A collection oi articles on the historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects ol intelligence. .
Al statements of fact opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence arc Ihosc of
ihe authors. They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Ccniral Intelltgence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in ihe contents should be constnued as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of anactual statements and interpretations.
Soviet submarine detection
The ALFA Story
it the enemy of good enough" is an old Russian proverb thathilosophy both wise and true to the Russian heart. Those who have learned to appreciate the Russian character will agree lhai mosl Russians instinctively adhere to and follow that philosophy. To build, to create things good enough to do whai they are mcanl to do is wise; to make them better than necessaryaste of energy and precious resources. The proverb reportedly was inscribedlaque in Ihe office of Deputy Minister of Defense and Admiral of ihe Flee! of the Soviet Union Sergei Gotshkov. who had guided ihc development of his navy
Those of us who watched the building of ihe Soviei Navy from its humble beginningsoastal defense force afier World War IIowerful blue-waici navy noticed long ago thai the old proverb was irue. even when it came lo building submarines
Wc knew ihjt ihe Soviets did noi follow our practice in building submarines. Ihey did aot incorporate edge of technology items in series-production models. And we saw Soviets building double-hull submarines long after we had discovered thai ihc modern single-hull design had many advantages over Ihe double hull, among them an improved speed/horsepower ratio While ihe US Navy leaped decades ahead in submarine design, rhe Sovietsalong by improving toed technologies Ournoi only looked bciicr. ihey weir better.
Yet the Soviets seemed *ali*ficd with evolutionary advances in submarine desigi. Many US intelligence analysis were sure that ihe Soviets were never going io "pul all their eggs inlo oneovietpunishes (allure, designing high-risk submarines docs mil enhance one's career
This was the consensus of Wesicrn intelligence analysts, at least until one pleasant day9 when strollers walking along the Neva Riverodern-looking, small submarine lied up at dieut quay al Leningrad's old Sudomckh Submarine Shipyard. It looked as if ihe submarine had just been launched from Ihe old diesel submarine assembly shed. The assembly shed had seen hlllesince ihe last Foi not-class diesel attackhad been launched there several years earlier Naval analysts, following iradiiion and basing Iheir analysis on previous launch (miotics, initiallythe submarineodern diesel-electric follow-onoslrot.
Further fming-oui activity, however, soon convinced at least one senior submarine analyst. Herb Loid. lhai tins submarine was anuclear-powered attack submarine. Iiuperbly streamlined hull and an overall length of abooingineenng calculationsurfjeedofubmerged dis placement ofside from ihcstreamlined hull form, this submarine had several other highly unusual features:
t was the world's vmalksi SSN.
ather high reservenearlyercent, in coniiusto II percent for US SSNs.
The submarine received ihe NATO classification ALFA Class SSN Lord, an ripenenced photoinier-pruef. alerted others io concentrate iheir efforts on ihc's con struct ion and fittmg-oui pattern. The
An ALFA submarine.
noticed something (hey had neve seena "highly reflective" pressure hull section near the AI.FA assembly area.
Lord (hen requeued (hat he be point of contact for all reports that mentioned "highly rcfleclis-e" orcolored submarine pads. During some eight years of examining photos of Soviet submarineyards, analysisonstruction historyagnitude never before accomplished.
Periodically, and sviih ever increasing frequency. Lord received reports of "highly reflective" pressure hull sections associated with llie ALFA filling out at Stioomcah. later, he also received reports of highly reflective pieces of hull sections, sintitat to those of thel ALFA, at tlie Severodvinsk Submarine Consiiuciionarie nunh of Leningrad. He noted lhai these two yards were connected by anwaterway, and he woiittvied wheihei both yards could he building this ijlhci unusual class of attack submarine.
Lord subsequently conducicd what is generally known as "lookback" analysis All reports of "highly refleclive" submarine hull sections at ihc iwo construction sitescollated, reviewed, and once again evaluated llormidable, lime- -consuming task. There were reports of changes to (he external appearance of the assembly halls; reports dealing wiih unusual submarine parts ai storage sites near the halls, and reports on unusual railroad cms. lank curs, and increased production of titanium sponge All were scrutimred Itnfinite patience lo fit Ihis miscellany into ihe ALFA submarine as-.seNAmrnt. Although itosl difficult challenge, itask in which mosl intelligence analysis ex-cell.
reviewing: all the evidence and alier Ionswiih his fellow intelligence analysis, and wilh naval designers, engineers, and others in ihe Intelligence Community. Lord became even more convinced thai the Soviets were indeedspecial" type of super submarine, the first nude of titanium alloy. Eventually, he concluded that he had to convince the US Navy that Ihe Soviets wereighly modern, unusual SSN that, if filled with advanced weapons, could seriously threaten US and allied naval operations.
