At the root of the problem is lack of Russian research-building financial and labour resources for AIP. This has made the Lada and related export Amur class, uncompetitive. This is compared to AIP equipped submarines in Singapore, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, South Korea, China, Pakistan, Japan and all the other countries that own TKMS 214s and Dolphins.
- the Borei class (aka Borey, Project 955) SSBN, and
- the Yasen class (Project 885) SSGN or "multi-purpose" SSN
These nuclear submarine development and construction projects have come at the expense of creating AIP for a whole new Lada/Amur class SSK. Russia's main conventional and nuclear submarine designer, the Rubin Design Institute (see left sidebar in Rubin's website) has been over-extended with all its submarine projects. This is in the context of defence budget shortfalls brought on by:
- Western economic sanctions in response to Russia's ventures in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine.
- Russia’s increasingly threatening posture in the Baltic. This reduces the likelihood that Baltic countries that invented the most modern AIP would supply AIP technology and designs to Russia. This includes Germany (fuel cell AIP) and Sweden (building new advanced versions of Stirling AIP).
- more importantly low world oil prices have led to low oil revenue for the Russian Treasury and hence less revenue to fund increasingly ambitious defence programs, and
- expensive defence programs particularly include Russia interventions in eastern Ukraine and in Syria.
Lack of foreign orders for Russian SSKs (other than 6 Kilos for Vietnam (almost finished) and 1 Amur for Morocco (in limbo)) has also led to a lack of money to fund Russian AIP and a new Lada/Amur class.
Fourth generation Lada/Amurs are now out so a sort of Five Year Plan to build the "fifth-generation" Kalina has been declared. Customary face saving and denial has been part of the declaration process.
The Kalina Future - LIBs?
The Kalina Project may take until the early 2020s to launch an AIP Kalina and until the mid-2020s to fully test and commission it.
It is significant that until then the Russian Navy has ordered six additional Improved Kilo class (636.3) submarines for its Pacific Fleet. It is possible the six may be retrofitted with Russian AIP once AIP is developed.
Given China’s earlier interest in buying four Ladas China may be the first customer for Kalina Class submarines.
Russia would realise China would reverse engineer some features of the AIP and other advanced Russian submarine features. But Russia needs the foreign exchange from the export submarine business and Russia may want to further deepen its alliance position with China.
Alternatively Russia may be able to develop (through research and intelligence collection) Lithium-ion Batteries (LIBs) for Kalina submarines. This may make an AIP step unnecessary. Russia may develop LIB technology jointly with China or receive LIB technology from China. China may already have a deep enough espionage network in place in Japan and South Korea (maybe also France and Germany?) to collect substantial LIB secrets.
BACKGROUND - RUSSIA's FIVE CONVENTIONAL SUBMARINE GENERATIONS
- Russian SSK Development - Kalina Class Awaiting Any AIP, April 4, 2014 http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/russian-conventional-submarine.html
- National Interest's 5 Most Lethal Russian Submarines, July 11, 2015.