Yagra’s shipbuilders

Yagra’s shipbuilders

Andrey Miroshnikov
Public relations officer with the SRC Zvezdochka

Plant No. 893, renamed to Zvezdochka in 1966, was among the first shipyards established in the wake of the Great Patriotic War. The place for the future leading ship repair establishment in Russia was picked by a committee led by Timofey Safronov out of six options. A legend himself, he was named the first director of the shipyard. He witnessed the birth of Zvezdochka and commissioning of its first orders

The plant had to be built in the field from scratch In 1947, Yagry Island had only an unfinished dry dock, compressor plant and concrete plant facilities, whose construction had started back in 1939 in the interest of Plant No. 402, known today as Sevmash, but later abandoned since they were no longer needed. First thing first, constructors started dredging the area, for the marshy land needed to be lifted by a couple of meters. The construction of first installations of the future facility required around two million m2 of sand.

“Marsh, mud, we literally grabbed little snipes bare handed. We rolled up trousers and off we went trudging through the mud. Yes, it took some effort to build our plant,” later reminisced Boris Nevolin, a senior engineer in permanent construction, one of the original team employed to erect Plant No. 893.

Time was running short, for Deputy Minister of Shipbuilding of the USSR Nikolay Panchenko was very clear in his recommendations to Director Safronov to launch the operation in 1954. They had three years to go.

This time had to be used to accomplish an enormous job, which included construction of a shallow waterfront, tool and pipe shop, deployment and commissioning of machines and equipment, staffing, reconstruction of the bridge over the Nikolskoye estuary, as well as erection of the first apartment buildings.

The task was accomplished. On July 1, 1954, after the commissioning of the assembly shops, installation No. 12 (known today as Shop No. 9) and shallow waterfront, the new plant went into operation. The inaugural order was the icebreaker Pronchishchev converted to the PZK-61 barracks ship. Then the plant received for maintenance two Project 122A ASW ships and an S-101 9-bis series submarine.

This shaped the major principle of Plant No. 893, to which the establishment remains true through this day, namely hardship and difficulties notwithstanding, all obligations shall be met timely and quality provided, while taking every effort to build up expertise and gain experience to climb to a higher level of operation.

The dawn of the atomic era

Just five years into its operation and the USSR Council of Ministers decreed in 1959 that the establishment had to take up providing dock overhaul and modernization of nuclear submarines. In practice it meant complete retooling, erection of new shops and installations, let alone introduction of technologies never used here before and curbing new expertise and skills. Director Grigory Prosyankin once recalled that this had been the first real challenge testing maturity of the plant.

And again, time was a factor. We worked four shifts through months disregarding weekends. Many operations – two-story docking, installation of launchers and others – were unique. Suffice to say that the plant received its first nuclear submarine, K-33, on November 6, 1962. The year 1964 saw the completion of the maintenance and reequipment of the submarine to the Project 658M specifications complete with the deployment of a new underwater launcher (delivered by Evgeny Kolodochkin). The boat was back in the ranks of the Navy. On her way back to the home port, she was accompanied by the K-11, a Project 627A torpedo submarine also fresh from maintenance (delivered by Vladimir Semenov).

For the shipbuilders it was not just a labor victory, for the moment marked the certification of Plant No. 893 as the major facility for maintenance and modernization of nuclear submarines.

It would not be out of order to thank Sevmash, which was generous to send teams of its specialists for assistance. Working shoulder to shoulder with constructors of submarines, who also were good at repairing nuclear-powered boats, Yagry’s shipbuilders took in every piece of experience. In essence the plant turned into a huge training center, where on-the-job training was received by all and everyone, from a rank and file employee to the director.

One icebreaker – two designated delivery persons

Gained knowledge, expertly organized operation, prompt and creative responses to new challenges paved the way for yet another accomplishment, repair of Lenin, the first-ever nuclear icebreaker in the whole world. The pride of the Soviet fleet needed to have her old power plant replaced with a new twin-reactor system, the OK-900. One might guess already that for this extremely complex on many counts, technologically and scientifically, and responsible task the USSR Council of Ministers allowed disproportionately little time, two and a half years. The icebreaker had to be delivered by Lenin’s centenary.

In the evening of December 12, 1967, the ship moored at Yagry Island’s southern bank and the work went in full swing. The shipbuilders faced an enormous task of adding 220 rooms to the ship’s current 678 spaces and compartments, deploying 6,200 pieces of new equipment, laying 200km of electric cable and 50km of pipes of various diameters.

Committed to these were 1,000 personnel simultaneously. This does not include specialists, arrived from 37 partner enterprises from all over the USSR to assist them. Those who failed to accomplish his daily task worked extra hours.

That fact that there were two designated delivery persons assigned to the job attest to the importance of the project. Within the shipyard the responsibility lied with William Kalganov, while Zvezdochka’s Director Grigory Prosyankin reported to Minister of the USSR Shipbuilding Industry Boris Butoma.

