Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Friday, April 06, 2007


This is coolbert:

Here is another Soviet weapons system that gave U.S. military planners a big scare during the Cold War era.

The Soviet Alfa class submarine.


Alfa class submarines were said to have just an awesome capability across the board. Able to function in a manner that American submarines could not, and able to fire a barrage of weaponry against which there seemed to be no defense.

"A special titanium alloy hull would be used to create a small, low drag, 1,500 ton, three compartment vessel capable of very high speeds (in excess of 40 knots) and deep diving."

Again, AWESOME! Capabilities to include:

* Deep diving. Had a titanium hull that allowed for maximum submerged "crush" depth of at least 4000 feet. American steel hull submarines have [?] a maximum depth of 1000 feet.

* High underwater speed. Two liquid-metal cooled nuclear reactors allowed for an underwater speed of forty five knots. The fastest American torpedo was NOT EVEN capable of such a speed. The Alfa could OUT-RUN an American torpedo!!

* Able to fire a variety of weapons, including conventional and high-speed torpedoes, cruise missiles, mines. Engage targets at either short-range long-range with ease.

* Automated to a high degree. Was originally designed to have a crew complement on only sixteen sailors. Fourteen officers and two petty-officers. This is unheard of. You would have to think that at least half of the crew be resting while the remainder is on duty. That means only eight sailors operate the ship at any given time??

"extensive automation would also greatly reduce the needed crew numbers to just 16 highly trained men."

[In practice, double the number was actually being required. That is still a small number.]

Reality was also that this was NOT a weapons system designed for mass production. It was more a test bed for new technologies and concepts. Technology could be tried and perfected that would lead to future generations of improved submarines.

"Project 705 boats were intended to be an experimental platform themselves, to test all innovations and rectify their faults, that would afterwards found a new generation of submarines. This highly experimental nature mostly predetermined their future."

[Alfa class submarines were known to the Soviets as Project 705 boats!]

As I have said, automation was a key ingredient to the Alfa design. Automation to include:

* "Sargan weapon control system controlling attack, torpedo homing and use of countermeasures . . . automatically if required"

* "Ocean automated hydroacoustic system that provided target data to other systems"

* "Sogh navigation system and Boxite course control system, which integrated course, depth, trim and speed control, for . . . automated . . . maneuvering"

* "Rhythm system controlling operation of all machinery aboard, eliminating the need for any personnel servicing reactor and other machinery"

With regard to crew size:

"The main reason behind the small crew complement and high automation was not just to allow a reduction in the size of the submarine, but rather to provide an advantage in reaction speed by replacing long chains of command with instant electronics, speeding up any action."

"their primary mode of operation was slowly waiting for enemy ships or information on enemy location and, once detected, rushing at full speed towards the target"

Reaction speed in these nuclear submarines is related to the type of reactor in use. Here, the Soviet liquid-cooled reactors seem to have a huge inherent advantage over the type used in American submarines:

"Liquid metal cooled reactors can almost instantly adjust their power output, while typical water-cooled reactors require 20 to 30 minutes to reach full output."

The Alfa class exemplified an ENTIRE CONCEPT OF NAVAL WARFARE.

As has been mentioned, the Alfa was not intended to be mass produced, ONLY a total of seven being manufactured. The last Alfa being decommissioned in 1995.

However, the legacy of the Alfa [Lira to the Soviet] continues:

"The Lira submarines were intended to be only the first experiments for a new generation of submarines"

"The technologies and solutions developed, tested and perfected on Lira formed the ground for future designs."

Automation still playing a big role in recent Russian submarine designs:

"Automation matches Lira's level, with no manual work required, and everything controlled automatically or manually from the control room"

Alfa, the submarine that could.




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