Some analysts at CIA aod the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agreed. In fact. CIA had, as earlyublishedof Titanium by the Soviet Shipbuildinglhal Strongly Supported the assessment thai Ihe otherwise conservative Soviets had conduced serious, longtime research on shaping and welding heavy titanium plates, and that they had in fact developed thai cafuMn.
Others were skeptical. They thought that the shaping and welding of heavy tiuniuin hull sections,in the"dirty" shipyard atmosphere, was impractical, if no* impossible. This. too.otally reasonable assessment, because titaniumbe welded when ciposed to air: welds have to be shielded,r^on gas. The consensus was that Ihe Sonets could weld small part* of titanium, such as those for aircraft or missiles, tn hermetically sealed chambers, bul that it was impossible to weld huge submarine pressure hull sections.
Lord, however, could not be deterred. For nine years, he would be in the center of the battle over the "titaniumuring the, little reliable, high-level scientific and technical informa tion was available, and Lord had to tely heavily on photographic intelligence.
Lord remained certain lhat Ihe collective evidence overwhelmingly supported his assessment of ALFA's titanium alloy pirssure hull. He tried to convince the US Navy that the Soviets' research and development had advancedegree ihai ihey were able to butld submarines made of light-weight titaniumand thai their SSN would be able lo dive tlcepei lhan any of our SSNs. Inonmagnetic titanium submarine would be most ilil'mil: to detect.
unctional reorganization in Naval Intelligence the analysis of foreign submarines was divided into ballistic and cruise missile submarines, and attack diesel and nuclear attack sabrnanncs Themarines were my responsibility, and1 Ithe ALFA Project Officer.
I agreed completely with Lord's analysis Now ilmy mission to convince the US Navy lhatwere building high-threat submarinesconstruction lechnology. Alsoeeting
analysis, naval engineers, iiVLii.uiLists. anddesignerv to discus* Ihe "enigma" in Soviet submarine construction.
The great majority agreed that the "highlypans were submarine components Musi wete certain thai the components were nol of conventional
submarine sicel.presented several
proiiwy was u
dozen formulae collected from published nutter freely available to any serious researcher Hethese open sources proved conclusively that titanium alloys dissolve in sea water. Thereew who suggested the whole "Sudumekh show" could havearge-scale "disinformation"and lhai the highly refleclive components were just pans covered with aluminum paint.
metallurgists still be-
it proOWy.nvpossibk for the Soviets have developed Ihe capability to bend, shape, and weld thick ittamum plateshipyard environment The US submarine community, "the Rickovetwas happy wiih this assessment. It could not accept any possibility that the Soviets could series-produceophisticated submarine
These expert opimons made the ALFA submarine as-sessmem inconclusive On the onead the espert naysayers; on thead some admirals asking, "Whai ihe hell arc the Russians doing?"
Lord had rejected aluminum, stainless steel, and glass fibers. There remained IheYIOO. or possiblyteels, and titanium Except for stainless steel, steelark, almost black, colorhe elements for encodedtill agree with Lord's analysisnanium alloy was Ihe most logical material suitable for submarine pressure hulls.
As analysiserceived five essential problem areas,alledhese made my life difficult because ihey challengedbeliefs about the very nature of Sovietconstruction.
First Enigma: An apparcnl change in Sovietand construction methodology.
Advantage Long-range gain Disadvantage Ijrge investment of resources. Remarks- If successful. Soviet submarineand builders wereuantum leap into modern technology.
Second Enigma: Use of titanium alloy in pressure hull construction
Advantage: Titanium is stronger and weighs si pace nt less thanthe pressure hull can be stronger without increasing displacement: its usetiongcr hull for greaterdepth and incienses restsiance to explosives al lesser depths; and (he submarine Is essentially non-magnetic, ihus decreasing (he likelihood of magnetic anomaly detectionisadvantage Tilanium is three to five limesensive than steel; itotally different manufacturing process; shipyard workers must be retrained, construction halls must be reconfigured; and bending and shaping of heavy plates of titanium alloy are far moreteel.
Remarks: Much evidence had been gathered lhai the Soviet Navy had ample research andfunds and thai Soviet metallurgists had made remarkable advances in uiamum manufacturing technology. Reports indicated that the Soviet Navy had conducted research in HYIOO steel,glass fiber, and (Itanium alloys for use in ship and submarine conduction.