Think of the enormous scope of operations, scores of unique solutions developed at the facility. Already titled Zvezdochka, since the plant changed its name in 1966, was indeed borne to make impossible things over and over again.

On April 21, 1970, at 23.30 the nuclear power plant went operational, signifying the accomplishment of the mission. On June 20, an acceptance certificate was signed aboard the icebreaker. The next day found the ship, new heart beating in the hull, on her first Arctic cruise.

This endeavor and selfless labor earned dozens of employees orders and medals; a golden star of the Hero of Socialist Labor became a proud addition to the jacket of the Zvezdochka’s director, while the facility was awarded the highest decoration of the USSR, the Order of Lenin.

Four nuclear subs per year

In the early ‘70s, the enterprise continued broadening its expertise. It built and commissioned new sites in shops 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 15, 41 and some other areas, as well as a ship-lifting suite, combining a launching dock, transporter bridge, and covered slipway. Technologies did not escape the trend either, and the footprint of the flow-line approach kept growing with modular maintenance being phased into it.

In late 1962, Zvezdochka received two Project 667A strategic missile submarines, K-26 and К-216. Both are much more complex in terms of automated processes, radioelectronics and weapons than anything the facility had had to deal before. If they wanted to become successful in repairing second-generation submarines, the staff needed to create an effective tandem of production and science. To this end in 1974, the USSR Ministry of Shipbuilding Industry issued an order turning Zvezdochka’s design bureau into the Onega research and development technological bureau. One article does not offer much space to include all breakthrough solutions, developed and adopted by shipbuilders in the whole history of the facility. Suffice to say that many of them had ‘first-ever’ etched into their description. Naturally so, for come whatever order, it was assigned to a team of like-mined professionals, which remains true even today.

All operations on the K-26 and K-216 were finished in 1975, making Zvezdochka the first facility in the industry, certified for maintenance and repair of second-generation submarines.

The pace of construction of the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet, its intensive deployment and thus the need to maintain a high availability rate were instrumental in boosting the facility to a leading position in the country’s naval maintenance and repair sector. It is not fortuitous that in its special decree the USSR Council of Ministers set before Zvezdochka a task of maintaining at least four subs per year. In 1981, the shipyard achieved the prescribed rate, having finished maintenance and reequipment of five nuclear submarines, namely K-104, K-86, K-241, K-385, and K-279, all of them belonging to various classes, Projects 675, 675MK, 667AU and 667B.

Akson and yet another Akson

Zvezdochka does more than just repair and maintenance of ships and nuclear submarines, it extends their service life, literally breathes new life into them, saturating them with advanced systems and equipment, boasting far better tactical and combat performance. Some of its clients are converted into testbeds for cutting edge equipment and state-of-the-art systems. The K-403 strategic submarine (renamed to Kazan in 1997) was among those, who followed this path.

The Project 667А submarine moored at the shipyard in 1980, where she arrived to get stripped of her missile system under START-1. She would spend three years to emerge a different platform, converted to Project 667AK Akson-1 for testing the most advanced sonar system of the Project 971 third-generation submarine. In fact, the task was akin to building a new ship. For starters, it turned out that the equipment of the first six compartments had to be removed and rearranged completely. The scope of the endeavor and range of problems to be solved is evident in the fact the USSR Ministry of Shipbuilding Industry and Navy jointed efforts to establish a special operational group. The deadline was met. Having tested the future sonar, the submarine was surrendered to science. Various research facilities and design bureaus jumped at the opportunity to give their equipment and systems a run in real conditions. Again, the job to deploy them for tests was given to skillful shipbuilders of Zvezdochka.

In 1990, the experiment of turning the KS-403 into a testbed was revisited. This time the submarine had to be converted to the specifications of Project 09780 for Rubin’s advanced sonar. But other bureaus and institutes also delivered their electronic equipment prototypes, developed for the fourth-generation Boreys and Yasens. Besides, the testbed came in handy for trials of some architectural elements of the future submarines. Assisted by Sevmash, in this project Zvezdochka’s team scored yet another victory.

Dolphins, Pikes and many others

Top on the list of tasks of the ship repair center has always been maintenance of availability of Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet. In 1999-2012, the facility repaired and modernized a unit of Project 667BDRM SSBNs. The submarines, dubbed Delfins (Russian for dolphins), comprise the backbone of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad.

Today, Zvezdochka is busy putting Delfins through a second cycle of dock repair to extend their service life. As part of this effort, the facility sent the Tula SSBN to her home port in 2017.

In 2006, the Center took up repairing and modernizing third-generation Anteys (Project 949A) and Shchuka-Bs (Project 971). However, submarines do not make the complete list of jobs that keep the facility busy. There are surface ships in it as well, namely Besstrashny (Russian for dauntless, renamed to Admiral Ushakov in 2004), a Project 956 destroyer, and Marshal Ustinov, a Project 1164 missile cruiser.

