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Feb. 18, 2004
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Sineva Launched in Vladimir Putin’s Face
// Why the Supreme Commander-in-Chief didn’t See the Main Strategic Training at the Exercises
There was an emergency during yesterday’s strategic command and staff training at the Northern Fleet, in which President Vladimir Putin, who was aboard the nuclear submarine Arkhangelsk, was taking part. An RSM-54 Sineva submarine-launched ballistic missile equipped with a training warhead (simulating a regular nuclear warhead) failed to take off from the nuclear submarine Novomoskovsk to hit a target in the Kura test range on Kamchatka. What is more, it was several hours before the Ministry of Defense learned exactly what had happened, that is, whether the missile had exited the silo and immediately sunk in the Barents Sea or whether it had remained in the silo launcher. Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroedev finally explained the incident by saying that no actual launches had been planned and that firing was supposed to be “simulated”.

President Putin began yesterday aboard the nuclear submarine Arkhangelsk by meeting with Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov, Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, and Chief of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff Colonel-General Aleksandr Rukshin. The commanders informed President Putin of the plan to carry out strategic training. According to the exercise scenario, on February 17, a simulated enemy would launch military operations with the aim of undermining Russia’s military potential, disrupting the government, and seizing command in the air.

By that time, the exercise zone in the Barents Sea was literally crammed with warships. Altogether, there were nearly 5000 servicemen, 7 underwater strategic missile carriers and multipurpose nuclear submarines, 13 surface vessels and supply ships, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the heavy nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser Petr Veliky, antisubmarine aircraft, ship-based helicopters, and Air Force fighters.

However, the main event of yesterday’s exercises was supposed to be the underwater launch of two RSM-54 Sineva submarine-launched ballistic missiles from the strategic nuclear submarine Novomoskovsk to the Kura test range on Kamchatka. The president was supposed to observe this spectacular performance from the bridge of the Arkhangelsk located two miles away.

However, the launch did not take place at the appointed time (10:00 Moscow time). This was soon obvious, because normally right after missile strikes on targets in the Kura test range, the military establishment distributes the appropriate official notice, but this time, despite President Putin’s participation in the exercises and heightened media attention, no information about a successful firing was forthcoming. Several hours later, reports that the missile had either simply “crashed” or had “blown up” after the launch appeared on informational websites. There was no official commentary whatsoever from the Ministry of Defense, although sources in the department assured a Kommersant correspondent that “there was no such explosion.” Initially, no one could explain exactly what had happened. All that was clear was that after an unsuccessful first launch, the launch of the second missile was called off and the submarine was ordered to return to base.

To all appearances, for a long time the military itself was unable to reconstruct a full picture of the incident. There were two versions: either the missile had exited the silo and immediately sunk in the Barents Sea or the RSM-54 had remained in the submarine’s silo launcher, although an automatic system installed in the submarine showed that the launch had taken place.

Things only became clear at about 17:00 Moscow time when the Novomoskovsk returned to base and the crew made an external inspection of the submarine. They found that the missile had emerged a few centimeters from the silo but had remained aboard the submarine. The automatic system had signaled the supposedly executed launch because the RSM-54 had left the so-called “trailers”, that is, the sensors signaling the missile’s position.

However, the military never gave out any official information about the incident, having obviously decided not to mar the good news of president and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin’s participation in the exercises with bad news. Instead, they relayed a version via the government news agencies ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti about a strange satellite that had allegedly blocked the missile launch. Then towards evening, Admiral Kuroedov made a rather absurd statement: “I won’t comment on the rumors, but my plain unambiguous answer is that the operation proceeded normally. The ballistic shots were planned as ‘simulated launches’. Exactly what the submarine did twice, first in one area and then in another. This is what we observed.”

Evidently, the Commander-in-Chief was not aware that the First Deputy Chief of General Staff, Colonel-General Yury Baluevsky announced at a press conference last week that there would be a real launch of a strategic sea-based missile during the training. Or that the leading article of yesterday’s edition of Red Star (Krasnaya Zvezda) newspaper, the Ministry of Defense's official press agency, had directly stated that “According to the scenario for the maneuvers, the crew of the strategic missile-firing submarine Novomoskovsk commanded by Captain Sergei Rachuk will fire an RSM-54 intercontinental ballistic missile…to the Kura test range on the Kamchatka Peninsula.” A report on yesterday’s exercises in today’s edition of Krasnaya Zvezda spoke of how the Novomoskovsk “had been assigned a key role in the exercises,” but there was no mention at all of missile launches, either real or simulated, and the captain’s name was not mentioned among those who had distinguished themselves.

Yesterday evening, via satellite TV from Moscow, Chief of the RF Armed Forces General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin gave a cheerful report on the successful performance of the assigned tasks during the exercises to President Putin, who was in Severomorsk: “Problems of troop management, movement of armed forces during military operations, and practical antiaircraft and antimissile defense measures were worked out… Tu-95 strategic bombers launched two cruise missiles, which were then successfully intercepted by MiG-31 fighters….” At the end, the army general modestly added that, “Overall, the troops and forces were equal to the assigned task as regards the naval theme of the exercises.”

