How a nuclear submarine works

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How a nuclear submarine works
How a nuclear submarine works

Silent "predators" of the depths of the sea have always terrified the enemy, both in war and in peacetime. A countless number of myths are associated with submarines, which, however, is not surprising given that they are created in conditions of special secrecy. But today we know enough about the general layout of submarines - including nuclear submarines (nuclear submarines) of the Russian fleet.

Nuclear submarine structure

The principle of operation of the submarine

The submarine immersion and ascent system includes ballast and auxiliary tanks, as well as connecting pipelines and fittings. The main element here is the main ballast tanks, due to the filling of which with water the main buoyancy reserve of the submarine is extinguished. All tanks are included in the bow, stern and middle groups. They can be filled and purged one at a time or at the same time.


The sub has trim tanks that are necessary to compensate for the longitudinal displacement of the cargo. Ballast between trimmed tanks is transferred using compressed air or pumped using special pumps. Trimming - this is how the technique is called, the purpose of which is to "balance" the submerged submarine.


Nuclear submarines are divided into generations. The first (50s) is characterized by a relatively high noise level and imperfection of hydroacoustic systems. The second generation was built in the 60s and 70s: the shape of the hull was optimized to increase speed. The boats of the third are larger, they also have equipment for electronic warfare. The fourth generation nuclear submarines are characterized by an unprecedented low noise level and advanced electronics. The appearance of the fifth generation boats is being worked out today.

An essential component of any submarine is the air system. Immersion, surfacing, waste disposal - all this is done with compressed air. The latter is stored under high pressure on board the submarine: this way it takes up less space and allows you to store more energy. High pressure air is in special cylinders: as a rule, a senior mechanic monitors its amount. Compressed air is replenished upon ascent. This is a long and laborious procedure that requires special attention. In order for the crew of the boat to have something to breathe, air regeneration units are placed on board the submarine, which make it possible to obtain oxygen from the seawater.

Premier League: what they are

The nuclear submarine has a nuclear power plant (from where, in fact, the name came from). Nowadays, many countries also operate diesel-electric submarines (PL). The level of autonomy of nuclear submarines is much higher, and they can perform a wider range of tasks. The Americans and the British have stopped using non-nuclear submarines altogether, while the Russian submarine fleet has a mixed composition. In general, only five countries have nuclear submarines. In addition to the United States and the Russian Federation, the "club of the elite" includes France, England and China. The rest of the maritime powers use diesel-electric submarines.

The future of the Russian submarine fleet lies in two new nuclear-powered submarines. We are talking about project 885 Yasen multipurpose boats and Borey 955 strategic missile submarines. Eight boats of project 885 will be built, and the number of Boreyevs will reach seven. The Russian submarine fleet cannot be compared with the American one (the United States will have dozens of new submarines), but it will occupy the second line of the world ranking.


Russian and American boats differ in their architecture.The United States makes its nuclear submarines single-hull (the hull both resists pressure and has a streamlined shape), and Russia makes its submarines double-hull: in this case, there is an inner, rough, strong hull and an outer streamlined lightweight. On the Project 949A Antey nuclear submarines, which included the infamous Kursk, the distance between the hulls is 3.5 m. It is believed that double-hull submarines are more tenacious, while single-hull submarines, other things being equal, have less weight. In single-hull boats, the main ballast tanks, which provide ascent and immersion, are inside a strong hull, and in double-hull boats, they are inside a light outer one. Every domestic submarine must survive if any compartment is completely flooded with water - this is one of the main requirements for submarines.

In general, there is a tendency to switch to single-hull nuclear submarines, since the latest steel, from which the hulls of American boats are made, can withstand colossal loads at depth and provide the submarine with a high level of survivability. We are talking, in particular, about high-strength steel grade HY-80/100 with a yield strength of 56-84 kgf / mm. Obviously, even more advanced materials will be used in the future.

There are also boats with a mixed type hull (when the light hull only partially overlaps the main one) and multihull (several strong hulls inside the light). The latter includes the Russian Project 941 missile submarine - the largest nuclear submarine in the world. Inside its lightweight body are five sturdy bodies, two of which are the main ones. For the manufacture of durable cases, titanium alloys were used, and for light ones - steel. It is covered with a non-resonant anti-radar soundproofing rubber coating weighing 800 tons. This coating alone weighs more than the American nuclear submarine NR-1. Project 941 is truly a giant submarine. Its length is 172, and its width is 23 m. 160 people are on board.

