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Project 949 Granit / Oscar I
Project 949A Antey / Oscar II

The Oscar-class nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarine, which displaces more than 18,000 tons when under water, is one of Russia's largest and most capable submarines. As with earlier cruise-missile submarine, the Oscar was designed primarily to attack American aircraft carrier battle groups.

As with other Russian submarines, the Oscar features a double hull -- and inner pressure hull and an outer hydrodynamic hull, with eight inches of rubber between them to muffle sounds. American submarines have a single pressure hull, with additional hydrodynamic fairings, such as the cap that encloses the bow sonar dome. The 3.5 meter separation between the inner and outter hulls on the Oscar provides significant reserve buoyancy, and improved survivability against conventional torpedoes. These large submarines are said to be slow to dive and maneuver, though they are credited with a submerged speed of about 30 knots - sufficient to keep pace with their targets. The improved Oscar II is about 10 meters longer than the Oscar I, possibly making room for a quieter propulsion system, and feature upgraded electronic systems. The Oscar II is also characterized by a substantially enlarged fin, which should improve underwater manueverability, as well as the substitution of the Oscar-I's four-bladed propeller with a [presumably] quiter seven-blade propeller.

The Oscars are rather poorly characterized in the open literature, with substantial discrepancies in reported submerged displacement [the upper estimates are probably closer to the mark] and maximum submerged speed [reportedly classified intelligence estimates have tended upward over time. Considerable confusion also exists as to the names of some units. During the Cold War essentially no information was publicly available concerning the names of Soviet submarines, and with the end of the Cold War the Russian Navy has exibited an annoying tendency to rename ships [a very un-American practice]. And unlike the American practice, in which hull numbers are generally assigned in a consecutive numerical sequence which corresponds to the chronological sequence of construction, the pennant numbers assigned Russian submarines [eg, K-141] do not conform to an apparent set pattern.

The submarine is equipped with two dozen SS-N-19 missiles with a range of 550-kilometers -- three times as many anti-ship cruise missiles as earlier Charlie and Echo II class submarines. The missiles, which are launched while the submarine is submerged, are fired from tubes fixed at an angle of approximately 40 degrees. The tubes, arranged in two rows of twelve each, are covered by six hatches on each side of the sail, with each hatch covering a pair of tubes. The launchers are placed between the inner pressure hull and the outer hydrodynamic hull. The torpedo tubes fire both torpedoes and shorter range anti-ship missiles, and a combination of some two dozen weapons are carried.

The Project 949A submarines have a total of at least ten separate compartments, which can be sealed off from each other in the event of accidents. The compartments are numbered sequentially from fore to aft, with the two separate reactor compartments numbered V and V-bis [which is accounts for the fact that there are ten compartments, though the numbers only run through nine]. Access hatches are believed to be located in the 4th and 9th compartments. In common with the larger Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine, the Oscar-class boats are reported to have an emergency crew escape capsule located in the sail.

In the 1980s the Rubin Design Bureau was responsible for developing a number of third generation nuclear submarines with cruise missiles, including Projects 949 ("Granit", "Oscar I") and 949A ("Antey", "Oscar II"). The Bureau took the lead in using naval cruise missiles, designing the first cruise missile nuclear submarine -- Project 659 ("Echo I"), then Project 675 ("Echo II") and related modifications.

To manage the impact of its resource problems, the Russian Navy, in the early 1990’s, made a series of hard choices aimed at preserving its core submarine force capabilities. These included early retirements of older and less capable units, strict controls on operating tempo, and focused maintenance on its best submarines. The first Oscar I units were decommissioned in 1996, though the Russian Navy continued to invest in new construction. In the late 1990s it completed several new submarines of the larger third generation Oscar II SSGN.

Considering the importance of the Oscar II submarines for the Russian Navy, the level of confusion concerning the designations and status of the units of this class verges on the astonishing. There is almost complete disagreement among all authoritative sources concerning the correlation between pennant number, name, construction sequence and current status. Allowing for the unavoidable uncertainties inherent in assigning "commissioning" dates, most sources are in general agreement as to the unit chronology and pennant number chronological sequence of the first ten units, through K-141 Kursk. There is however, rather general disagreement among sources as to the names associated with these units, and the status of particular units.

All sources agree that at least eleven of the Oscar II submarines were built between 1985 and 1999 at the Sevmash yard in Severodvinsk. The status of a twelfth Oscar-II is somewhat uncertain, as some sources suggest it was comissioned in late 1999, while most agree that outfitting was suspended after it was launched [sometime in the 1998-1999 timeframe]. Some Western sources suggest that construction was suspended on a thirteenth unit, and that as many as 15 units of the Oscar II class were planned, but Russian sources maintain that the Oscar-II class was never intended to consist of more than twelve vessels.

