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Submarines Poorly Made, Problems Are Covered Up, Soviet Navy Captain Says

July 01, 1989|From Associated Press

MOSCOW — Soviet nuclear submarines are poorly built and the navy is covering up the problems, a veteran officer said in an attack published Friday, after two recent submarine accidents.

Capt. Ilya B. Kolton, who served aboard Soviet submarines for 30 years, blames the navy leadership and defense construction industry for carelessness and shoddy work that has cost sailors' lives.

"Construction deficiencies, plus imperfect crew rescue equipment, plus the startling slowness and inertia of the naval agencies in introducing new ideas--such, in my opinion, is the alarming formula of the recent emergencies and tragedies," said Kolton, a nuclear energy researcher who serves in the naval reserve.

Published Criticism

His criticism of the world's largest submarine fleet was published in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, publication of the Communist youth organization, whose readers include many young sailors and other members of the armed forces.

Although official commissions are still investigating, Kolton said the problems he cited were clearly behind the April 7 fire and sinking of the experimental nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered submarine Komsomolets, and Monday's accident aboard another nuclear-armed and -powered submarine.

Forty-two sailors died in the Komsomolets accident off Norway. In Monday's accident, also off Norway, a pipe burst in the cooling system of a reactor aboard the Echo II-class sub. No one was hurt, and the Soviets have said no radiation was leaked to the environment in either accident.

The military newspaper Red Star on Friday questioned whether the Echo II-class sub, built in the 1960s, should still be in use. It quoted Capt. Y. Magakov, acting head of the Northern Fleet's technical department, as saying the navy was considering whether to keep using subs of the same design as the one involved in Monday's accident.

In an introduction to Kolton's article, Komsomolskaya Pravda noted the warships involved in the recent accidents had not been shot at and added in a biting remark, "The navy poses a threat in the first place to ourselves."

Kolton recounted several accidents or near accidents he said he had survived aboard Soviet nuclear subs, including one aboard the country's first nuclear-powered submarine, the Leninsky Komsomol, in 1962.

Poorly constructed valves designed to shut off the flow of steam from generators in the reactor system malfunctioned, allowing steam to flow into the crew's living quarters. Kolton says a disaster was averted, but doesn't say how.

Reactor Meltdown

Western reference books say the ship suffered a reactor meltdown in the 1960s, but it was unclear whether this was the same accident Kolton described.

Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev later gave Kolton and the rest of the crew a top award. "This was the pay for serious construction deficiencies, threatening the ship and crew," wrote Kolton.

Criticism of the vessel has also come from U.S. experts. The late chief of the U.S. Navy's nuclear program, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, said after touring the Leninsky Komsomol in 1959 that its construction was a "sloppy job."

One Western reference book, "Modern Soviet Weapons," says Soviet naval ships suffer frequent breakdowns and that sailors are poorly trained.

In another incident--for which Kolton did not give a date--four Soviet sailors died in a poorly designed test of a submarine rescue chamber.

He said naval problems are frequently covered up.

"Experience shows that when a disaster occurs in the fleet, commissions protecting the high leadership hide the main guilty people, and with them also the basic reasons for the disasters," Kolton said.

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