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U.S., Russia Scrap Soviet-era Nuclear Missile Subs

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SEVERODVINSK, Russia, Sept. 15, 1999 – U.S. and Russian officials at the Zvezdochka Shipyard here showed Defense Secretary William S. Cohen the fruits of their labor Sept. 14 -- massive mounds of scrap metal, miles of twisted cable and barrels filled with copper bits.

That's what remains of Soviet-era nuclear submarines after American-supplied heavy equipment gripped, grabbed, sheared and stripped them.

The United States is helping Russia dismantle 31 nuclear submarines by 2003 as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. So far, U.S. specialists have helped disassemble one Yankee- and six Delta-class submarines. The Russians have destroyed another five ballistic missile subs on their own using American equipment.

U.S. officials awarded a contract Sept. 2 to SevMash Shipyard, located here across the bay from Zvezdochka, for the next boat on the chopping block, a Typhoon-class submarine. The world's largest subs, the Russians' six Typhoons, are about 570 feet long, 75 feet wide and and displace 48,000 tons submerged. They dwarf the next-largest Russian Delta IV and U.S. Ohio subs, which are only about 10 feet shorter, but have half the width and one-third the displacement. The Russians plan to eventually destroy all but one of the giant subs.

The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency contracts Russian shipyards at four locations to disassemble the submarines, according to retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Tom Kuenning, who heads the Cooperative Threat Reduction program at the agency's Washington headquarters.

Kuenning and Army Maj. Ron Alberto, the agency's submarine elimination project manager, spend much of their time in Russia, verifying the work and monitoring the program. The two accompanied Cohen on his Sept. 14 visit to witness operations at this strictly controlled shipyard, about 650 miles north of Moscow.

During a two-hour stop, the secretary toured several sites amid a cluster of American and Russian officials. Russian security officials allowed U.S. news reporters to join the secretary at only two sites.

At the first, Cohen walked through a tumultuous scrap yard where a shearing machine compacted and chopped a submarine hull into slices with a guillotine-like blade. Overhead, a giant mechanical claw and tall cranes tugged and hoisted 20-ton, one- meter-square metal pieces while nearby Russian workers cut up missile launch tubes with acetylene torches.

At the second site, the secretary watched a machine strip the outer casing from copper cables and turn the metal into confetti.

"For so many years, the United States and the then-Soviet Union were engaged in a massive arms race," Cohen recalled. "Yet less than a decade ago, we were able to negotiate a START I agreement, which called for the reduction of our respective nuclear arsenals from 10,000 strategic weapons down to 6,000.

"If the Russian Duma [parliament] will ratify START II, we'll be able to reduce those levels to as low as 3,000. If the Duma will ratify START II, as I believe they should, we can move on to START III [and] reduce those levels even more -- as low as 2,000 strategic weapons."

The U.S. Senate has ratified the START II agreement, Cohen noted. "We believe it's important for Russia to do the same, and we believe key members of the Russian Duma understand that." He said Duma members he met in Moscow indicated to him it is unlikely the parliament will ratify START II until after December elections.

Reducing both nations' arsenals contributes greatly to world security and stability and at the same time provides jobs for both Russians and Americans, Cohen said. The secretary then pointed out that the United States -- monitored by Russian observers -- has destroyed 23 submarines and 368 submarine- launched ballistic missile launchers, as called for in START I.

The U.S. and Russia differ on their approach to reaching START I reduction levels. "We place greater emphasis on our sea-based systems. The Russians placed greater emphasis on their land- based systems. We will both achieve the levels we've agreed upon in START I," Cohen explained to reporters.

Drawing down the nuclear arsenals is an expensive proposition, Cohen said. The United States has already spent roughly $1.7 billion under the program eliminating nuclear weapons in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan and is committed to spending another $2.7 billion over the next six years, he remarked.

Cohen praised the Russian workers for their talent, hard work and dedication. Shipyard manager Nikolai Kalistratov assured the American visitors that Russia is carrying out its contractual and treaty obligations. "Everything is being done on time, in a quality manner and very responsibly," he said.

Nikolai Mihailov, first deputy defense minister, remarked that the Cooperative Threat Reduction program has given the Russian people hope for stability throughout the world. It allows the Russians to cooperate and to feel calmer and safer, he said.

"This program will go down in history -- as we enter the new millennium -- as a very bright example ," he said. "It opens up the door for us for many opportunities in many different areas in the 21st century for us to pursue as new endeavors."

Before leaving Zvezdochka for a stop at SevMash shipyard, the Russians presented Cohen, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walt Slocombe and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction Ted Warner III with plaques bearing shards of a Delta III submarine's pressure hull. Cohen gave Mihailov a plaque bearing a metal cube salvaged from the USS George Washington.

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