A fourth-generation follow-on to the Oscar was planned, but reduced defense spending forced the cancellation of the project.

Sources generally agree that at least two and possibly as many as three of the initial nine Oscar II units were inactivated in the late 1990s, and as of mid-2000 were laid up awaiting disposal. Considerable confusion surrounds the identity of the third and fourth units -- Krasnoyarsk] was reportedly deactivated in 1998, but sources differ as to whether this name was assigned to K-119 or K-173.

The active Northern Fleet units are homeported at the Zapadnaya Litsa base (Bolshaya Lopatka). The disposition of units between the Northern and Pacific Fleets is uncertain. As of September 1997 Bellona placed six units in the Northern Fleet, four in the Pacific. As of September 2000 the warships1.com analysis also placed 4 units in the Pacific Fleet, and the remaining 6 in the Northern Fleet. However, World Navies Today reports that ten active units [as of late 2000] are evenly divided between the two fleets [but the unit list seems rather unreliable, casting doubt on this assessment]. The two sources appear to disagree on the location of K-119 Voronezh.

On 26 January 1998 a moored nuclear-powered Oscar II submarine suffered a cooling system accident. During routine tests aboard a cooling system pipe broke, releasing ammonia and nitrogen gas into the compartment. A total of 5 crew members were injured, one of whom, a Captain of the 3rd Rank, died two days later. The Oscar II submarine was reportedly the K-512 St.Georgy Pobeditel [formerly named Tomsk]. This eleventh unit of the 'Oscar II' SSGN class had been launched in July 1995 despite irregular materiel and component delivery problems.

In 1994 an Oscar submarine conducted operations off the East Coast of the United States. In July 1997 when the Oscar II submarine K-442 Chelyabinsk [aka Pskov] shadowed several US aircraft carriers off Washington state. The Tomsk transitted to the Pacific under ice after being commissioned on 28 February 1997, and arrived at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on 24 September 1998. This brought the Pacific Fleet class inventory to seven, with four others in the Northern Fleet. In February 1999 an Oscar-class submarine was observed monitoring a NATO exercise off the coast of Norway. In August 1999 NATO sonar detected the presence in Western Atlantic waters of a Russian Oscar class submarine belonging to the northern fleet, based in the Arctic ports. In the mid-1999 an Oscar II-class submarine sailed from northern Russia to the Mediterranean, the first Russian SSGN patrol in the Mediterranean in a decade. It then sailed on to areas off the eastern United States. In early September 1999 the crew of the Jose Maria Pastor, a fishing trawler registered in Almeria [southeastern Spain] reportedly snagged an Oscar submarine in its nets. The incident occured some 27 miles (50 kilometers) from the Tarifa coast (Cadiz Province), and continued for over half an hour before the submarine broke free. Another Oscar II deployed from the Russian Far East, sailing to the area around Hawaii before arriving in waters off San Diego by October 1999. It reportedly spent a week following the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and the amphibious landing ship Essex.

K-141 Kursk

On or about 12 August 2000, the tenth unit of the Oscar-II class, the K-141 Kursk, sank about 100 miles from the Russian port of Murmansk. At the time the boat was participating in the fleet's major summer exercises, involving about 30 other vessels. The Kursk apparently sank quickly, and did not launch distress buoys. The submarine was not carrying any nuclear weapons at the time, and there was apparently no immediate danger of radiation leaks. Considerable confusion surrounded initial reports, though apparently the Kursk shut down its two nuclear reactors after it was crippled. Although Russian Navy commander Adm. Vladimir Kuroyodev stated that there were "signs of a big and serious collision," subsequent reports cast doubt that the sub was damaged in a collision. The US Department of Defense stated that there was " no indication that a US vessel was involved in this accident." By 15 August it was generally believed that the Kursk had been damaged by an explosion on board, probably in the torpedo room.

Initial reports suggested that at least some of the crew were alive and communicating through rhythmic tapping on the hull. Rescue submarines that rushed to the Kursk reportedly found it damaged but resting upright on the seabed, at a depth variously reported as between 350 feet and 500 feet of water. Subsequent reports suggested that the submarine was listing, perhaps as much as sixty degrees. According to initial reports, as of Monday 14 August 2000 at least one rescue craft, the Kolokol, was said to be feeding power and oxygen to the Kursk. Communication links with the boat's captain, Gennady Lyachin, were reportedly restored after a day of radio silence. However, subsequent reports indicated that these initial reports were incorrect, and overly optimistic. Admiral Kuroyedov initially expressed doubts about the possiblity of rescuing the crew, stating "the chances for a positive outcome are not very high." The Russians had two India-class rescue submarines, each of which carried a pair of small rescue submarines which could reach a depth of 2,275 feet. However, these submarines and their rescue capabilities were apparently discarded by the Russians in 1995 as a cost-savings measure.

