P1010345.JPG DSC01484.jpg DSC03058.jpg

Author Topic: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)  (Read 3479 times)

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« on: July 31, 2016, 11:11:20 AM »
Kits of Russian submarines are appearing thick and fast and give us an insight to some esoteric designs for these cold-war warriors. One in particular is of considerable interest and is probably best remembered for being the threatening ‘Nemesis’ for Red October in the film of that name.

Developed in the ‘60s at the height of the Cold War, the Alpha submarine remains the fastest of its kind to this very day. Its propulsion system was so powerful that it required an overhaul after a single high-speed mission. It could operate in all waters, was ridiculously expensive to operate and its very existence sent the US into a frenzy trying to counter it. Described as a Soviet technological marvel of the time, this most obscure but arguably more impressive Alfa Class interceptor super-submarine may again reappear on the world’s stage.

From the day of its inception, the top secret Project 705, also know as the ‘Lyra’ Class in Russia, was designed to be extremely fast and maneuverable. As a result, it drastically pioneered many technological frontiers to get there. The idea behind Project 705 was that a very fast hunter-killer sub could chase down any surface combatant while also being able to evade almost all anti-submarine weapons fielded by NATO at the time. Although immense speed was the project’s primary design goal, the sub also had to be hard to detect while running at lower speeds, especially via active sonar and magnetic anomaly detectors.

Because the project’s main design goal, to reach speeds of over 40 knots submerged, was so ambitious, a tighter, smaller hull form was required to achieve it. This small size, displacing only 3,200 tons submerged (as opposed to more than double that for the Victor Class of similar vintage), meant that the crew size had to be dramatically decreased, thus very innovative automation would have to be developed to allow a crew of 31 to do the job that a crew of double, triple, or even quadruple the size would normally be tasked with. Because of these crew size restraints, the ‘Alfas’ were to be manned by an all officer and warrant officer complement, plucked from the cream of the Russian Navy. As a result of the small crew and their limited access to sensitive components, no maintenance was to be performed while at sea beyond emergency repairs and the whole boat was ran from a single control room with just eight officers on watch. During tests, the Soviet Navy found that having such a small watch crew all huddled together largely in one room, greatly decreased the reaction time during combat maneuvers. This snappier decision making resulted in enhanced combat effectiveness was a well-matched feature for the Alfa Class’s blistering performance.

The Alfa Class had a double hull design, with the inner hull handling the enormous pressures that would be faced by the sub’s extreme operating depths (stated at over 2200 feet, with some sources putting its crush-depth at over 3600 feet!), and a lighter outer hull that is optimized for speed, maneuverability and acoustic stealth. For its high strength and low weight, the Alfa’s hulls were made of titanium. Because titanium was still an exotic metal at the time (the A-12 and SR-71 were groundbreaking in the west for their wide use of the metal, which was bought through a fake shell company from Russia), it is said the US was in doubt that it would be used for this new class. Nearly a decade passed between the class’s first test runs and confirmation of the hull metallurgy by western intelligence agencies. It is rumored that titanium shavings from the floor at a St. Petersburg shipyard, where the Alfa Class subs were built, were smuggled out of the country thus proving that titanium was indeed the metal that was being used largely in this high-speed class’s construction. None-the-less, shaping and welding huge pieces of titanium for the sub’s hull was said to have been a major challenge. To enable its build, the entire construction shed was filled with inert argon gas and the workers had to put on moon suits while welding her light-weight but super-strong hull together.

The submarine’s inner pressure hull was separated into six main compartments, of which only one was habitable for the crew’s for daily use, the rest being packed with weapons, sensors, nuclear propulsion and other machinery. Although this greatly hampered livability aboard the relatively small, 267 foot nuclear submarine, it allowed the command and living section to be a pressure vessel unto itself, which would have greatly increased the crew’s survivability if they were struck by an enemy torpedo or depth charge during combat. The Alfas were also unique in that they had a crew escape module that could take all the crew safely to the surface should the ship be catastrophically damaged. This was said to have been a result of the horrific events surrounding the K-19 incident. The most outrageous aspect of the Alfa Class design was its exotic nuclear reactor, a compact and incredibly powerful unit cooled by molten metal (lead-bismuth).

One of the most prominent disadvantages of the Alfa Class’s lead-bismuth nuclear reactor setup was that it could not be shut down unless a source of super-heated off-board steam was available to keep the molten lead-bismuth coolant in a non-solid state. If it were allowed to solidify, which happened at 257' F, the reactor would be unable to be restarted as its fuel rods would be frozen in the solidified metal coolant. Similar to a fire that constantly needs to be fed or you literally have to build a new one from scratch, the Alfa Class’s nuclear reactors were innovative but extremely demanding.

Seeing as the USSR’s port-side infrastructure was more of an afterthought compared to the high-tech submarines and ships that relied on it, often times for external steady steam supply were less than reliable. Thus the subs would have to run their reactors continuously while in port to maintain their coolant in a liquefied state. Such a situation meant that the ability to do deep maintenance on the reactors was a challenge as they were never really built to be run continuously for extreme periods of time in the first place. Thus their lifespan was greatly reduced and four of the seven Alfa Class submarines were retired early due to entombed, or ‘frozen’ reactors cores that could not maintain their coolant’s high temperature needs.

