A gigantic new research submarine designed by Russia will travel underneath ice floes, mapping its underwater surroundings with a pair of huge plane-like wings. The sub will help Moscow exploit its Arctic frontier as it prepares to harvest previously untouchable natural resources.
The Arctic Research Submarine was designed by the famous Rubin Design Bureau, which was also responsible for the Typhoon-class missile submarines, the largest subs ever built. This vessel will weigh in at 13,280 tons, making easily the largest civilian research submersible ever built, and will be 442 feet long. The sub will have a maximum speed of 12.6 knots and a crew of 40.
The most striking detail is the presence of two sets of wing-like sonar receivers that give the sub a futuristic appearance. The “wings,” which retract into the hull like the blade of a pocket knife, are meant to receive sonar signals broadcast from the ship’s hull. This allows the Arctic Research Submarine to image its surroundings in all directions as it cruises along underwater at a leisurely 3 knots.
H.I. Sutton, the analyst behind the Covert Shores submarine web site and book of the same name, says about the sub: “From analysis of the model displayed by the design bureau, the wing structures are close to 165 feet (50 meters) long, so it will have a wingspan of about 330 feet (100 meters). This is much greater than any aircraft that has ever flown.” A graphic made by Sutton (see above) shows the submarine will have an even greater “wingspan” than an Airbus A380 jumbo jet.
Sutton doesn’t believe the wings have any hydrodynamic use, however. “It is unlikely that the wings will be used to generate lift like an aircraft. That would be less efficient because it would have to constantly use its control surfaces to maintain a precise depth. This would also generate noise which could make the sonar less effective.”
Although built to operate under the arctic ice, the submarine’s sheer size will make navigating tough at times. “There will be many places in the Arctic where the submarine cannot go because its wings will make to too wide to navigate the many ice columns which protrude downwards from the ice cap, ” Sutton explains. “These can extend downwards for hundreds of feet or even to the sea floor.”
As a civilian survey submarine, the ship will be unarmed. It will incorporate the ability to deploy and fetch remotely operated vehicles (underwater drones) and be capable of operating at depths of up to 1,300 feet.
Russia is eager to secure mineral and energy mining rights in the Arctic, in areas becoming more accessible as global warming reduces the amount of pack ice. Moscow has made bold underwater territorial claims in the Arctic extending past the traditional 200 mile Economic Exclusion Zone claimed by all countries, including parts of the North Pole. In 2007, Sutton points out, Russia used mini-submarines to plant its flag on the sea bed 14,000 feet beneath the North Pole.
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