Rescue efforts centered on attempts to attach equipment to provide oxygen and restore electric power to the submarine. As of 15 August a first attempt to lower a diving bell to the submarine had failed, and a second attempt was launched soon thereafter. The two attempts on Tuesday to reach the Kursk were frustrated by of poor underwater visibility and 12-foot high waves. Rescue workers failed in efforts to maneuver a robotic remotedly operated vehicle onto an emergency hatch on the submarine.

By Wednesday, while Russian experts were still optimistic about the rescue operation, Russian President Putin termed the situation with wrecked sub "critical". The weather had worsened in the Barents Sea, while the Bester capsule with divers aboard was used for the first time Rrescue ships tried twice more to lower a diving bell to dock with the Kursk, but each time the operations had to be aborted because of rough seas, strong currents, and poor underwater visibility. Rescue efforts continued despite the fact that one of the three rescue capsules used to reach the stranded sub was damaged in the storm. The Russian military consulted NATO experts on submarine rescue, and Russia asked Britain and Norway to help the rescue effort. Britain sent three aircraft with crew and equipment, and the first plane loaded with a British rescue vessel landed in Norway late Wednesday [Moscow time]. The British mini-submarine may be transported to Russia by Saturday.

On Thursday 17 August it was reported that US surveillance ships in the area at the time of the accident heard two explosions on 12 August, the second much stronger than the first. The Russian navy was reported to be studying video footage showing massive damage to the first and second compartments in the submarine's bow. A Navy spokesman said the video showed extensive damage from the top to the back fin. The periscope was also still up, indicating the ship sank so fast the crew did not have time to react. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said films taken of the Kursk indicated extensive damage to the ship's bow that he said was caused by a collision with an unknown object.

By Friday it was reported that the submarine was lying at an angle of no more than 20 degrees from vertical, rather than the 60 degress previously reported, and at a depth of a little more than 100 meters. The depth and the angle are were said to be well within the operating limits of th British LR5 rescue craft.

It was initially estimated that the air on the K-141 Kursk submarine would run out by Friday 18 August 2000. As of Friday it was officially estimated it could last another five days. Contrary to most news reports, the problem was not a lack of oxygen for the crew to breath in, but rather the buildup of the carbon dioxide that they would breath out. Over time, this carbon dioxide would build up to a level that would kill any crew members who survived the initial accident. The oxygen limit is about 0.1 atm and the Carbon dioxide limit is time dependent, but somewhere between 0.03 and 0.06 atm. Respiration produces (roughly) 1 molecule of carbon dioxide for each molecule of oxygen consumed. This suggests that, starting with 0.21 atm of oxygen, the oxygen partial pressure will still be 0.15 atm even when 0.06 atm of carbon dioxide is present. [see the NOAA Diving Manual for details].

While some Russian Navy officials maintained that some crew members remained alive and were sending an SOS message by banging against the submarine's hull, other officials said there had been no communication and that the crew might already be dead.

On 21 August Chief of staff of the Russian Northern Fleet Mikhail Motsak pronounced the Kursk flooded and its whole crew dead. Admiral Motsak said a Norwegian-led team of divers was videotaping the interior of the rear compartment after successfully breaking in through damaged escape hatches.

On 01 September 2000 an agreement was reached on the technical and organizational aspects of the international effort to lift to the surface the bodies of the crewmen of the Kursk. The Norwegian Stolt Offshore company received blueprints representatives of the naval design center which designed the sunken submarine that showed where deep water frogmen may enter the boat. A team of international and Russian divers planned to cut holes in the Kursk’s hull to pull out the remains of the 118 seamen who died. The operation was scheduled to begin in October 2000.

There was no chance of quickly salvaging the Kursk submarine, since September is the month when storms start raging in the Barents Sea, which would make such impossible. At best the salvaging operation could be carried in 2001. Neither the Russian submarine base at Vidyaevo, nor any western base have hoists capable of salvaging such a large vessel the Kursk submarine, or even moving it to a shallow place closer to the coast. It would take several months only to build such a device. Another priority on the agenda is the salvaging of the submarine and taking it to shallow waters. The Norwegian Stalled Offshore Company has given its consent to participate in the salvage effort.

On 06 September 2000 Russian President Vladimir Putin was reported to have said that the 118 sailors aboard the submarine Kursk probably died quickly after it sank, and that they never sent any signals from the distressed sub after it went down. At the time of the accident, conflicting reports from some Russian naval officials indicated that survivors were tapping on the ship's hull. But Putin said that the signals came from "a mechanical device on board" that went off automatically.

