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Varshavyanka Submarine: SSK Kilo Class (Type 636)

The Soviet Union, the Varshavyanka submarines cause sincere hostility and hatred among the US military / Russin Navy. Russia today operates ...

The Soviet Union, the Varshavyanka submarines cause sincere hostility and hatred among the US military / Russin Navy.
Russia today operates 28 Kilo Class diesel submarines, which serve complementary role to the country's long range nuclear powered fleet. For conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and Russia's Far East the platforms are more than adequate in range to defend Russian waters and those of its allies from hostile naval forces. Kilo Class submarines have been built continuously for well over three decades, and were first commissioned by the Soviet Navy in 1980. This serves as a testament to their potency, and 59 platforms remain in service in the navies of eight countries today. 

The warships are among the most capable warships of their kind ever developed, and are today operated by Poland, with a single vessel, India with nine, Iran with three, China with two and Romania with a single submarine. An enhanced variant of the Kilo Class, Improved Kilo, have significantly superior capabilities and feature improvements which make it extremely quiet and near impossible to detect when stationary.  These modernized Kilo Class vessels are thus adequately named 'Black Hole' submarines by NATO - for their ability to effectively disappear from enemy sensors.

Improved Kilo Class ships are operated by Vietnam with six ships, Algeria with four - and two more older vessels, and Russia. The Russian Navy operates 22 older Kilo variants, six Improved Kilo vessels, and has six more Improved Kilo boats on order for its Pacific fleet set to enter service by 2021. A number of other states including the Philippines have also shown interest in acquiring the highly cost effective warships - an asymmetric asset against rival powers at sea. 

 Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine / RF.
Improved Kilo Class submarines are equipped with potent Kalibr Class cruise missiles, advanced weapons capable of striking surface, land based and submarine targets at several times the speed of sound. The ships can also deploy advanced torpedoes and mines and can even be equipped with Strela-3 air defense systems, allowing them to strike aerial as well as naval and land targets. Perhaps the greatest asset of the Kilo Class however is its survivability, a result of its quietness which makes it extremely difficult to detect. 

The Kilo Class' hull is shaped like a drop of water, reducing its water resistance substantially. The propulsion plant is isolated on a rubber base so it does not touch the hull, an effective way to prevent vibrations from turning into noise. The ship's rubbery coating also helps to reduce noise. While it cannot stay submerged for months as longer ranged nuclear vessels do, the Kilo Class's air regeneration system can supply the crew with oxygen for up to 260 hours giving the ship respectable underwater endurance of almost two weeks.

Though Ukraine was responsible for the most shipbuilding in the USSR, Russia retained its submarine construction facilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has continued to manufacture these vessels while refining their design ever since. The Kilo Class submarines have been a major success, both in their capabilities and on world markets. 

They remain a significant threat to hostile naval forces, one of which the Western bloc has been highly wary. Serving in both the Chinese and Vietnamese navies, the Kilo Class are also a significant asset for these Asian powers as tensions in the South China Sea continue to escalate and both countries perceive significant threats from growing hostile naval deployments. 

In Iranian hands the warships could also prove invaluable assets when operating near the straits of Hormuz - one which could pose a major threat to the U.S. Navy's carrier strike groups when coordinating with other ship hunting assets. The Improved Kilo is set to be replaced by the even more capable Lada Class submarine, of which one currently serves in the Russian Navy. Reportedly even quieter and better armed than the Improved Kilo, the Lada is also likely to prove a widespread export success and further threaten the Western bloc's surface fleets in their escalating confrontation with Russia.


The Russian Kilo-class submarine first entered service in the early 1980s. It was designed by the Rubin Central Maritime Design Bureau in St Petersburg. Subsequent developments led to the improved production versions, including the Type 877EKM, Type 636, and Type 636.3. A successor, the Lada (Project 677), was launched in November 2004.

To date, 636 "Varshavyanka" submarines remain in the service /
Rubin is developing an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, which could be available for retrofit to the other versions. The Kilo submarine was originally built at the Komsomolsk shipyard but is now constructed at the Admiralty Shipyard in St Petersburg.

