and 'band belts') for the initial rescue was decided against, because the simultaneous usage of DSRVs and pontoons would only hamper each others efforts.
On August 17, the Central Designer Bureau of marine engineering "Rubin" initiated the first steps to recover he SSGN KURSK. "Prometey" Central Research Institute of constructional materials were ready to become involved in the project's development (August 21). The project was expected to be produced to Governmental commission in early September. Probably, the submarine would not be lifted to the surface, but towed to shallower water, where divers would be able to work much easier. Final conclusion on the lifting methods was to be determined by the Commission on August 29, but was not presented to the public. The winter season, with strong storms in the Barents Sea starts at the end of September, therefore the KURSK will not be lifted until the following late spring or summer. "Lifting operation will be fulfilled by Russian institutions only, but with participation of foreign finances" -- I. Klebanov emphasised.
Relatives arriving in Murmansk and Severomorsk were moved to accommodation in Vidiayevo settlement. The Government of Russia granted 1,500,000 rubles to the seamen's families to cover the costs for travelling to Murmansk and other expenses. The government commission under chairmanship vice-premier Valentina Matvienko was organised to render assistance to families of the perished seamen. According to her, every family will receive 720,000 rubles in addition to legal 120 salaries per family and 25 salaries per each family member, as well as a flat in any region of Russia they wanted.
In the evening of August 22, President V. Putin met the members of families of the perished seamen in Vidiayevo. Governments of Byelorussia and Ukraine also allocated funds to relatives. 23 of August was declared as the day of national mourning in Byelorussia too. Bulgarian authorities offered to accommodate any number seamen's children in Tsarevo resort free of charge.
On August 24, passenger ship KLAVDIYA YELANSKAYA carried relatives of the crew of the KURSK to the scene of the incident.
MEMORIAL PAGES COURTESY OF RUSSIALINK