You can see how different nuclear submarines are and how different their "content" is. Now let's take a closer look at several domestic submarines: Project 971, 949A and 955 boats. All these are powerful and modern submarines serving in the Russian Navy. The boats belong to the three different types of nuclear submarines that we talked about above.

Nuclear submarines are divided by purpose:

· SSBN (Strategic Missile Submarine Cruiser). As part of the nuclear triad, these submarines carry nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. The main targets of such ships are military bases and enemy cities. The SSBN includes the new Russian nuclear submarine 955 Borey. In America, this type of submarine is called SSBN (Ship Submarine Ballistic Nuclear): this includes the most powerful of these submarines - the Ohio-class submarine. To accommodate the entire deadly arsenal on board, SSBNs are designed taking into account the requirements of a large internal volume. Their length often exceeds 170 m, which is noticeably longer than the length of multipurpose submarines.


· PLAT (nuclear torpedo submarine). Such boats are also called multipurpose. Their purpose: the destruction of ships, other submarines, tactical targets on the ground and the collection of intelligence. They are smaller SSBNs and have better speed and mobility. PLATs can use torpedoes or precision cruise missiles. Such nuclear submarines include the American Los Angeles or the Soviet / Russian Project 971 Shchuka-B MPLATRK.


The American Seawulf is considered the most advanced multipurpose nuclear submarine. Its main feature is the highest level of stealth and deadly weapons on board. One such submarine carries up to 50 Harpoon or Tomahawk missiles. There are also torpedoes. Due to the high cost, the US Navy received only three of these submarines.

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· SSGN (nuclear submarine with cruise missiles). This is the smallest group of modern nuclear submarines. This includes the Russian 949A Antey and some American Ohio converted into cruise missile carriers.The concept of SSGNs has something in common with multipurpose nuclear submarines. Submarines of the SSGN type, however, are the largest - they are large floating underwater platforms with high-precision weapons. In the Soviet / Russian navy, these boats are also referred to as “aircraft carrier killers”.


Inside the submarine

It is difficult to consider in detail the design of all the main types of nuclear submarines, but it is quite possible to analyze the layout of one of these submarines. It will be the project 949A Antey submarine, a landmark (in every sense) for the Russian fleet. To increase survivability, the creators duplicated many of the important components of this nuclear submarine. Such boats received a pair of reactors, turbines and propellers. Failure of one of them, according to the idea, should not be fatal for the boat. The submarine compartments are divided by inter-compartment bulkheads: they are designed for a pressure of 10 atmospheres and are communicated by hatches that can be sealed if necessary. Not all domestic nuclear submarines have so many compartments. The Project 971 multipurpose nuclear submarine, for example, is divided into six compartments, and the new Project 955 SSBN is divided into eight.


The infamous Kursk belongs to the Project 949A boats. This submarine died in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000. All 118 crew members on board became victims of the disaster. Many versions of what happened were put forward: the most likely of all is the explosion of a 650 mm torpedo stored in the first compartment. According to the official version, the tragedy was due to the leakage of a component of the torpedo's propellant, namely hydrogen peroxide.

The nuclear submarine of Project 949A has a very advanced (by the standards of the 80s) apparatus, including the MGK-540 "Skat-3" hydroacoustic system and many other systems. The boat is also equipped with an automated navigation system "Symphony-U" with increased accuracy, increased range and a large amount of processed information. Most of the information about all these complexes is kept secret.

Compartments of nuclear submarine project 949A "Antey":

First compartment:

It is also called bow or torpedo. It is here that the torpedo tubes are located. The boat has two 650-mm torpedo tubes and four 533-mm torpedo tubes, and in total there are 28 torpedoes on board the submarine. The first compartment consists of three decks. The combat stock is stored on the racks intended for this, and the torpedoes are fed into the apparatus using a special mechanism. There are also batteries, which are separated from the torpedoes by special decks for safety reasons. The first compartment usually has five crew members.


Second compartment:

This compartment on submarines of projects 949A and 955 (and not only on them) plays the role of "the brain of the boat." It is here that the central control panel is located, and it is from here that the submarine is controlled. Here are the consoles of hydroacoustic systems, climate controllers and navigation satellite equipment. Serving in the compartment of 30 crew members. From it you can get into the cabin of the nuclear submarine, designed to monitor the sea surface. There are also retractable devices: periscopes, antennas and radars.


