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THE KURSK CRISIS

 


By: IZAKOVIC

CREATED: 08-23-00

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On the 08-12-2000, during Northern Fleet maneuvers, Russian nuclear-powered Antey-II class cruise missile submarine Kursk experienced malfunction and hit the seabed at the depth of 108 meters, just outside the cost of the Kola Peninsula in the Barends Sea. Rescue vessels were sent to disaster area in the evening of the next day. Accident was made public on Monday, August 14, by the press center of Russian Navy.

 

Saturday evening, 08-19-2000 it was announced in Russia that Kursk submarine crew is probably dead.

 

Chances for their rescue were diminished at the outset of the event itself because, President Vladimir Putin gave the order to accept foreign help from any quarter only after a telephone conversation with  President Bill Clinton on Wednesday, August 14. 

Offer from US was declined although they have the best equipment for the job, a special submarine called Deep Sea Rescue Vehicle (DSRV), possibly to protect technology of the Kursk from the opposition, or for the other reasons. 


If the Cold War were still on, it would be perfectly reasonable for Russians to cower up the incident and for the US to keep silent also. Russians kept total silence for first two days and it seems that during the same time US did not believe too much in the propagation of the news either.
These two points could be significant.


Sonic operators aboard the Russian Northern Fleet ships and Norwegian surveillance ship Marjatta registered two typical sounds representing blasts, of which the second one was stronger that the first. After admitting the presence of two of their submarines in the same zone, the US Navy confirmed that they have captured the blasts also.


Norway specialists think that Kursk, built in 1995, sunk because its two fore high-pressure air tanks, storing air for blowing the water from ballast tanks, on surfacing blew up. 

 

As this two tanks are positioned between the outer and inner hull, explosion of one of them could have damaged the wall of the fore ballast tanks which are mounted on the outer hull. As stern tanks remained undamaged, Kursk plunged head on and struck the bottom with its front. This could have caused the explosion of some of among the 16 SS-N-15 Starfish/82-P and SS-N-16 Stallion/85-P missiles and/or torpedoes or some of the 24 SS-N-19/P-700 Granit missiles and the consequent flooding of the fore chambers. When aboard, Granit anti-ship cruise missiles are stored between the inner and outer hull and therefore were vulnerable to the impact. 


Observed inclination of over 60 degrees starboard indicates the breach of the high pressure air and ballast tanks on the same ship side at the beginning of the plunge, which have caused automatic shut down of the two ship's reactors, because they could not operate at that tilt and/ or the their cooling water intakes could become clogged by mug. This assumption is reinforced by the statement of the US sub Captain (ret.), Edward L. Beach, given on the 08-16-2000 Coast to Coast AM show, that the mayor inclination which was attained in US Navy, during the tests performed for the new reactor design, was 47 degrees. 

It was reported that the reactors in third generation Russian submarines have a capability to maintain the natural circulation of cooling medium after the shut down event and no auxiliary power available.

 

With reactors down,  only batteries remained as a power source, and the air was limited to the auxiliary oxygen bottles. There are rumors that air-cleaning filters were not on board, in order to lower the exploitation costs (with reactors in function water to air processing plant makes such devices obsolete). Enforcing the minimal energy and oxygen policy, ship was condemned to cold darkness and surviving crew to the minimal movements.

As the sub lays in the, essentially, shallow waters (only 108 m) and it's length is considerable, only attempt at rescuing could have been done by crew itself by lifting the sub's stern, blowing their aft tanks with the all remaining high pressure air, to reach the lesser depth. This was done once by the US Navy. 

It is believed that this was not attempted because of the fear for the hull integrity, which would be endangered because the lifting of the stern could produce additional pressure on the bow (front) where torpedoes and missiles are stored, possibly causing further explosions. 

Or because there was nobody left alive to manage the operation.

 

In the morning on August 17, the officer on duty of the Northern fleet said to the reporter of the Russian Red Star daily that the hull of the submarine was being observed with the help of underwater TV equipment. It was determined that all telescopic equipment of the submarine was pulled out, including the periscope, which means that Kursk was at periscope depth at the moment of the dive.

Images shown on Russian television depict debris by the ship hull corroborating perceived explosions. Apart that, they show that the fore escape hatch, situated at the front, to the right of the command tower, is damaged also. As this means that the ship's command center was flooded, it is clear why the captain or other officials could not launch the signals buoy or remaining crew communicate with the outside using the sonar phone.

Only surviving crew members could be those finding themselves in the starboard of the ship at the moment of the impact, where is located second, undamaged exit hatch. Why the timely rescue was not attempted using this exit remains to be seen, but it could be correlated with the possible cause of the observed damage and the perceived explosions. 

 

Antey II, or as was designated in the  west, Oscar-II class submarine is the most advanced submarine of the Russian Navy. Apart from Kursk, currently are in active service 10 ships of this class. The submarine's dimensions are 155 x 18,2 x 9,2 meters and full crew complement consists of 107. The submarine is capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles, torpedoes and mines.

As Kursk was part of Russian strategic forces designed for strikes against US surface vessels, especially carriers and its escort vessels and as was only 5 years old it is hardly believable that it's demise could have been caused by improper crew behavior, faulty torpedo construction or high-pressure air tank maintenance. 

 

For decades, US and Russian subs are tailing each other, monitoring opponent's activities. In this operations Russian skippers have been reported to use a dangerous, Crazy Ivan maneuver, consisting of the sharp turn enabling the sub to scan its silence cone, the space behind the props in which sonar does not operate, for pursuers. In such occasions the pursuer stops it's drive to remain as silent as possible and therefore invisible to the opponent's sonar. Only problem is that the momentum of the pursuer's sub causes continuation of its movement towards the opponent's sub now sitting in its path. If the distance between two vessels is to small or if they are too persistent, than the characteristic frontal damage, including that of the command tower, occurs.

Some years ago It has been rumored that the last Russian submarine generation has improved drive noise level.

 

There is a little known accident that happened in 1993, curiously, in the same waters, when Russian class Delta III ballistic missile submarine (name undisclosed) collided with the US Grayling attack sub. All thet is known related to this incident was that the US sub was decommissioned for recycling in 1997.  

 

Judging from the available information, behavior of the interested parties and precedents, the real cause of the Kursk sinking could have been the collision with the undeclared American sub.

 

The Russian daily Sevodnya on Friday, August 18, has published, what it claimed was, a credible evidence suggesting the nuclear submarine Kursk had crashed into U.S. submersible, which then limped to a Norwegian port. According to the newspaper's, seemingly military sources, no other Russian submarine was in the disaster area at the time and Russian navy subsequently overheard radio communications establishing that U.S. submarine requested permission to enter a Norwegian port, and then made its way there at reduced speed.

And finally was said that the US Orion reconnaissance planes flew over the area on Sunday, the day when the incident was not made public yet.

 

Being of strategic nature, announcement of this kind of incident shall be avoided from the both sides if possible. Especially at the time in which Russia is in the process of rebuilding its superpower stature, which is in opposition to all of the US wishes. Could it be that the target of all this mess was the Russian President Putin.

 

This is a good reason for the next President Clinton's visit to Russia. 


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