Russian Submarine: A tale of onboard fire

Indian Navy's Kilo Class Submarine on fire.

Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, South Korea and America have all become major producers of AIP-powered submarines, and sold them to numerous additional countries.

Russian media has been trumpeting plans to launch two additional Lada-class diesel-electric submarines, two decades after the hull of the lead boat, the St. Petersburg,was laid down. Left delicately unstated in some of the press releases is that these new boats will lack the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems that were intended to be the class’s defining feature.

The Kilo-class diesel submarine has been exported to China, Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Algeria, Poland and Iran.

In realty, a Russian submarine designed to sink aircraft carriers became a victim of its own arsenal and onboard fire.

Project 971 Gas Poison

A picture of a Project 971 Shchuka-B type (NATO reporting name Akula) nuclear-powered attack submarine, a similar to the Russian submarine K-152 Nerpa, on 10 November 2008, a 9140 tonne Project 971 Shchuka-B type nuclear-powered attack submarine, on board of which at least 20 Russians choked to death on poisonous gas in an accident reported ITAR-TASS News Agency.

A rusty Project 971 Shchuka-B type submarine
Rusting nuclear submarines.
Indian Navy personnel conducting salvage operation of INS Sindhurakshak.

Russian Spy Submarine Losharik Accident

On the afternoon of July 1 a fire broke out in the battery compartment of Losharik. The submarine is constructed from seven spherical titanium hulls strung together, except for the uninhabited rear two which contain the nuclear reactor and machinery. The orb-like hulls, although not visible from the outside thanks to a streamlined outer hull, are where the submarine’s nickname comes from.

The accident occurred very close to the Russian coast, reportedly as Losharik was docking with the BS-64. The fire was in the battery compartment; even nuclear submarines have batteries as a backup. Some of the crew, including the captain, reportedly stayed in the affected compartment to ensure the safety of the others. These are the men who perished.

This wasn’t Losharik’s first underwater accident. In 2012 she damaged her manipulator arms while on a mission under the Ice Cap. That time it was not fatal.

Losharik was able to dock with the BS-64, which raced back to Severomorsk to unload the injured submariners. By midnight a local news outlet,, broke the story. They reported that between 10 and 14 people died and that about 5 injured. Two of them were in intensive care.

Kursk Submarine Disaster

In 2000, one of the worst peacetime submarines accidents ever took place off the coast of Russia. A huge explosion sank the giant nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, killing most of its crew and stranding nearly two dozen survivors hundreds of feet underwater. An international rescue team assembled to save the sailors, but was unable to reach them in time.

At 11:20 AM local time, an underwater explosion rocked the exercise area, followed two minutes later by an even larger explosion. A Norwegian seismic monitoring station recorded both explosions. One Russian account claims the 28,000-ton battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy shook from the first explosion.

A movie portrays Russian Submarine Disaster

Racked by explosions, Kursk sank in 354 feet of water at a 20-degree vertical angle. One of the explosions ripped a large gash in her forward bow, near the torpedo compartment. A Russian Navy board of inquiry later determined that one of the submarine’s Type 65-76A super heavyweight torpedoes had exploded, causing the gash. The explosion was likely caused by a faulty weld that failed to hold the hydrogen peroxide fuel chamber together.

Kursk’s conning tower is visible as the submarine is towed back to Roslyakovo, Russia.

The Kursk’s sinking didn’t kill all of its 118 crewmembers—at least not right away. One of the ship’s officers, Lieutenant Captain Dmitri Koselnikov left a note dated two hours after the second explosion recording 23 survivors. Despite a hastily organized rescue effort, including British and Norwegian rescue teams, the Russian government was unable to reach any of the survivors in time. The wreck of the submarine was recovered in 2001 and returned to the Russian Navy submarine shipyards at Roslyakovo.

Indian Navy’s Submarine Accidents

The Defence Ministry has sought a detailed report from the Indian Navy about a fire incident in Mumbai which caused damage to a Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhukesari.

“A detailed report has been sought from the Navy about the fire incident in the Naval dockyards in Mumbai,” defence sources said.

The submarine had recently been upgraded by a Russian shipyard and was being readied for operational roles by the force.

The Kilo class submarines, named the Sindhughosh class by the Indian Navy, were acquired in the 1980s and have been prone to a number of accidents in recent years as their originally planned service life draws to an end.

The INS Sindhurakshak was lost with its crew in an explosion in 2013 while torpedoes were being loaded, while a fire onboard INS Sindhuratna in 2014 led to two personnel losing their lives.

The government has said that the explosion on board INS Sindhurakshak was “probably induced” during the process of arming of the torpedoes and cannot be blamed on anyone. They added that even for converting it into a training platform, lot of logistical issues are there.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said that the accident cannot be blamed on anyone since none of the officers or sailors present inside the submarines survived.

The Kilo class submarines, named the Sindhughosh class by the Indian Navy, were acquired in the 1980s and have been prone to a number of accidents in recent years as their originally planned service life draws to an end.

Use of Deadly Hydrogen Peroxide in Russian Torpedo

The Russian government has finally admitted that the Kursk nuclear submarine was sunk by an explosion caused by a torpedo fuel leak, not a collision with a foreign vessel or a World War II mine.

The Kursk sank on 12 August 2000 killing all 118 crewmembers during a training exercise in the Barents Sea. For two years the government has been unwilling to conclude that one of its nuclear submarines, the pride of the navy, could have suffered a malfunction. The government has also faced criticism for failing to rescue sailors who were trapped inside the sunken vessel.

On 1 July, Russia’s Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov revealed that the official investigation into the catastrophe suggested that a torpedo explosion was to blame.

Hydrogen peroxide propellant is used because it propels a torpedo further and faster than an electrical motor. Russia decommissioned torpedoes using the propellant shortly after the Kursk sank.

Faulty Lithium-ion Batteries Manufactured in Russia

A malfunctioning lithium-ion battery may have sparked a deadly fire on a top-secret Russian nuclear submersible earlier this month that killed 14 naval officers, according to reports.

Investigators told the Kommersant newspaper that a leading theory behind the fire in the Barents Sea on 1 July is battery failure.

The submersible was equipped with a lithium-ion battery made in Russia to replace older, proven batteries procured from the Ukrainian defence industry.

Advanced batteries were one of many components sourced by the Russian military from Ukraine before Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Ukraine banned exports of military goods in response, forcing Russia to pursue crash programmes to develop domestic alternatives.

One of the major losses for the Russian navy were Ukrainian-made diesel turbines used to drive surface ships. This put the construction of an entire class of new Russian frigates on hold, and only recently have Russian turbine manufacturers been able to catch up.

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