The Alfa’s cutting-edge and sometimes less than reliable automated systems, small crews, and their needy reactors, kept them in port much more than their traditionally configured, nuclear hunter-killer submarine cousins. Alfa Class boats were used as alert interceptors instead of long escort screening missions or patrol duties. They would wait in port until a target was detected, at which time they would scramble out of their harbor and sprint to that target’s last known location. There they would begin their cat and mouse game – by all reports a game they were incredibly good at.

These ‘interceptor subs’ had a single five bladed main screw tied to a 40,000hp steam turbine that could blast the boat through the depths at unprecedented speeds. The Alfa Class was also equipped with two additional smaller and super-quiet, 100kw, electrically powered water-jet propulsors that were used for stealth maneuvering. Different sources state different speeds for the Alfa boats but their top speed submerged was certainly in excess of 43kts. Keeping in mind that the American Los Angeles Class SSNs, and UK Vanguard submarines in service today are reckoned to have a top speed of around 35kts and a dive capability stated as 1250 feet, with a crush-depth of 1500 feet - figures not even close to the Alfa’s low-ball estimated maximum operating depth of just over 2200 feet.

The Alfa boats were not just ridiculously fast and deep diving, but they were also super maneuverable, and said to be able to accelerate at a blistering rate (some reports say they could go from a dead stop to full speed in under two minutes, while others put it at just under 90 seconds). There small size and light weight meant that they could also come to a dead stop on a dime while changing depth and course rapidly via her gobs of excess power. All these qualities, along with her stealthy shape and skin coatings, put the Alfas outside the engagement envelope of the majority of anti-sub weaponry fielded at the time of her lead ship’s commissioning.

According to a Navy anti-submarine officer that served during the days when the Alfa Class was not yet fully understood and highly-feared on or below the seas, these boats were ‘loud as hell’ when speeding toward their targets or muscling around during tight maneuvers, but once when they were operating on their propulsors, they were as quiet as any Russian hunter-killer sub deployed at the time. Additionally, the Alfa’s ability to rapidly dive so deep, well below the thermocline, gave them an ability to disappear and reappear over fairly large distances in a relatively short period of time.

The Alfa Class was not a particularly heavily armed attack submarine, being able to carry 18 torpedoes. But this arsenal could include the 250mph, supercavitating, rocket assisted VA-111 Shkval, which could put a western attack sub on the defensive in seconds. All things considered, the Alfa’s limited magazine was fine considering that these boats ended up being interceptors as opposed to true long-range hunter-killer subs. As for the Alfa Class’s ability to detect enemy submarines and ships, the sonar systems installed were state-of-the-art, and highly capable, but their high degree of automation and smaller size meant resulted in them being temperamental. This, combined with these boats’ small crew meant that sensor system failures, even relatively rudimentary ones, could result in mission kill.
 
In the end a total of just seven of a planned fleet of twenty five Alfa Class subs were built, many less than the USSR led on to be in the works. The first in the class, The Leningrad (Photo), was more of a prototype than an operational boat and suffered from major defects with its titanium hull and higher maintenance reactor design leading to improvements in follow-on vessels. Still, these boats, and their highly secretive development cycle, set off a scramble in the west that resulted in new torpedo designs, mainly the US Mk48 ADCAP program and the UK’s Spearfish torpedo program. Improved detection systems were needed to detect and mitigate the Alfa’s raw performance edge. Additionally, the fear that the Soviets would build up their fleet with many dozens of these small, high-speed subs spurred further investment in US and its allies’ naval anti-submarine capabilities.

Now a new generation of Alpha II’s is planned. The first hull, again with the majority of its hull built from titanium nears completion as I write. From all accounts these boats will have more emphasis on stealth and endurance than speed and surprise… we wait to see!

The first kit of an Alpha appeared from Dragon (also issued by Aoshima) in the late 70’s as a combo with (a) the USS Dallas (a Hunt for Red October spin-off) or (b) USS Ohio. These were 1/350 scale and I will cover them in detail later. Maquette produced a 1/400 Alpha but in comparison to all others, this is quite basic and does require much work. HobbyBoss, Zvesda and Micromir have produced their own 1/350 Alpha’s with the former to a very high degree of accuracy according to all the details available? Revell is currently re-releasing a range of 1/400 submarines including the USS Skipjack, a Russian Typhoon and USS Dallas (They also did a range of ‘Red October’ boxing’s after the film of the same name) and an Alpha is on their release schedule for 2017. As far as I am aware this company never released an Alpha in any scale previously and the only one in 1/400 is the previously mentioned Maquette version, so it will be interesting to see what appears?

To get started let’s look at the Maquette one (Photos). As I said on examination it looks quite basic. This kit is simplicity in itself. Consisting of 16 parts including a stand, this is a full-hull kit being moulded in upper and lower halves. Most of the rest of the parts are for the rear of the sub and there are also bits for the dive planes, various antennas and what looks like some sort of cooling intake. (Haven’t been able to find reference to this at all?)

