Ships of Postwar Design Projects

Design Project P-627A, 653 and 639 Missile-Armed Submarines

Moscow MORSKOY SBORNIK, Jun 19 No 6, 95 pp 72-76
by A. Antonov, associate of Malakhit SPMBM (St. Petersburg Naval Bureau of Machinebuilding)

Alas, it is far from always that developed ship design projects have ended in their creation. Such a fate also befell the first design projects of Soviet missile-armed nuclear powered submarines developed by Special Design Bureau No 143 (SKB-143). In general, SKB-143 (now the Malakhit St. Petersburg Naval Bureau of Machinebuilding) was formed in 1948 especially to design fast submarines with new types of power plants, and it initially worked on a submarine with a steam-gas turbine plant (Design Project 617). Later, in 1953, it was reoriented to design nuclear powered submarines, and here the first Soviet Design Project 627 nuclear powered submarine, Design Project 627A series SSN's and the Design Project 645 experimental submarine were developed. The bureau subsequently became the leading developer of domestic multipurpose nuclear powered submarines. In that stage the SKB also was working to create missile-armed SSN's, which at that time were seen as promising but for various reasons were halted and the lead ship, already laid down and beginning to acquire her formidable outlines, went under the cutting torch right on the building berth. Still, even in those instances when work on certain design projects was halted, the successful engineering solutions found in them do not disappear, but are used again, this time on other ships and often already with a different look, so to speak, in the next spiral in the development of equipment. The story of the introduction of cruise and ballistic missiles on domestic SSN's can serve as an example of this.

Experimental Design Project P-627A Missile-Armed SSN Up to the late 1950's the USSR had an acute problem of outfitting the Armed Forces with reliable, effective means of delivering strategic nuclear weapons to the target. At that time our country did not yet have powerful strategic aviation, there also were no aircraft carriers, and missile weaponry was only taking its first steps and had very modest characteristics both in terms of range as well as accuracy. Meanwhile, the United States, our principal enemy at that time, had strong aviation, both land-based as well as deck- based, and so had a considerable advantage in this regard. Therefore the attention of our military specialists and nuclear weapon developers was drawn by submarines, which had the capability of making transoceanic transits and delivering strikes against enemy territory with short and intermediate range weapons.

Such a direction originally also was put into the concept of the first Soviet SSN, which was to be equipped with a large-caliber (1,550 mm diameter) "strategic" T-15 torpedo with thermonuclear warhead intended for delivering a strike against the coast. True, this idea later was rejected, but not the SSN as a strategic weapon platform. They were counting on rapidly progressing missile weaponry- -ballistic and cruise. The first system with D-1 naval ballistic missiles already had been created in 1955, but its missiles still were far from ideal--they had a surface launch and short range of fire. And in this period cruise missiles had the indisputable advantage in flight range. Therefore a proposal to equip series Design Project 627A SSN's with the P-20 system's strategic cruise missile1 appeared within the scope of an alternative direction.

In August 1956 the USSR Council of Ministers approved a seven-year plan for designing and creating a submarine with new kinds of weapons and propulsion engineering. Among others, the plan envisaged constructing an experimental SSN with rocket-propelled weapons, the Design Project P-627A (see figure, view a). She was intended for delivering strikes with a cruise missile with nuclear warhead against enemy targets located both on shore as well as in the interior of his territory. It was assumed the strike would be delivered against areas where the enemy air defense system was relatively weak, and it was believed that the Pacific theater met those conditions to the greatest extent.

a. Design inboard profile of Design Project P-627A SSN--platform for P-20 
cruise missile system:
1. Sonar enclosure 
2. Torpedo tubes and spare torpedoes 
3. First (torpedo) compartment hatch 
4. Sonar enclosure 
5. Conning tower 
6. Masts 
7. P-20 system cruise missile 
8. Missile container 
9. Launch carriage 
10. Aft message buoy 
11. After compartment 
12. Living compartment 
13. Power compartment 
14. Power compartment 
15. Power compartment 
16. Power compartment 
17. Control room 
18. Living compartment 
19. Storage battery 
20. Forward torpedo compartment 
b. Design inboard profile of Design Project 639 SSN--platform for D-3 
ballistic missile system: 
1. 533-mm torpedo tubes 
2. 400-mm torpedo tubes and spare torpedoes 
3. First compartment access hatch 
4. Forward message buoy 
5. Conning tower 
6. Masts 
7. Missile launch tubes of D-3 system R-15 ballistic missiles 
8. High-pressure air cylinders 
9. Eighth compartment access hatch 
10. 400-mm torpedo tubes and spare torpedoes 
11. After (torpedo) compartment 
12. Power compartment 
13. Power compartment 
14. Power compartment 
15. Power compartment 
16. Missile compartment 
17. Control room 
18. Living compartment 
19. Storage battery 
20. Forward (torpedo) compartment 
21. [Not further identified, evidently sonar enclosure]

The flight range of a P-20 system cruise missile with a sustained speed around Mach 3 was 3,500 km, which exceeded the range of the D-1 system ballistic missile by 14 times. The missile flew to the target for one hour and could proceed at low altitudes to hinder detection by air defense assets in the terminal phase, zigzagging according to a given program. The aircraft industry's OKB-240 headed by General Designer S. V. Ilyushin was chief developer of the P-20 system.