Every job being unique, it prompts new and original engineer and technical solutions, broadens expertise and boosts qualification. It is not just an ordinary repair operation, but rather a contribution to the solid groundwork for future endeavors. For example, having pioneered the repair of Admiral Ushakov, the shipyard now has an edge should her stablemates, including ships in the navies of friendly nations, come to need a similar job done on them.

It is noteworthy that the Center has been providing service maintenance and engineering supervision of the ships and vessels assigned to the Northern Fleet and Novorossiysk Naval Base of the Black Sea Fleet, as well as Caspian Flotilla of the Russia Navy since 2011.

Slated to be scrapped

In the early 1990s, the port area hosted almost two dozen nuclear submarines, decommissioned from the Russian Navy. Most of them were submarines, which Zvezdochka’s specialists stripped of their missile launchers under the strategic arms reduction treaties. However, they still had their reactors and nuclear fuel on them, threatening environment. The state could not find money to scrap the derelict submarines. The situation escalated to the point, when the city’s Council of MPs banned any nuclear-powered asset to enter the harbor. It might cost Zvezdochka its orders. The problem, threatening life and safety of hundreds of thousands of people, ended up in the hands of specialists of the 5th section of the shipyard, led by Alexander Grishko and Andrey Churkasov, and a group of shipbuilders, headed by Andrey Undozerov, Andrey Golovchenko and Alexander Resnyansky.

They literally pioneered the nuclear submarine scrapping technology in Russia, setting up a system from scratch. Zvezdochka in a concerted effort with Onega developed legal and technological bases, built a new operation of the seafront and trained specialists, as well as commissioned an automatic radiological monitoring system. Assisted by the Russian Government, the facilities raised money, obtained from various international programs, and signed contracts with foreign partner states.

The shipyard was among the first in the country to test the procedure of turning over nuclear submarines from the Navy to the plant and put together civilian crews to ferry them to the facility. This approach was adopted by all operations in the scrapping business. The first nuclear submarine, slated to be scrapped, was the K-444. In 2003, the operation went in full swing. It took Zvezdochka just two dozen years to deal with 44 nuclear submarines, decommissioned from the Navy, without an incident.

By adopting the job, which was absolutely new in the whole sector, and taking several other measures, the plant maintained its backlog during the hardship in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, kept its staff and avoided mass cuts in its ranks.

Ships Vs pots

The last decade of the 20th century. It was the most difficult period in Zvezdochka’s life. This is the time, when the state procurement system went down and the glorious history of the Yagry shipyard might as well fall into oblivion. This is the time, when many of those, who wielded considerable clout, supported the idea of converting the facility for production of pans and other rubbish, unaware or on the contrary very much aware of the fact that it was the right way to commit shipbuilding to death.

But shipbuilders were resolute to fight for their plant. They won by setting up a versatile operation, first making forays to new sectors and ultimately carving a niche there.

In 1991, Zvezdochka built a bunker ship hull ordered by a Dutch company, thus scoring its first export success in commercial shipbuilding. This gave impetus to the development of cooperation with foreign enterprises. In the domestic sector the shipyard reequipped the wet fish trawler Novoazovsk and research vessel Professor Kurentsov, as well as built several Project 16900 dry-cargo vessels. In 1994, the facility returned to repairing commercial ships of various classes, trawlers, seiners, hydrographic survey ships, icebreakers, etc. Standing out in the new undertaking are several Project 50010 freezer trawlers, Yagry (1998), Arkhangelsk (2001) and Koyda-2 (2013), catering to the needs of Arkhangelsk’s fishers. These unlimited navigation vessels are still in business today. Unfortunately, due to reasons, over which the plant had no control whatsoever, the construction of ships of this class ceased.

Oil, gas, space

Zvezdochka continued its international debut by expanding to the oil & gas sector in 1997. Started as a crisis-response measure, it later grew into a promising job.

Norwegian Statoil and Kvaerner oil & gas ordered large metal structures for their semisubmersible gas production platform ASGARD-B. In 2007 and 2008, the shipyard fulfilled its obligation under a contract for construction of metal structures for the semisubmersible rigs Moss CS-50 Mk II and Gjoa. The experience gained during the projects proved to be instrumental in dealing with a future large-scale domestic order, resulting in the construction of the jack-up floating drilling rig Arkticheskaya in 2012. It is a unique asset, the first-ever produced in Russia and still the only country’s platform in the category. Besides, the plant manufactured metal structures for the Prirazlomnya rig, built at Sevmash. Today, Zvezdochka is gearing up to compete for a place in the development of the Kamennomysk-Sea deposit and construction of an LNG plant in the Murmansk region.