Third Enigma: Apparcnl use of liquid metalcoolants.
Advantage: Better hoisc power io weight/volume ratio for higher speed.
Disadvantage: The US Navy believedcac-tor cooled by liquid metal is less safe than the pressurized water reactor (PWR) in use by the US Mlvy.
Remarks: The US Navy's safety record supported Ihe PWR approach
Fourth Enigma: Seemingly large-scale use ofand reduction of crew size.
Advantage: Reduced Ihc size of (he boal and the sire of its crew, levsened demand for electric power requirements, and relieved crew from mun-dane tasks, thus eliminating human errors caused by fatigue and boredom.
Disadvantage: The US Navy believed automaied controls to be less sale than hands-on control functions.
Remarks: Only by automating many conUolcould the Soviets reduce the size of IheThis increased the ALFA's survivability in combat. because itmaller active sonar target. Furthermore, the lowonmagnetic titanium hull made localization of target by MAD difficult. Having unmanned engineering spaces also reducedcasualties should the liquid metal reactor malfunction.
Fifth Fniema: Large rescue sphere in AI.FA sail indicative of strong concern for crew survivability.
Adraniate: Provides safe exit for entire crew from maximum depth without external assistance. When the sphere is on the surface, itifeboat, it protects the crew from the elements: and it has sufficient communications, emergency rations, and first aid on board. IHvidvanlage: Increases weight ofthe submarinehe ALFA's high reserve buoyatice, as wellophisticated rescue system, implied Soviet Navy concern for crew survivability There were other indicators: the Soviel Navy had one India class submarine rescue submarine each in Northern and Pacific fleet areas, had several "hard" compartments in submarines, and now hadophisticated survival system io the ALFA. This was another item that did not square with out view that the Soviets had little concern for human life
Turning to HUMINT
Since Lord's ALFA SSN approach hadelieved that different collection assets had to be activated to convince the US Navyerious threat to our submarines. Under die guidance of an able Navysed my extensive experienceUMINT collector to tap these new assets
With continuing support from CIA analysts, as well as Ihe Agency's collection managers and collectors, several thousand reports were screened forabout titanium. To keep (hat collection current, photo inter prefers spent considerable time briefing their assets in the technique of precisionFor threeollowed the unfolding of this dramatic change in Soviet Submanne construction.
A fair number of HUMINT reports dating from the lime AI.FA was under construction alludedew submarinemall ctew. Some reportsrew of IS. and othersicw ofdmiral Rickover's team believed that it wastouclear submarine withmall crew, and that it was irresponsible to automate the many vital control functionsubmanne.esult, this information was temporarily shelved.
But the subjects of small crew aad automation would not die, partly because some Western navies hadautomated their submarine* with considerable success. With strong support from the CIA. 1and assembled information thatrd's original assessment of ALFA's small crew
Periodically, CIA repotted thai (he Sovietsa high inletesi in automating submarine maneuvering, propulsion power train, weaponsand fire control functions. The goal: small crew, small boat Eventually, the evidence that AifA was extensively automated convinced even the most skeptical.
A Key Report
Evidence continued to confirm Soviel concern with crew survivability. By pure luck,1 someone walking along the Neva Riverphere being lowered into the area where an ALFA was beingout. Based on the description, analysislhal the sphere wus lowered into (he ALFA sail. The source was able to estimate the diameter of the sphere. With lhat information, und based on my familiarity with West German submarines. Ilhal the Soviets hadubmarine crew rescue sphere designed by Dr. Ulnch Gaoler, theWest Geimjn submarine designer.
By extrapolation, our submarine structures engineer calculated thatousky Russians would just fit into ihe rescue sphere. Careful examination of the sailontinuous breakaway seam in the rubber antison.ii coating of the ALFA sail. Thethe sphcie, using part of the sailtabilizer and buoyancy tank, could be released to rise lo Ihe surfaceifeboat. This reportsignificantly to solving the enigmas of crew size, automation, and crew survivability
CIA also provided me with increasing evidence (hat appeared to confirm lhai:
The Soviets had diverged Irom iheir pragmalK submarine consiruction modus operandi hyat least three edge of-technology items into ii produciion-model submarine.
Large, heavy, titanium alloy ptaies were shaped and welded at ihe Sudomekh and Severodvinsk shipyards. Almost all reports alludedhe many difficulties encountered when welding titanium.