According to Kommersant’s information, the sailors will try to correct their blunder today with the launch of two RSM-54 missiles from the atomic-powered vessel Karelia, an exact analogue of the Novomoskovsk. It is still unclear whether these launches will be real or simulated, but in any case, Vladimir Putin will really not see them, because yesterday evening he flew from Murmansk to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

How a Military Secret Was Uncovered

12.53. Associated Press Agency writes in the fifth paragraph of its report on Vladimir Putin’s participation in the exercises: “Difficulties occurred during the maneuvers when a ballistic missile on one of the submarines was unable to exit the silo, according to an anonymous government source. The submarine’s automatic safety system blocked the launch for unknown reasons.”

14.02. The Internet publication Gazeta.ru reports that the missile launched from K-407, “exploded during launch.”

14.13. The Grani.ru site publishes information on an incident with an RSM-54 ballistic missile that had occurred right before the president’s eyes: the firing preparation system had hung up at the prelaunch stage.

15.48. The following report appears simultaneously on TASS and RIA Novosti newslines: “The launch of the two ballistic missiles did not take place, because a satellite blocked the launch signal.”

15.51. Interfax-AVN publishes a version about “a satellite that blocked the missile launch,” citing a source in the Northern Fleet command.

16.03. With reference to the Northern Fleet’s press service, RIA Novosti reports: “the exercises are proceeding normally,” but “there are some concerns about security” caused by “the flight of a Norwegian Orion reconnaissance plane in the area of the antiaircraft missile launches.”

16.08. A report of a failed launch with reference to Interfax and ITAR-TASS appears on a Reuters newsline.

16.47. Interfax transmits an expanded version of the satellite story, noting that, “the abnormal situation did not have any serious consequences for the submarine.”

16.57. Citing Interfax, RIA Novosti, and Gazeta.ru, Agence France Presse transmits a report about “technical problems” that had disrupted the launch of two missiles during the exercises.

18.11. Interfax transmits a statement from the Northern Fleet’s press service: “No unforeseen situations occurred during the exercises.”

18.28. RBK Agency reports: “An investigation has begun to determine the reasons why the missile launches did not take place.”

18.33. The following newsflash appears on an RIA Novosti newsline: “Navy Commander-in-Chief Kuroedov announced that the scenario for the Northern Fleet exercises provided for simulated missile launches only.”

20.24. According to an RIA Novosti report, “the Novomoskovsk returned to base after carrying out “electronically simulated ballistic missile launches.”

History of the K-407

Construction of the nuclear submarine K-407 Novomoskovsk began at the Northern Engineering Plant (Sevmash) in Severodvinsk in November 1989, and it became part of the USSR Navy on November 27, 1990. It was the last of seven 667BDPM Delfin submarines (Delta IV according to the NATO classification). This class of submarines was developed at the Rubin Central Design Office (TsKB Rubin) in 1975 and is considered one of the most successful Soviet underwater missile carrier designs. The submarine has a submerged displacement of 18 200 tons and a surface displacement of 11 700 tons. It is 167 m long and 11.7 m wide. It is powered by two OK-700A nuclear reactors with a total power of 180 MW. The submarine’s immersion depth is 400 m; its surface speed is 14 knots, and its underwater speed is 24 knots. It carries a crew of 135. Armaments include a D-9RM missile system (16 RSM-54 ballistic missiles) and four 533-mm torpedo tubes (18 torpedoes).

The RSM-54 Sineva missile (3M37, R-29RM, or SS-N-24 according to the NATO classification) is a liquid-propellant, three-stage missile with separable heads (it carries four or ten warheads depending on the modification). It has a range of 8300 km, a hit accuracy of 500 m, and a launching mass of 40.3 tons. It is 14.8 m long and 1.9 m in diameter.

K-407 became part of the Northern Fleet on August 6, 1991, and conducted a unique exercise: a successful simultaneous salvo of all 16 ballistic missiles (Operation Begemot-2). On March 20, 1993, K-407 collided with an American SSN-646 Grayling nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea. There were no victims. The Russian submarine sustained damage to the hull and was repaired, but the American submarine had to be written off. In 1996, the city of
Novomoskovsk in Tula Region took the submarine under its patronage, and on June 19, 1997, K-407 received the name Novomoskovsk. On July 7, 1998, the submarine became the first ship in the world to carry out an onboard launch of a Shtil-1 carrier rocket with two German Tubsat-N and Tubsat-N1 satellites into near-earth orbit. During its period of service the Novomoskovsk repeatedly conducted successful missile launches. For example, it took part in strategic exercises in February 2001 and fired an RSM-54 to the Kura test range. Between January and July 2003, K-407 underwent a refit at the Zvezdochka Shipyard in Severodvinsk.

The submarine is currently part of the 31st Red Banner (Krasnoznamennaya) underwater strategic missile cruiser division of the 12th submarine squadron of the Northern Fleet (Olenya Bay, Skalisty Naval Base). The submarine’s commander is Captain Sergei Rachuk.


All the Article in Russian as of Feb. 18, 2004

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