Another area, which might as well look exotic in the profile of the company not long ago, is space. The enterprise turned to it in 2004, when Zvezdochka prepared a launch pad for Plesetsk’s Angara launch site. After this the enterprise built an umbilical tower, erectors, as well as a stand for mating a reentry vehicle with the Briz-M booster. Simultaneously, the shipyard manufactured an umbilical tower and upper cable mast for the Kourou spaceport in South America under the Soyuz-ST program. The cooperation with Plesetsk and Vostochny in construction of ground infrastructure for launch facilities is very much alive.

Power of motion

Zvezdochka’s pride is the Propulsion Center. Its history dates back to 1964, when a special screw processing operation went in full swing at the shipyard. Marine screws are in a sense a hallmark of the facility. Its trademark, depicting a walrus is recognized all over the world and guarantees the highest quality of the product.

Over the past two dozen years, Zvezdochka delivered 400-plus screws up to 9m in diameter to Europe and Asia. Cruise liners, gas carriers, tankers and icebreakers are propelled by screws manufactured at the Yagra-based shipyard. Even nuclear submarines, including the most advanced Boreys and Yasens, owe it to the facility that they can sail.

Dynamic development of production and ceaseless broadening of the product range, as well as achievement of better results and maintenance of solid positions on international market are the principles set by the first head of the special marine screw processing operation, a winner of the Government Prize, Nikolay Shorokhov. A visionary himself, he came up with what is now a standard solution in the world of marine propulsion, i.e. deployment of a compact steering pod instead of a bulky shaft and screw system, penetrating the entire ship.

Whether to have the Propulsion Center or not was decided at the turn of 2010. A significant backlog of orders, some of them placed by foreign companies, notwithstanding, a declining trend was getting more and more prominent in the sector. The crisis of 2008 came as yet another contributing factor. The brainstorming of how to ensure the company’s future resulted in the decision to establish a center, which would combine Zvezdochka’s screw processing operation, Vint’s subsidiaries, and the Vega pilot factory.

Over the past five years, the facility delivered 18 sets of its own hi-tech products, namely steering pods and thrusters developing 0.5 to 5.4mW.

Its latest achievement is a 9mW steering pod, dubbed the DRK-9000. Maintaining the position of Russia’s largest provider of marine screws, Zvezdochka became the first supplier in Russia and third in the world offering heavy-duty mechanical steering pods.

Another area pursued by Zvezdochka is contribution to the construction of seabed installations. The shipyard offers to join design and engineering institutions, as well as foreign parties to master their production, taking only several years to cover the path, for which foreign counterparts waisted far more time. Anyway, it is in the blood of the ship repair center to make breakthroughs. At 65 many things are still ahead.

Photo courtesy of Zvezdochka’spress service

Sergey Marichev
Director General, SRC Zvezdochka

Zvezdochka’s hallmark has always been its resolve to evolve. The facility laid down unique engineering and production groundwork for development, integration and construction of marine propulsion systems. Zvezdochka switched from maintaining the submarine fleet to providing complex repairs of surface cruisers. Having become the leader in Russia’s ship repair sector, the enterprise pursues the shipbuilding path as well, launching complex and technology intensive, versatile ships of Project 20180, participating in the construction of off-shore platforms, and introducing additive technologies.

Vladimir Nikitin
Director General, SRC Zvezdochka, 2007-2015

It has already become a norm for Zvezdochka to explore greater internal power and capacity, at times unknown to itself and surprising to others. Each historic period is a tribute to thousands of people employed at various divisions and sections. One link is missing and the whole system may come to a screeching halt. It is of the essence for each shop, site, team, service, and member of the staff to know and feel their integral role in the dear facility and its achievements. Zvezdochka’s power is in its people, traditions, united endeavors and common holidays.

Nikolay Kalistratov
Director General, SRC Zvezdochka, 1992-2007, 2015-2017

Zvezdochka is a unique facility, progressive in a sense. It knows how to focus its capabilities to solve complex tasks, set by the state. It justifies the state status that the enterprise proudly bears. This quality took a while to develop and soon became its trademark. We remained true to these traditions even in the most difficult, turbulent years. We have been honoring and developing them though this day.

Grigory Prosyankin
Director, Plant No. 893 – SRC Zvezdochka, 1956-1972

Where did we start? We put up a long-term plan, based on the concept of giving up relatively simple orders in favor of maintenance and repair of more complex ships. And every new ship signified another step towards more elaborate production and operation.


Since its establishment, the plant has repaired, modernized and reequipped around 130 submarines, of which 90 are nuclear powered. Also, logged into its list of repaired equipment have been 88 surface ships of the Russian Navy and commercial vessels, including icebreakers, research and hydrographic survey ships, trawlers, tankers, steamers, tugs, etc. The facility built 250 ships, craft, and marine installations.