MOSCOW — Russia’s leading manufacturer of submarines said it completed the large-scale modernization of its electroplating workshop, charged with applying a particular coating to metallic products.

The effort, which concluded this month, is meant to increase the energy efficiency of production at Sevmash, which is expected to build a fifth-generation nuclear submarine for Russia.

The shipbuilder has now begun operating electroplating sites focused on ultrasonic cleaning, special chrome plating, solid and electrical insulating anodizing and chemical nickel plating, according to the company.

“By the turn of the 2010-2020s, Sevmash seems to have managed to achieve a more or less stable rate of submarine production. The construction and testing cycle now takes about seven years,” Pavel Luzin, a military expert at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C., told Defense news. “At the same time the plant is working on eight to 10 submarines at different stages of construction. By creating a new production facility, Sevmash strives to increase its commercial efficiency.”

Still, it’s unclear whether things will turn out as planned for the shipbuilder, Luzin added.

“Given the closure of access to Western technologies and equipment, when the entire chain of cooperation involved in the creation of submarines suffers from sanctions, it is difficult to predict how effective the modernization of Sevmash will be,” he said.

The last major modernization of Sevmash’s production facilities took place in the 1970s for the construction of third-generation nuclear submarines. Thanks to its participation in the government’s Federal Target Program, which aims to develop Russia’s military-industrial complex, Sevmash began reequipping and reconstruction in 2011.

Under the program, Sevmash was to receive 46.5 billion rubles (U.S. $507 million). Until 2017, the main expenses involved the purchase of automated technological equipment; multichannel measuring instruments; high-precision, computer-controlled machines; and highly efficient energy and mechanized equipment. The company sourced these from France, Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany.

After 2022, Sevmash bought machines and instruments locally and from Belarus. For example, in February 2024, it purchased technological equipment for a deperming demagnetization station for 1.5 billion rubles from the Krylov State Research Center.

Sevmash will continue participating in the Federal Target Program until 2027, but must take this opportunity to modernize its production facilities for the construction of a fifth-generation nuclear submarine.

Luzin said this effort is already on the books, and that “Russia is in a hurry to create fifth-generation submarines, given that the Borei and Yasen subs will be under construction at least until the early 2030s.”

In 2020, the plant began to create a floating dock to replace its existing Sukhona dock built more than 40 years ago. Two years later, Sevmash completed the conversion of equipment from oil and coal to natural gas, which is more economical and energy-efficient. That same year, it completed reconstruction of its deep-water and shallow-water industrial embankments, traversing docks, and discharging berth.

And in 2023, the company wrapped up modernization of its steel workshop, in which it acquired electric arc furnaces to produce steel, equipment for the secondary treatment of steel, gas treatment stations for furnace emissions and closed water circulation cooling systems. According to Sevmash, the goal here was to more effectively schedule work that involves the foundry as well as increase the cost-effectiveness of materials and resources.

The company is updating its crane equipment. It already replaced about 300 pieces, including elevators, manipulators and the cranes themselves. The plant is expected to complete this project by 2027, according to its parent company, United Shipbuilding Corp.

Sevmash’s forging and heating workshop, where parts for future nuclear submarines are heat-treated, is also receiving an upgrade, the plant has reported. Dozens of new electric furnaces and other equipment are undergoing installation there, it said. The replacement of the workshop’s equipment at this scale has not taken place in more than 60 years.

The shipbuilder is also updating its welding equipment. According to Russia’s official procurement website, Sevmash spent about 25 million rubles on welding equipment in 2022, despite a failed effort to buy spare parts for welding from the Swedish company ESAB that year.

Last year alone, 636 units of various equipment were put into operation, Sevmash reported. Among them was a new central digital automatic telephone exchange. And the plant has said it is purchasing transport vehicles.

Another important point in the technical re-equipment of the plant is the creation of the infrastructure necessary for the implementation of the block-modular method of nuclear submarine construction. That approach involves assembling submarines from large blocks filled with equipment. It would replace the current modular-aggregate method at Sevmash, introduced during the construction of third-generation nuclear submarines.

With the new method, most of the assembly work gets carried out in specialized workshops before the blocks are fed to the slipway for the final assembly of the entire submarine. According to Sevmash, this approach will improve the quality of work, reduce labor intensity and production costs, and shorten the construction time of a submarine by 18 months.

For block production to take place, the company would have to expand its assembly and welding workshops, build combined cleaning and painting chambers, and reequip itself for so-called buildingway-delivery production. This work is expected to conclude in 2031.

“The block construction method has been developed for submarines for more than one year, and requires greater accuracy of the entire technological process and a high-production culture at all stages. It is not yet very clear how successfully it can be implemented because it requires the approval of USC, Rosatom and other cooperation participants,” Luzin said.

“In addition, good engineers and workers are needed, but not many people want to move to Severodvinsk,” he added. “And even if the new method is introduced soon, it is not a fact that it will really reduce the time of construction and acceptance tests of the submarine by the expected 18 months.”

Maxim Starchak is a Russia correspondent for Defense News. He previously worked as an editor for the Russian Defence Ministry and as an expert for the NATO Information Office in Moscow. He has covered Russian nuclear and defense issues for the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis, the Royal United Services Institute and more.

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