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SOSUS Contribution to the Economic Collapse of the Soviet Union

By Bruce Rule - August 6, 2013

As previously discussed in the “Open Source Document That Discusses Soviet Knowledge of SOSUS” posted this site on 5 Aug. the source document, “Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces” (hereafter RSNF) is a remarkable book first published in Russia in 1998. Although based entirely on open (public) source information compiled by Russian researchers who did not have access to classified information, all unsold copies were seized by Russian Security Service personnel in October 1999. They believed the document contained classified information, and an investigation was launched into its sources. (RSNF pp. xiii)

It is concluded that a growing awareness of the acoustic vulnerabilities of their nuclear submarines to detection and localization by SOSUS forced the Soviets to make extensive and very expensive efforts to reduce that vulnerability thereby further burdening their economy which collapsed in 1991 precipitating the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

This posting cites statements in RSNF – additional to those discussed in the 5 Aug posting - about Soviet knowledge of those vulnerabilities and the progressively more advanced (and expensive) efforts taken to address that issue.

In the 1960s U.S. Hydroacoustic systems had been able to detect Soviet nuclear submarines at a distance of several hundred kilometers. By the beginning of the 1990s, the concentrated efforts of Soviet designers to reduce the noise levels of Soviet missile-armed ships produced a submarine with noise levels comparable to the natural sources of the ocean. Modern Russian submarines cannot be detected at distances in excess of a few dozen kilometers even in the most favorable conditions. (RSNF pp.278).

Progressively, the following steps were taken to reduce radiated noise levels of Soviet SSBNs.

The noise generated by (YANKEEs) compared to the first generation SSBN - the HOTEL Class - was reduced by using quiet propellers, lining the pressure hull with rubber sound-absorbing material and coating the outer hull with nonresonance, soundproof rubber. The submarine had a vibration-absorbing rubber coating on the bases of all it main and auxiliary mechanisms. (RSNF pp. 295)

During work on the (DELTA I, II), several measures were taken to further reduce submarine noise level. The mechanisms of the steam turbine units were mounted on foundations equipped with a two-stage cushion system. New vibration and sound-absorbing coatings were used. Vibration-absorbing insulation was introduced to separate the pipes and hydraulic equipment from the submarine's hull. (RSNF pp. 301)

To reduce the noise level of the TYPHOON, a two-stage rubberized-cord pneumatic shock absorber system was installed, the modular arrangement of mechanisms and equipment was incorporated and new sound-absorbing coatings were used. (RSNF pp. 306)

When the (DELTA IV) was being designed, several measures were taken to reduce its noise levels considerably over that of the (DELTA III). All mechanisms and equipment were situated in a common framework (raft), separated from the pressure-hull by a buffer. Local sound absorbers were installed around the power bays, more effective acoustic coatings were used on the inner and outer hulls, and the ship was fitted with quiet five-bladed propellers with improved hydroacoustic properties. These measures lowered the noise levels of the ship to one-third the level of DELTA IIIs. The DELTA IV had a larger diameter pressure-hull and longer bow and stern sections than the DELTA III which increased its length by 39-feet and the displacement by 1,200 tons. (RSNF pp. 308)

In summary, these progressively more sophisticated, space-consuming (greater displacements) and expensive technologies were a response to U.S. passive acoustic surveillance capabilities, primarily SOSUS. One has to credit the Soviet technical capabilities but the expense was enormous: economically crippling in terms of a percentage of the Navy budget.

By 1995, the inability to perform required overhaul cycles every 7-8 years had reduced the number of strategic Russian submarines available for deployment to 20; by 2000, that number was only 10. Routine maintenance had been precluded by the absence of the necessary funding. (RSNF pp. 244-245)