American Forces Press Service

U.S., Russia Scrap Soviet-era Nuclear Missile Subs


 By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

 SEVERODVINSK, Russia -- U.S. and Russian officials at the 
 Zvezdochka Shipyard here showed Defense Secretary William S. 
 Cohen the fruits of their labor Sept. 14 -- massive mounds of 
 scrap metal, miles of twisted cable and barrels filled with 
 copper bits. 
 That's what remains of Soviet-era nuclear submarines after 
 American-supplied heavy equipment gripped, grabbed, sheared and 
 stripped them.
 The United States is helping Russia dismantle 31 nuclear 
 submarines by 2003 as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction 
 program. So far, U.S. specialists have helped disassemble one 
 Yankee- and six Delta-class submarines. The Russians have 
 destroyed another five ballistic missile subs on their own using 
 American equipment. 
 U.S. officials awarded a contract Sept. 2 to SevMash Shipyard, 
 located here across the bay from Zvezdochka, for the next boat 
 on the chopping block, a Typhoon-class submarine. The world's 
 largest subs, the Russians' six Typhoons, are about 570 feet 
 long, 75 feet wide and and displace 48,000 tons submerged. They 
 dwarf the next-largest Russian Delta IV and U.S. Ohio subs, 
 which are only about 10 feet shorter, but have half the width 
 and one-third the displacement. The Russians plan to eventually 
 destroy all but one of the giant subs.
 The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency contracts Russian 
 shipyards at four locations to disassemble the submarines, 
 according to retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Tom Kuenning, who 
 heads the Cooperative Threat Reduction program at the agency's 
 Washington headquarters. 
 Kuenning and Army Maj. Ron Alberto, the agency's submarine 
 elimination project manager, spend much of their time in Russia, 
 verifying the work and monitoring the program. The two 
 accompanied Cohen on his Sept. 14 visit to witness operations at 
 this strictly controlled shipyard, about 650 miles north of 
 During a two-hour stop, the secretary toured several sites amid 
 a cluster of American and Russian officials. Russian security 
 officials allowed U.S. news reporters to join the secretary at 
 only two sites.
 At the first, Cohen walked through a tumultuous scrap yard where 
 a shearing machine compacted and chopped a submarine hull into 
 slices with a guillotine-like blade. Overhead, a giant 
 mechanical claw and tall cranes tugged and hoisted 20-ton, one-
 meter-square metal pieces while nearby Russian workers cut up 
 missile launch tubes with acetylene torches.
 At the second site, the secretary watched a machine strip the 
 outer casing from copper cables and turn the metal into 
 "For so many years, the United States and the then-Soviet Union 
 were engaged in a massive arms race," Cohen recalled. "Yet less 
 than a decade ago, we were able to negotiate a START I 
 agreement, which called for the reduction of our respective 
 nuclear arsenals from 10,000 strategic weapons down to 6,000. 
 "If the Russian Duma [parliament] will ratify START II, we'll be 
 able to reduce those levels  to as low as 3,000. If the Duma 
 will ratify START II, as I believe they should, we can move on 
 to START III [and] reduce those levels even more -- as low as 
 2,000 strategic weapons."
 The U.S. Senate has ratified the START II agreement, Cohen 
 noted. "We believe it's important for Russia to do the same, and 
 we believe key members of the Russian Duma understand that." He 
 said Duma members he met in Moscow indicated to him it is 
 unlikely the parliament will ratify START II until after 
 December elections.
 Reducing both nations' arsenals contributes greatly to world 
 security and stability and at the same time provides jobs for 
 both Russians and Americans, Cohen said. The secretary then 
 pointed out that the United States -- monitored by Russian 
 observers -- has destroyed 23 submarines and 368 submarine-
 launched ballistic missile launchers, as called for in START I.
 The U.S. and Russia differ on their approach to reaching START I 
 reduction levels. "We  place greater emphasis on our sea-based 
 systems. The Russians placed greater emphasis on their land-
 based systems. We will both achieve the levels we've agreed upon 
 in START I," Cohen explained to reporters.
 Drawing down the nuclear arsenals is an expensive proposition, 
 Cohen said. The United States has already spent roughly $1.7 
 billion under the program eliminating nuclear weapons in Russia, 
 Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan and is committed to spending 
 another $2.7 billion over the next six years, he remarked. 
 Cohen praised the Russian workers for their talent, hard work 
 and dedication. Shipyard manager Nikolai Kalistratov assured the 
 American visitors that Russia is carrying out its contractual 
 and treaty obligations. "Everything is being done on time, in a 
 quality manner and very responsibly," he said. 
 Nikolai Mihailov, first deputy defense minister, remarked that 
 the Cooperative Threat Reduction program has given the Russian 
 people hope for stability throughout the world. It allows the 
 Russians to cooperate and to feel calmer and safer, he said. 
 "This program will go down in history -- as we enter the new 
 millennium -- as a very bright example ," he said. "It opens up 
 the door for us for many opportunities in many different areas 
 in the 21st century for us to pursue as new endeavors."
 Before leaving Zvezdochka for a stop at SevMash shipyard, the 
 Russians presented Cohen, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy 
 Walt Slocombe and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy 
 and Threat Reduction Ted Warner III with plaques bearing shards 
 of a Delta III submarine's pressure hull. Cohen gave Mihailov a 
 plaque bearing a metal cube salvaged from the USS George