Type 636 is designed for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface-ship warfare (ASuW) and also for general reconnaissance and patrol missions. The Type 636 submarine is considered to be one of the quietest diesel submarines in the world. It is capable of detecting an enemy submarine at a range three to four times greater than it can be detected itself.

SSK Kilo-class (Type 636) orders and deliveries

China has two Type 636 submarines, the second of which joined the Chinese fleet in January 1999. It also has eight Project 636M submarines. In November 2007, Venezuela signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for three Type 636 submarines to be delivered from 2012 to 2013.

Vietnam ordered six Type 636 submarines in 2009 and all submarines were delivered between 2013 and 2017. In January 2019, Algeria commissioned two Kilo-class Russian submarines at the Mers El Kébir naval base.

Type 636 submarine design

The submarine consists of six watertight compartments separated by transverse bulkheads in a pressurised double-hull. The design and the submarine’s optimal reserve buoyancy lead to increased survivability if the submarine is holed, even with one compartment and two adjacent ballast tanks flooded.

"The Russian Kilo-class submarine first entered service in the early 1980s." The foreplanes are positioned on the upper hull in front of the fin or sail. The design is a development of the 877EKM Kilo-class with the extended hull. The power of the diesel generators was increased and the main propulsion shaft speed was reduced to provide a substantial reduction in the acoustic signature of the submarine.

Command system

The submarine is equipped with a multi-purpose combat and command system, which provides information for effective submarine control and torpedo firing.

The system’s high-speed computer can process information from the surveillance equipment and display it on the screen, determine submerged and surface target data and calculate firing parameters, provide automatic fire control, and provide information and recommendations on manoeuvres and deployment of weapons.


The submarine has a launcher for eight Strela-3 or Igla surface-to-air missiles. The missiles are manufactured by the Fakel Design Bureau, Kaliningrad. Strela-3 (Nato Designation SA-N-8 Gremlin) has a cooled infrared seeker and 2kg warhead. Maximum range is 6km.

Igla (Nato designation SA-N-10 Gimlet) is also infrared-guided but heavier with a maximum range of 5km and speed of Mach 1.65. The vessels can be fitted with the Novator Club-S (SS-N-27) cruise missile system, which fires the 3M-54E1 anti-ship missile. The range is 220km with 450kg high-explosive warhead.


The submarine is equipped with six 533mm forward torpedo tubes situated in the nose of the submarine and carries 18 torpedoes with six in the torpedo tubes and 12 stored on the racks. Alternatively, the torpedo tubes can deploy 24 mines.

Two torpedo tubes are designed for firing remote-controlled torpedoes with very high accuracy. The computer-controlled torpedo system is provided with a quick-loading device. The first salvo is fired within two minutes and the second within five minutes.

Sensors on board SSK Kilo-class (Type 636) submarine

Type 636 is fitted with the MGK-400EM digital sonar. This provides detection of submarine and surface ship targets in sonar listening mode, echo-ranging in a ±30° sector of the target relative bearing, telephone and telegraph communication in both long and short-range modes, detection of underwater sound signals and determination of the signal bearing.

The submarine’s radar works in periscope and surface modes and provides information on the underwater and air situation, radar identification, and navigational safety.


Kilo-class countermeasures include electronic support measures (ESM), radar warning receivers, and direction finders.

Propulsion and performance

The submarine’s propulsion system consists of two diesel generators, the main propulsion motor, a fuel-economic motor, and a single shaft, driving a seven-blade fixed-pitch propeller. There are two additional stand-by motors for running in shallow waters, at the mooring and in cases of emergency. Two 120-cell storage batteries are installed in the first and third compartments of the submarine. The main machinery is equipped with an automatic control system.

The vessel’s maximum diving depth is 300m while speed is 11k when surfaced and 20k when submerged. It can achieve a range of 7,500 miles when snorkelling at 7k and 400 miles when submerged at 3k.