This missile, which by the end of designing had a weight exceeding 30 tonnes, was accommodated on the submarine in a pressure container on the deck of the superstructure behind the sail and masts. The container was 4.6 m in diameter and around 25 m long. This missile could be launched from a surface condition. To do this, after coming to the surface it was necessary to open the container cover, roll it onto the carriage, elevate it to an angle of 16[DEG] and secure it on the container. After launch it was necessary to retract the launch equipment back into the container, close its cover, and only after this submerge. And although all the indicated operations were mechanized and performed remotely, the design time for the submarine being in a surface condition had to be around 6.5 minutes, during which she was constrained in maneuvering and could not submerge quickly even in case of danger. All this made the submarine very vulnerable, and the method of the weapon's combat employment contradicted the very nature of a submarine. But there was not yet any other option in this phase of developing missile weaponry; moreover, such a concept was justified by the long range of fire, which permitted executing it from positions that were rather remote from shore. The fact that the Americans also followed a similar path, equipping their SSN Halibut with Regulus missiles, also should not be discounted.

Development of the Design Project P-627A went on from the summer of 1956, was completed toward the end of 1957 (its principal tactical and technical characteristics are shown in the table), and in early 1958 the bureau began developing detailed drawings. Initially the designing was headed by Vladimir Nikolayevich Peregudov, chief of SKB-143 and chief designer of the first SSN's, but in 1959 Grigoriy Yakovlevich Svetayev was appointed chief designer of Design Project P-627A, at the same time being Peregudov's deputy for this design project.

Elements Experimental Design Project P-627A Submarine (Detail Design), 1959Design Project 653 SSN (Engineering Design), 1959SSN Halibut (USA), 1960Large Design Project 639 SSN (Preliminary Design, 1957) Version 1 (liquid-metal coolant) Version 2 (water-to-water coolant) Principal dimensions, m: extreme length 110.2 97.5 106.8 114.1 extreme beam 9.2 12.2 8.9 11.4 mean draft 6.34 7.8 6.2* Around 8.0 L/B ratio 12 8 12 10 Normal displacement, t Around 3,950 5,250 3,650 Around 6,000 Reserve buoyancy, %Around 40 36 37 . Submergence depth, m 285 300 210** 300 Full submerged speed, kts 23-25.5 22-24 15-16 25-26 22.5-23.5 Main power plant output, hp 2x17,500 2x16,500 2x6,000 2x35,000 2x25,000 Endurance, days50-6080 .50 Crew 90 101 119 100 Armament: a. Torpedo: torpedo tubes: 533-mm44 2 (aft)4 400-mm24 .4 (2 bow, 2 aft) torpedo unit of fire: 533-mm44 64 400-mm612 .12 b. Missile: typeP-20 system cruise missiles P-20 system cruise missiles Regulus-1 cruise missiles R-15 ballistic missiles (D-3 system) number12 43 *[Translator's note: asterisks not further explained]

Originally the preliminary design of this SSN was drawn up as a modification of the series Design Project 627A outfitted with a missile container and control equipment of the P-20 system. The submarine's dimensions and her hull design essentially were unchanged, but tanks compensating for the missiles were installed additionally and the amount of solid ballast was increased to ensure metacentric stability. As a result the SSN's displacement rose almost by 480 t, but they failed to ensure her unsinkability and survivability according to existing standards. Problems also arose with the submarine's steerability in a submerged condition. True, these shortcomings were eliminated in the engineering design stage, which became possible only on the path of designing an essentially new submarine.

To increase form stability, the beam of her outer hull was increased from 7.9 to 9.2 m compared with the base Design Project 627A SSN. Reserve buoyancy reached 40 percent and the spherical intercompartment bulkheads were replaced by flat ones withstanding an equal load on both sides. Surveillance and communications equipment was improved, an additional group of storage batteries was installed and high pressure air reserve was increased. The submarine's reorientation to perform new missions shifted emphasis in the purpose and makeup of torpedo ordnance, which turned into defensive weapons, and for this reason the number of torpedo tubes and the torpedo unit of fire was reduced. Only four of the eight 533-mm tubes were retained and no reserve torpedoes were envisaged for them. Two 400-mm torpedo tubes were installed additionally for antisubmarine torpedoes and submarine simulators. Considering all changes made to the design project, the SSN's displacement rose by over 400 t more and reached 3,950 t. Engineer-Captain 1st Rank A. N. Donchenko (from 1959 Engineer-Captain 3rd Rank V. S. Krovyakov) was appointed chief observer from the Navy. Construction of this missile-armed SSN was assigned to Severodvinsk Yard No 402 (now Northern Machinebuilding Enterprise Production Association) in parallel with construction of Design Project 627A torpedo-armed SSN's. Without awaiting completion of the engineering design, the yard began ordering materials and equipment for the new submarine already in March 1957 and soon began her construction. It was planned to present this SSN for turnover in the third quarter of 1960...