There are several versions of the reasons for the disaster. According to Vice-premier Ilya Klebanov, the first version is that of an underwater collision with a foreign vessel. Ilya Klebanov who heads the commission to investigate the case described as the second version a possibility that the submarine hit a German mine left over from the time of the Second World War. The third version, the Vice-premier believed, could be an emergency situation in the submarine's torpedo compartment. According to Ilya Klebanov, the majority of the crew died during the first seconds of the disaster.


949 (Oscar-I) 949A (Oscar-II)
Displacement (tons): 12,500 surfaced
15,500 - 22,500 submerged
13,400 - 14,700 surfaced
16,400 - 24,000 submerged
Speed (kts): 32 knots dived
16 kts surfaced
32 knots dived
16 kts surfaced
Dimensions (m): 143.0 meters long
18.2 meters beam (20.1 with stabilizers)
9.0 meters draft
154.0 meters long
18.2 meters beam
9.0 meters draft
Propulsion 2 VM-5 190 MWt pressurized-water nuclear reactors (OK-650b)
2 steam turbines - 90,000 shp
Propulsion 2 4-bladed propellers 2 7-bladed propellers
Endurance: 50 days
Diving depth: 300-600 meters [by various estimates]
Crew : 94 total
  • 24 - SS-N-19 / P-700 Granit

    24 - torpedoes/tube-launched weapons

  • 4 - 533 mm tubes - SS-N-15 Starfish / 82-P missiles or torpedoes
  • 4 - 650 mm tubes - SS-N-16 Stallion / 85-P missiles or torpedoes
  • Electronics Radar
  • Snoop Pair or Snoop Half Surface Search
  • Rim Hat intercept array
  • Shark Gill (MGK-503) hull mounted
  • Shark Rib flank array
  • Mouse Roar MG-519 Hull mounted
  • Pelamida towed array
    2 periscopes
  • Class Listing

    NO. Name Laid Down Launched Comm. Stricken
    Project 949 ("Granit" type), NATO code "Oscar I"
    1K-525 Arkhangelsk SY 402NOR197804/**/1980 19821996 12/30/80 named "Minsky Komsomolets"
    1991 renamed
    1996 deactivated
    2000 to be dismantled at Sevmash
    2K-206 Murmansk SY 402 NOR1980? 12/**/1982 19831996 1991 named
    1996 deactivated
    2000 to be dismantled at Sevmash
    Project 949A ("Antey" type), NATO code "Oscar II"
    1K-148 Orenburg SY 402 NOR---------- 08/**/1985 07/**/1986
    ?? 1998 ex-Krasnodar [name as of 1995]
    2000 probably active
    2000 laid up awaiting disposal ??
    2K-132 Irkutsk SY 402 PAC---------- **/**/1986
    ? 1998(name also reported as "Belgorod")
    2000 in reserve
    2000 laid up awaiting disposal ?
    3K-119 Voronezh SY 402 NOR
    PAC ?
    ---------- **/**/1986
    (name also reported as "Krasnoyarsk"
    "Tambov" or "Chel'yabinsk")
    2000 active
    4K-173 Krasnoyarsk SY 402NOR---------- **/**/1987
    ? 1997-8(name also reported as "Veronesh")
    (name mis-reported as "Chelyabinsk")
    1997-8 deactivated
    2000 laid up awaiting disposal ?
    5K-410 Smolensk SY 402 NOR---------- **/**/1988
    2000 active
    6K-442 Chelyabinsk SY 402 PAC---------- **/**/1989
    (name also reported as "Pskov")
    (name mis-reported as "Tomsk")
    2000 active
    7K-456 ViliuczinskSY 402 PAC---------- **/**/1990
    (ex-"Kasatka", possibly "Tambov")
    09/**/1993 to Pacific Fleet
    2000 active
    8K-266 OrelSY 402NOR---------- 01/**/1992
    2000 active
    9K-186 Omsk SY 402NOR---------- 05/08/1993 10/27/1993
    (possibly renamed
    "Petropavlosk Kamchatsky")
    2000 active
    10K-141 Kursk SY 402 NOR199205/**/1994 10/**/1994
    11K-512 St.Georgy PobeditelSY 402PAC---------- 07/18/1995
    08/1997 operational
    01/26/1998 cooling system accident
    2000 active
    12K-530 Belgorod SY 402 ---------- 05/**/1998
    ???? (name also reported as "Pskov")
    2000 construction suspended??
    13K-139 Pskov?SY 402 ???? ????---------- [?? construction suspended ??]
    14K-___ SY 402 ???? -------------------- [?? cancelled ??]
    15K-___ SY 402 ???? -------------------- [?? cancelled ??]

    Sources and Resources

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