MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia launched its first new generation nuclear submarine since the fall of the Soviet Union on Sunday, as the Kremlin seeks to upgrade its undersea nuclear strike force.
The long-delayed Yuri Dolgoruky, the first Borei-class (Arctic Wind) nuclear submarine, was moved to the dry docks at a highly secret submarine base in the Arctic town of Severodvinsk, the heart of Russia’s northern submarine fleet.
Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s powerful first deputy prime minister who rules the military-industrial sector, took part in the ceremony along with the navy top brass and Kremlin advisers.
“For the first time in 17 years we are launching such a vessel -- in essence this is the first Russian strategic submarine, a submarine of the new generation,” the RIA news agency quoted Ivanov as saying.
The launch of the new submarine is part of a plan, approved by President Vladimir Putin, to upgrade the core of Russia’s undersea nuclear attack forces, military analysts said.
Putin has boosted funding for the submarine fleet, which has been involved in a string of fatal accidents including the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea in August 2000. All 118 sailors aboard the Kursk perished.
The Yuri Dolgoruky has taken 12 years to build following funding problems in the chaos of the 1990s, when the post-Soviet navy and shipbuilding sector lost much of its talent.
“Russia wants to show that she remains a nuclear power and -- as the Putin administration says -- still a great power and for them the greatness of that power is measured by its weapons,” Alexander Nikitin, a former Russian navy engineer now working as an environmental campaigner, told Reuters from Oslo.
Russia has the second largest nuclear submarine fleet in the world after the United States.
“Russia’s attack submarines fulfil the function of preventing the United States’s freedom of action at sea,” said Ivan Safranchuk, head of the World Security Institute’s Moscow office.
“The development of this submarine fleet illustrates the intentions of Russia to preserve its position on the world ocean,” he said.
The Yuri Dolgoruky, which takes its name from a Slavic prince who helped defend Moscow, can descend to a depth of 450 metres (1,500 feet) and can carry 107 sailors for 100 days without rising to the surface.
The submarine, which Interfax said had cost about 23 billion roubles (449 million pounds), should have been ready in 2002 but will enter full service in the northern fleet in 2008.
Russia will build 8 of the new generation submarines by 2018, defence officials said.
But Russia has had problems developing the Bulava-M ballistic missiles, which the new submarines will carry. The missiles, which have a range of 8,000 km (5,000 miles), have misfired in four out the five recent tests.
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