Design Project 653 Missile-Armed SSN

Right after work on Design Project P-627A, SKB-143 began developing another missile-armed submarine, Design Project 653. While the first one was experimental and the P-20 missile system was to be developed on her, the second one was to become the main combatant of the submarine fleet. She too was being created based on equipment of first generation submarines, but this time she was armed not with one, but with two P-20 system missiles accommodated above the pressure hull in two containers located parallel with the centerplane. The containers were covered with a common fairing, which made a transition into the sail. Inasmuch as that sail-fairing had a beam of around 11 m, a three-dimensional structure was formed which made a smooth transition into the side of the hull. Despite the seeming cumbersomeness, designers succeeded in achieving the integral inclusion of the container fairing in the overall submarine architecture.

To ensure surface stability of a submarine with two containers and 30-tonne missiles on deck, it was necessary to increase the beam of the submarine's outer hull even more, and it reached 12.2 m. The pressure hull diameter also was increased, which in comparison with the Design Project P-627A SSN permitted shortening the submarine's length by 12.7 m and bringing the L/B ratio from 12 to 8. Such a transformation was favorable for the submarine's propulsive qualities and, despite the developed superstructure, permitted preserving essentially the very same speed as for the Design Project P-627A SSN. Organization of the missile launch remained the same, but introduction of a rotating fairing in the after part of the sail permitted (when it was turned 30[DEG] to starboard) opening the left container cover to remove the missile from it onto the carriage; with the fairing rotated to port, the missile from the right container was removed and launched. The design time for the submarine being in a surface condition necessary for launching two missiles was not to exceed 10 minutes.

Work on this design project began in the middle of 1958, and by the end of 1959 the engineering design was completed under the direction of Chief Designer Mikhail Georgiyevich Rusanov (future chief designer of the Design Project 705 SSN). For most rapid creation of the submarine, the designers tried to use equipment from the series torpedo-armed Design Project 627A SSN's and the experimental Design Project P-627A SSN's to the maximum possible extent. Nevertheless, they provided for use of the improved VM-1M water-water steam-generating plant and self- contained turbogenerators (as on the Design Project 645 submarine)2, new AK-29 high-strength steel, a high pressure air system with doubled working pressure (to reduce the number of cylinders), remotely controlled fittings, an electrolysis unit for reproducing the oxygen reserve, a developed system of hydraulics and hydraulic drives, as well as a number of other innovations. To speed up construction of this SSN, the first working drawings already began to be sent off to the yard in December 1959. Originally it was planned to build four Design Project 653 SSN's, but then the Navy proposed that the Government increase the series to 18. It was planned to turn the lead submarine over to the Navy in 1962.

But a radical change in views of the country's supreme military and political leadership on combat capabilities of missile weaponry occurred in this period. Preference was given to ballistic missiles, which were demonstrating noticeable progress in range and accuracy. In early 1960 the P-20 missile system was recognized to have lost promise. Work on it and construction of missile-armed submarines of design projects P-627A and 653 was halted despite the fact that by this time the hull of the experimental Design Project P-627A submarine already basically had been formed and installation work was proceeding on it. It is characteristic that essentially the very same development of events with first-generation strategic cruise missiles also occurred in the United States, although SSN Halibut still was built there.

ICBM's appeared in the late 1950's and these missiles began to be developed especially for submarines with the capability of being launched from under water. But the important thing is that by having incomparably higher effectiveness in overcoming air defense and ABM defense weapons, they crowded cruise missiles from the category of strategic naval weapons. The latter became the main antiship weapons of missile-armed attack SSN's, launched right from eight containers from a surface condition (P-6 and Bazalt cruise missiles from Design Project 675 SSN's) and from a submerged condition (Ametist and Malakhit cruise missiles from Design Project 670 SSN's). True, in 1983 small Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from standard torpedo tubes became operational on U.S. submarines (they also can be categorized as strategic weapons with great substantiation), and soon missiles of a similar class also appeared on domestic multipurpose SSN's. They were successfully introduced by the Malakhit St. Petersburg Naval Bureau of Machinebuilding.

