Extraordinary missions of special ships

Extraordinary missions of special ships

Artem Khoshev
Public relations officer with the SRC Zvezdochka

Shipbuilding along with repair and maintenance of surface ships and submarines of the Russian Navy is getting more prominent in the profile of the SRC Zvezdochka. The development of this aspect has not escaped the attention of state authorities

Uniqueness without complexities

In 2018, the Center was commended for its achievements twice at the highest echelons of Russia’s leadership. One came from Russian President Vladimir Putin for Zvezdochka’s contribution to the development of special equipment. The other is the Government Prize for Efforts to Implement the Special Purpose Ship Construction Concept granted to specialists of the shipyard and other participants of a complex program.

At Zvezdochka the prize went to Leonid Berezovsky, heading the Directorate for Construction and Maintenance of Special Purpose Ships, his deputy, Alexander Freindt, as well as deputy chief manufacturing engineer Vladimir Levin.

The staff of the enterprise is proud to take credit for the development and construction of the special purpose ships of Almaz’s Project 20180, modern, hi-tech and versatile platforms packed with everything required to perform missions the Russian Navy wants them for. Two ships of the class are already taking shape – one is going through a multi-phase trial program, while the other has not come off her slipway yet.

Both are unique, something that usually comes at a cost of a more complex research and development phase. This gives a hard time to shipbuilders during construction. Naturally so, for each stablemate of a class is designed to perform her own specific set of missions, making her an exclusive asset or one of few at best. But Project 20180 shattered the stereotype of construction of small classes of ships. This class offered a platform, giving birth to a great variety of auxiliary ship, including an armament store carrier, rescue tug, and oceanographic survey vessel. The outstanding cohesion and well-coordinated efforts of the designers and shipbuilders culminated in a common maritime platform and multicomponent construction and aftersales support cooperation. These saved time, labor and financial resources, as well as improved quality and reliability throughout all construction phases.

The program for construction of special purpose auxiliary ships gained traction in 2004. Back then Severodvinsk-based Zvezdochka, named the prime contractor for the state contract, laid down the rescue tug, christened after the manufacturing establishment. The engineering design stipulated integration of the results of 33 R&D initiatives. This endowed the ship with the capacity to perform a wide spectrum of tasks, including transportation of bulk dual-purpose equipment, support and execution of emergency, diving, towing, search&rescue and deep-water operations in the Arctic as well. This versatility is a tribute to meticulous efforts of the designer, shipyard, subcontractors, and military representatives. They faced a number of the most complex and challenging tasks of developing, manufacturing, suppling, deploying and commissioning a wide range of ship equipment and gear, many of which had never been produced before.

The complex construction phase, dockside and sea trials resulting in an acceptance certificate, signed on July 24, 2010, brought this endeavor to an end but as it turned out paved the way for a whole class of special ships. So impressed was the customer by her sailing qualities, economic performance, reliability, and versatility that a decision was made to go ahead with the project. This broadened the program and laid the groundwork for construction of ships for various jobs as required by the Navy. Before long, the final decision came resulting in yet another ship being laid down in December 2011.

Zvezdochka’s academicians

Zvezdochka, otherwise engaged mostly in maintaining, repairing, and upgrading ships, vessels and submarines under the state armament procurement program, returned to shipbuilding and started an ‘academician’ class of special purpose ships named after prominent Russian scientists, who made an enormous contribution to the development of the Soviet and Russian science. Leading the way was the Akademik Kovalev armament store carrier, delivered to the customer as soon as 2015 and assigned to the Pacific Fleet where she still performs her duties. As the description suggests the ship’s role is loading, unloading and transporting weapons. According to the design, the ship became larger and received a more powerful propulsion system, boasting longer range and enhanced endurance.

Technological breakthroughs are Zvezdochka’s trademark

The next order followed right in her wake. The Academician Aleksandrov oceanographic survey ship, laid down in December 2012 and floated off in 2017, completed her dockside and then the first phase of sea trials last year. She has a set of missions of her own. The second ‘academician’ is designed to perform search and rescue operations, as well as carry maritime equipment, research and test gear. She is suitable for shelf researches even in the Arctic zone.

A third ‘scientist’, Academik Makeev, since her construction kicked off in 2015 has already gained her hull. The shipbuilders, toiling in the main slipway shop, saturated her with bulk equipment and deployed steerable thrusters and other machinery. A twin sister of Academik Kovalev she is though, there is one very significant thing about her, which gave a hard time to both shipbuilders and designers.

Import substitution experience

Strengthening of Russia, as well as implementation of its independent foreign and domestic policy were not perceived well by ‘partners’ in the West, considering it a mutiny and taking immediate unfriendly actions. Restrictions imposed by other states on Zvezdochka made a significant impact on the program. At the commissioning phase, almost on the eve of Akademik Kovalev’s first sea trials, several foreign suppliers terminated their contracts citing sanctions. Zvezdochka displayed resilience in the face of the troubles, recovered fast and met its obligations allowing only a slight slip for a project of this magnitude. The construction documentation had to be revised at Almaz to incorporate import substitution requirements at a phase, when the hull construction was in full swing and part of foreign components had already been delivered to the manufacturer. The designers and shipbuilders managed to save the situation at this dire moment as well. The most challenging thing was to fine-tune and test those units, machinery and gear already obtained from abroad. Again, citing sanctions, the manufacturer refused to render assistance in this as well. Having to face the problem on its own, Zvezdochka figured out a solution. Obviously, unexpected obstacles affected the construction progress and test program. But think of the experience gained!

It shows on Akademik Makeev in particular. Though similar to Akademik Kovalev outwardly, unlike her the new ship is Russian from the keel. The implementation of the enormous import substitution program has been on track so far. Zvezdochka also has a hand in shaping the ship anew. Its Propulsion Center developed, manufactured and deployed steerable pods and thrusters.

Overcoming one obstacle after another, the participants of the auxiliary fleet refreshment program kept stockpiling expertise. Having mastered the construction process on the first order placed with the facility, the shipbuilder summoned its creativity to hone and improve it in the future. By all means a success, Project 20180 implemented the concept of designing and building a whole range of special purpose ships, not only based on a reliable, hi-tech and versatile platform boasting outstanding performance, but also tailored for construction at Russia’s shipyards. Efforts have been taken to achieve a high degree of commonality of shipborne equipment and machinery, which provides for adoption of mass production approach to a great extent, despite the unique nature of each ship.