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Russia Finally Comes To The Rescue
by James Dunnigan
October 3, 2013

After decades of delays, Russia expects to put ten new rescue ships into service by the end of the year. This rescue fleet will include a specially designed sea going tug and small rescue craft for the Baltic and Black sea. The larger craft will be stationed in the north and on the Pacific coast. These two bases are home ports for all Russian nuclear subs. Chief among these rescue ships is the 5,000 ton Igor Belousov, which is equipped with a Western submarine rescue system. Completion of the Belousov was delayed several years because of money shortages and a failed effort to develop a Russian made submarine rescue system. The Belousov has a helicopter pad, a decompression chamber that fits 60 people, and two ARS-600 mini-subs. Each of these seats 2 and are used to check out subs in trouble. There are also unmanned by Panther Plus (goes down to 1,000 meters/3,100 feet) and Tiger (150 meters/460 feet) unmanned submersibles. The actual rescue is handled by a Divex system from a British firm. This can handle rescues down to 450 meters (1,400 feet), has a crew of 3, and can bring up 12 people at a time.

Russia chose the British rescue sub because Western firms had pioneered the development of this equipment and were the foremost manufacturers. The Western firms also established international standards for this gear. Back in 2008, NATO successfully completed tests of the NATO Submarine Rescue Vehicle (SRV). This $95 million SRV1 is a deep water rescue device that can be airlifted to anywhere in the world on short notice, fit on the deck of at least 140 identified ships, and mate with the escape hatches on most of the worlds’ submarines. The SRV1 has a crew of three and can carry up to 15 men at a time to the surface. It can do this at the rate of 4 hours per trip (to allow for time to deal with decompression, battery recharging, and maintenance).

The SRV1 system is shipped in 11 waterproof cargo containers that can be flown by military or civilian cargo aircraft. Including flight time, set up time on the ship, and movement time to the site of the distressed submarine, the NATO SRV should be able to get there and have the SRV in the water within 72 hours. The SRV itself is 10 meters (31 feet) long, weighs 27 tons, and can go as deep as 1,000 meters (3,000 feet, which is the maximum depth for most submarines).

Britain, Norway, and France cooperated to design and build SRV1. The U.S. has built a similar system, providing 2 rescue systems to deal with any of the several hundred subs in service. The NATO SRV will be based in Clyde, Scotland and is managed by the UK Ministry of Defense.

Back in 2005, an unmanned British minisub arrived by air, and after 6 hours of work, cut free a small Russian rescue sub, allowing it, and its crew of 6, to come to the surface. The Russian sub had gotten snagged in abandoned fishing nets 3 days earlier off the Pacific coast in the Russian northeast. The US also flew out 2 minisubs, but the British got there first and were aided by some American transport troops who had already arrived. The Russians thanked the British and other nations who had rushed assistance to the scene (off the Pacific coast in the Russian Far East). Russia said it would buy 2 of the minisubs that Britain used. These minisubs are used for all sorts of underwater work and cost about a million dollars each. The Russian navy was under tremendous pressure to ask for foreign assistance, after they did not do so in 2000 when the submarine Kursk went down. Meanwhile, the navy is investigating the current accident for things that could have been avoided.

In 2003, Russia and NATO signed an agreement to instantly cooperate if anyone's submarines go down and quick rescue attempts are needed. This is a direct result of what happened when the Russian submarine Kursk sank in 2000. NATO nations immediately offered rescue ships but the Russians dithered and the Kursk sailors who survived the initial disaster died inside the sub as their air ran out. The agreement will mean more regular transfer of information on who has what submarine rescue capabilities and perhaps even rescue exercises between NATO navies and Russia. Over half the submarines in European navies belong to Russia, including most of the nuclear subs.

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