The grey plastic is fairly well moulded with most detailing being of the raised variety. Most of the parts have some flash, though it was easy to remove. Small sink areas on the fins and dive planes required filling and light sanding and the raised detail around the hull seam was lost during construction.

Instructions consist of a single folded sheet with an exploded view of the parts on one side and a history/decal placement guide on the other. The scheme recommended is all over black with a white stripe for the waterline and polished titanium props. All Alpha’s however were two-tone grey and only #3 and #4 had the white waterline stripe which broke forward of the sail. The decals are on a very small sheet and being white on a white background, are basically invisible. In the event they turned out to be off register so I used some from the ProDecal sheet for Soviet submarines.

Not a bad kit but being an odd scale it doesn’t fit in with the rest of my current fleet. So next we'll look at the HobbyBoss 1/350 kit….
« Last Edit: July 31, 2016, 05:00:26 PM by Pen-Pusher »

Haddock

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1806
    • View Profile
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2016, 01:54:48 PM »
This is fascinating...........but do you ever go to bed?
Haddock.

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2016, 02:58:32 PM »
I suffer from literary 'runs' as my wife puts it! Apologies, maybe I should cease posting here?

Haddock

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1806
    • View Profile
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2016, 04:46:03 PM »
Keep it coming, I find it very interesting.
Haddock.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2016, 04:49:03 PM by Haddock »

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2016, 05:25:02 PM »
The HobbyBoss 'Alfa' is the new kid on the block (so far) and is remarkably similar to the Dragon version that preceded it by several decades. Nonetheless it is a new mould and deserves consideration in it's own right. The kit consists of 17 plastic parts including the stand and one PE set as shown in photos below. The main hull comes in two parts and again these are upper and lower which makes for an easy task for those of you who like to have your models 'at sea' so to speak. A separate spru hold the remaining parts and as you can see they are crisply moulded and free from either flash or sink holes. Surface detail is some of the best I've seen on sub-kits consisting of both raised and inscribed detailing and there is an accurate colour schematic and placement chart. As I mentioned earlier there is a small selection of PE parts to add some extra detail.  Finally, I don't think the fine fit will cause many headaches.... but we'll see?

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2016, 05:26:30 PM »
Colour chart (Note: The box-art shows a red hull which is incorrect)

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2016, 05:30:17 PM »
Two piece hull with some detail -

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2016, 05:31:34 PM »
- bit's and bobs!

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2016, 05:33:17 PM »
And a nice dry-fit to begin with...

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2016, 09:12:04 AM »
... followed up by some careful construction. Found the fit round the bow (front end landlubbers) wasn't quite there so some deft application of wet 'n' dry was called for. I was pleased to find the rudders and planes at the stern (Oh you know where that is!) could be positioned. Several of HB's much bigger subs have this as a one piece? Tonight, I'll slap some magnolia on the woodchip... oh no, that's another task on the list!

What is noticeable about this kit, is the detail around the rudder and plane assembly. Notice the two water jet propulsors mounted on the extreme outside edge of each plane. This is the first time these have been included on a kit of an Alpha to my certain knowledge which tends to confirm suspicions this model is based on one of the in-service boats and not the prototype which I suspect both Dragon and Mikromir based theirs on. I also note the bow diving planes (not fitted yet) are sited in differing positions on each but only the Dragon version shows these can be retracted on the 1/1 version.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2016, 09:33:18 AM by Pen-Pusher »

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2016, 09:46:00 AM »
Note the retracted bow planes (tear drop shape) just behind and below the forward vents.

Bigkev

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2684
    • View Profile
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2016, 06:15:48 AM »
Hi Pen Pusher,
Like Haddock, I find your detailed posts of types of Submarine very interesting, from somebody who has more than a passing interest and involvement in them.
Keep them coming chum, and I look forward to the next instalment.
Bigkev

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2016, 08:38:58 AM »
I think this is about right for the forward planes...?

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2016, 08:48:11 AM »
This one's for Big Kev and Haddock! Sorry I can't invite everyone but seats are at a premium. (PS. Your invitations are in the post)

Pen-Pusher

  • Guest
Re: Alpha - First and possibly last? (Kit reviews)
« Reply #14 on: August 02, 2016, 11:22:58 AM »
One curious aspect of all Soviet/Russian submarines is the 'use' of the conning tower or 'sail' during surface running. In several nuclear boats, duplication of the essentials of the submarines command and control centre here is the norm. On some larger boats the sail remains entirely 'dry' whilst submerged requiring added strength and of course added weight to their construction. British, French and American submarine sails (usually windowless) sport a gloss white interior (as do hatches and torpedo and missile tubes) whereas the Russian prefer a more moderate sea-blue. The photo below is of the Typhoon submarine sail interior which was 'wet' and I can only assume the Alpha's décor would be much in keeping with this?
« Last Edit: August 02, 2016, 11:25:11 AM by Pen-Pusher »