Third compartment:

The third is the electronic compartment. Here, in particular, are the multidisciplinary communication antennas and many other systems. The equipment of this compartment allows you to receive target designation, including from space. After processing, the information received is entered into the ship's combat information and control system. We add that the submarine rarely makes contact, so as not to be unmasked.

Fourth compartment:

This compartment is residential. Here the crew not only sleeps, but also spends their free time. There is a sauna, gym, showers and a common room for joint relaxation. There is a room in the compartment that allows you to relieve emotional stress - for this, for example, there is an aquarium with fish. In addition, in the fourth compartment there is a galley, or, in simple terms, the nuclear submarine's kitchen.


Fifth compartment:

This is where the power-generating diesel generator is located.You can also see an electrolysis plant for air regeneration, high-pressure compressors, shore power board, diesel fuel and oil reserves.

5 bis:

This room is needed for decontamination of crew members who worked in the reactor compartment. It is about removing radioactive substances from surfaces and reducing the level of contamination with radioactive substances. Due to the fact that there are two fifth compartments, confusion often occurs: some sources claim that the nuclear submarine has ten compartments, while others speak of nine. Even despite the fact that the last compartment is the ninth, there are ten of them in total on the nuclear submarine (including 5 bis).

Sixth compartment:

This compartment, one might say, is located in the very center of the nuclear submarine. It is of particular importance, because it is here that there are two OK-650V nuclear reactors with a capacity of 190 MW each. The reactor belongs to the OK-650 series - a series of pressurized water nuclear reactors using thermal neutrons. The role of nuclear fuel is played by uranium dioxide, highly enriched in the 235-y isotope. The compartment has a volume of 641 m³. There are two corridors above the reactor allowing access to other parts of the nuclear submarine.

Seventh compartment:

It is also called turbine. The volume of this compartment is 1116 m³. This room is intended for the main switchboard; power plants; emergency control panel for the main power plant; as well as a number of other devices that ensure the movement of the submarine.

Eighth compartment:

This compartment is very similar to the seventh, and it is also called the turbine compartment. The volume is 1072 m³. The power plant can be seen here; turbines that drive nuclear submarine propellers; a turbine generator that supplies the boat with electricity, and water desalination plants.

Ninth compartment:

It is an extremely small shelter compartment with a volume of 542 m³ and an escape hatch. This compartment, in theory, will allow crew members to survive in the event of a disaster. There are six inflatable rafts (each for 20 people), 120 gas masks and life kits for individual ascent. In addition, the compartment contains: steering system hydraulics; high pressure air compressor; electric motor control station; lathe; combat post of backup rudder control; shower room and food supply for six days.


Let us consider separately the armament of the Project 949A nuclear submarine. In addition to torpedoes (which we have already discussed), the boat carries 24 P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missiles. These are long-range missiles that can fly along a combined trajectory of up to 625 km. For targeting, the P-700 has an active radar guidance head.


The missiles are kept in special containers between the light and strong hulls of the nuclear submarine. Their location roughly corresponds to the central compartments of the boat: containers with missiles are on both sides of the submarine, 12 on each side. All of them are turned forward from the vertical at an angle of 40-45 °. Each of these containers has a special cover that slides out during a rocket launch.

Cruise missiles P-700 "Granit" are the basis of the Project 949A submarine arsenal. Meanwhile, there is no real experience in using these missiles in battle, so it is difficult to judge the combat effectiveness of the complex. Tests have shown that due to the speed of the rocket (1, 5-2, 5 M), it is very difficult to intercept it. However, not everything is so simple. Above land, the missile is not capable of flying at low altitude, and therefore is an easy target for enemy air defenses. At sea, the efficiency indicators are higher, but it should be said that the American carrier formation (namely, a missile was created to combat them) has excellent air defense cover.

This arrangement of weapons is not typical for nuclear submarines. On the American submarine Ohio, for example, ballistic or cruise missiles are positioned in shafts running in two longitudinal rows behind a retractable fence. But the multipurpose Seawulf launches cruise missiles from torpedo tubes. Similarly, cruise missiles are launched from the Russian Project 971 Shchuka-B MPLATRK.Of course, all these submarines carry various torpedoes. The latter are used to destroy submarines and surface ships.

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