Liquid metal coolant was used to increase ihe horseposver over weight/volume ratio and thuset case speed.
In addition. CIA reported lhai the firsi ALFA hadatastrophic failure during sea (rials in the Barents Sea. when the liquid metal coolant spilled from the reactor containment vessel into Ihe bilge. Indeed, as later reported in Janei Offence Weekly. the "first ALFAeaction meltdownhe submarine was lowed to an isolated corner in Severodvinsk shipyard. Eventually, the bow and amidships sections appeared once again a( Sudomekh The pieces were left in open view on the quay lor many years. Nevertheless. ALFA ptotci-type's trial run. even with us disastrous allermath. must have pioduced some encouraging results,senes consiruction continued.
Inne AI.FA was launched from Sudomekh. and in6 one was launched Irom Severodvinsk. The class was back Io-seriesand intelligence collection again wen! inlo high gear. After moreear of collection, the results were assembled and examined, The report* eon-fiimcd the previous assessments thai ihc Soviets hod encountered seemingly insurmountable problems when welding titanium The first boat of the class had been on the ways for aboul seven or eight yean, insleod of the normal one to (wo years. Punng-oui periods were also much longer lhan (hose of olher SSNs.
The old and new supporting evidence was presented to another panel of experts convened by CIA to assess whether the Soviets could weld heavy plaies of titanium alloyhipyard atmosphere- Again, most of the experts opined that the Soviets most likely could not senes-produce titanium pressure hulls for SSNs Bui this (ime. Naval Intelligence, with support from CIA analysts, disagreed wiih tlie experts. The mutually supportive evidence from all usseis had convinced ihe Technical Director of the Naval Intelligence Support Cemcr that the Soviets haduantum leap in submarine technology by combining several high-risk options in one class of submarine.
Consequenily. il was critical for US Navyto learn thai
The Soviets were building submarines with hulls made of lightweight, nonmagnetic liuinium
The mosl streamlined hull shape ever produced by ihe Sovtels was designed for speeds overnots.'
These high-technology xubmarinrt could dive(he etlective range of US antisubmarine weapons,
These units, probably filled with advanced wejpons.erines threat io US and allied naval forces.
The Director of Naval Intelligence, confident thai his analysts had made (he correct assessment in the face of aggtexwve opposition, invited me lo present Ihe assessment to the Vice Chief of Naval Donations. The evidence convinced him. and he decided lhat ihe information hade disseminated to the Navy as soon as possible. Naval Intelligence published the ALFA assessment in record time.
Inechnical assets delected ihe second ALFA making trial runs in the Barents Sea. An analysis of Ihc data indicated thai (he Al .FA had
exceedednots while sniimciped in moderately deep waterlter iwn decades ol effort, Ihe ALFA class had reached Initial Operational Capahility. and was in series production.he Soviets had at least six operational ALFAs.)
Onhe commander of the US Naval Sea Systems Command wrote Naval Intelligence that CIA's extraordinary collection and Naval Intelligence's timely analysis of rhe ALFA Class SSN threat had saved the5 million in new torpedo designs Itthe first time inthat this type of intelligence collection andhad ever been officially credited with savingarge sum of money
Tanaclty Pays OH
nd manu lac lining efforts for the ALFA SSN are difficult to estimate. Two construction sites were tied up for excessively long times with this project. The first sea trials far exceeded Moscow's expectations Then, evenatastrophic failure in the engineering spaces, the Soviets continued the ALFA protect with tenacity unmatched by Western navies.
There is little doubt thai ihe Soviets havethee technological gains in follow-on nuclear-powered submarines Alter all. thesubmarine designers, and builders had, at almost prohibitive cost, accomplished what their Western counterparts thought impossible: the produc-lionitanium submarine (hat surpassed ull others in speed and diving depth.
There was at least one commonalty between the Soviet ALFA construction program and the US Navy's intelligence effort against the submarine: in tenacity the Soviet Navy had been matched by thai of one senior US Naval Intelligence analyst. We had learned once again that nothing can be taken for granicd. Most important, we learned thai the Soviet Navy did not always follow old Russian proverbs. We also learned that US intelligence was "right on thend that the Soviets had indeedubmarine that was "belter than good enough."
Soviet Military Power, Office of the Secretary of
Understanding Soviet Naval Developments.0
J. Smiel Military0
Norman Pulmar. (Vu.a/ Inxiiimte Pmeeedmet..
Janet Defence Weelle. II.
Soviet MdtturxOriginal document.