But ballistic missiles still remain the Navy's chief strategic weapons. SKB-143 also took part in designing the submarine platforms for this kind of weapon. The aforementioned seven-year plan for designing and creating submarines with new kinds of weapons and power engineering envisaged the development of submarines with two missile systems, D-2 and D-3. The Navy Central Scientific Research Institute of Naval Shipbuilding developed preliminary specifications for these submarines with the participation of SKB-143 specialists. The D-3 missile system was developed by SKB-586 under the direction of M. K. Yangel. Missiles of this system were to have a flight range increased to 1,000 km and the capability of being launched right from the missile launch tube without being moved up above the top of the sail, as was done in the D-1 and D-2 systems.

Design Project 639 Missile-Armed SSN

The sharp increase in range of the new missiles gave rise to a significant increase in their weight and dimensions. The missile launch tubes for them--and there were supposed to be three on the Design Project 639 SSN platform--had impressive dimensions: a diameter of 3 m and a height of 17 m. Therefore, as on other missile-armed submarines, the greatest problems for shipbuilders lay in providing for metacentric stability of submarines with such large, heavy missiles. The initial desire to preserve the architecture and pressure hull of the SSN according to the Design Project 627A dictated the designers' attempt to create a submarine with high propulsive qualities and minimal beam, but as the preliminary design showed, this did not give the submarine sufficient metacentric stability.

Therefore in the initial design stage very original versions were studied for accommodating missiles in rotating launch tubes, which were in a "traveling" horizontal position, but were turned vertically for combat employment. A version was examined for reloading a rotating launch tube in a horizontal position with a spare missile from the submarine's unit of fire. A team of young designers proposed a version with a two-row accommodation of missile launch tubes, which could be realized with a pressure hull diameter of around 10 m, but they did not venture to go over to that design at that time. Subsequently all U.S. missile-armed submarines and our second-generation missile- armed submarines were created specifically according to that scheme.

In the final account, SKB-143 designers decided on a version of accommodating ballistic missiles common to the first domestic submarines. Their launch tubes were disposed vertically in the centerplane and passed through the sail. Metacentric stability in a surface (combat launch) condition was achieved by increasing the width of the submarine's outer hull. The first chief designer's team in SKB-143 (Bureau Chief Engineer V. P. Funikov became the chief designer) was established to solve the new problem. His team included G. N. Chernyshev, V. V. Romin and V. D. Levashov, who themselves later became chief designers of ships.

Development of the submarine's preliminary design was completed in November 1957 (see table). The submarine was studied with two types of nuclear power plants--with liquid-metal coolant (a lead-bismuth alloy) and with water- to-water coolant. It was decided to use alternating current in the electric power system for the first time in domestic submarine construction. The use of direct current as the main kind in first-generation nuclear powered submarines was dictated on the one hand by the use of equipment mastered by industry and on the other hand by the use of "suspended" turbogenerators on first-generation SSN's. The power network had to be switched to battery power with a decrease in speed and reverses of the main turbine. But it was clear that the future lay with an ac power system, since its electric drives were distinguished by greater reliability, were simpler to service and had lesser weight-size characteristics. In addition, on Design Project 639 SSN's it was necessary to increase generator output by 2.4 or 1.9 times (depending on the SSN version), and they were impossible to create in acceptable dimensions with the retention of direct current.

It was planned to make the pressure hull out of new AK-29 high-strength steel. It also was proposed to double working pressure in the high-pressure air system, which permitted creating an air reserve necessary for the submarine to surface from a depth of 150 m with one compartment flooded. Still, the most serious problems probably had to be solved over missile armament. The need to ensure the missiles' blast resistance required going to separate storage of the missiles themselves in launch tubes and of their fuel components in special submarine tanks. Missiles were to be fueled with highly toxic fuel components and oxidizer right before launch. SKB-143 set about to ensure creation of equipment for this operation, which was dangerous in the closed volume of the submarine pressure hull.

The preliminary design of this submarine was completed in November 1957 and it was recommended by the Navy Shipbuilding Directorate for further development in the spring of the following year. But work was halted in the engineering design stage in connection with a decision made in December 1958 to stop development on the D-3 missile system.

And so SKB-143's first attempt to create nuclear powered missile-armed submarines seemingly ended without result--work on the design projects was halted and construction of the submarines stopped. The main reason for this was a change in views of the country's military leadership on the prospects of the types of missile weapons being developed. Unstable technical policy in the area of missile weaponry led for a certain time to a unique allergy and to the heads of SKB-143 losing interest in creating missile-armed submarines. The bureau stepped back from missile subjects for a lengthy period of time, conceding this area to other design organizations. At the same time, however, the designing of the first missile-armed SSN's was a productive phase for the SKB in turning out new engineering solutions, which later were embodied successfully in design projects of second-generation nuclear powered submarines...


1. At that time this kind of weapon was called rocket- propelled and cruise missiles were called "robot bombs."

2. For more details see MORSKOY SBORNIK, No 8, 1993.