Analysis 2/2: Lada-class diesel-electric submarine of project 677 for Russian Navy

The acceptance of the St. Petersburg drops all objections against project 677 Lada-class submarine. Only modern subs can operate in the Baltic Sea, as others have no chance in a potential standoff with the adversary. However, serial submarines of project 677 will face a lot of difficulties.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001Russian navy expects to receive the first serial Project 677 Lada-class Diesel-Electric Submarine in 2022. (Picture source Twitter International Naval & Maritime News)

The Lada was the first project armed with Fisik torpedoes. In the case of project 677 torpedoes are the crucial issue as the submarine is unarmed without them. The sonars can detect even the US fourth-generation sub, but problems with torpedoes will strip the submarine of the advantage.

There is also a problem with remote torpedo guidance. Full-fledged remote control systems have been designed in Russia. The fiber-optic cable is fixed to the launcher rather than the torpedo and does not impede the movement. The design is at par with foreign analogs. However, operational subs use outdated systems.

The submarine has also to have anti-torpedoes. Russia has advanced designs, but operational subs do not have them. Antitorpedoes help even a weak submarine win a duel. A modern diesel-electric submarine of project 667 with anti-torpedoes will be nearly invulnerable if detected.

The electric motion power plant faces organizational problems, as there are numerous companies in Russia that can cope with the issue. The main problem is the absence of an air-independent power plant.

The inability of the Russian industry to create it nearly killed project 677. Former Navy chief Vladimir Vysotsky said the fleet does not need submarines with modern equipment and arms, but with operational capabilities and power plants of World War Two. Fortunately, project 677 was not dropped.

There is some progress with air-independent power plants, but they cannot develop the required capacity so far. There is a question of which plant is fit for green-water Pacific and Northern fleets. There was an option of a diesel-electric submarine with an auxiliary nuclear power plant.

Russia is a world leader in such power plants. A nuclear plant powers strategic unmanned underwater craft. It is no problem for the industry to build diesel-electric submarines with a small reactor and turbo generator. Everything is ready for that.

The small nuclear plant will charge the batteries, but cannot provide motion in the whole range of speed like a genuine nuclear submarine does. The auxiliary nuclear power plant will keep the batteries of project 677 submarine charged at any time. In the open sea, the Russian diesel-electric submarine can use the low signature of a non-nuclear submarine and the autonomy of a nuclear submarine in case of an encounter with US or UK subs. In contrast to the air-independent power plant, in does not have to refuel.

As Russia is not building nuclear submarines to fight hostile subs, it can stake on diesel-electric subs with auxiliary reactors. It is possible and cheap. Now as St. Petersburg has joined the Navy, all formal obstacles have been lifted.

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