FRONTLINE vol. 480
May 15th, 2020
The comprehensive disarmament plan by the Union of Yuktobanian Republics and Osean Federation that was enacted in January of this year has entered a new stage: the disposal of the largest strategic submarine in history. For both governments, who often talked about their transition from a wartime regime [to a peaceful one] after the Circum-Pacific War, there is no bigger “symbol of disarmament.” A massive figure born during the Cold War and one that survived through a hot war. Unseen by anyone, it was something that existed solely to terrify people. Now, it will be discarded at the opposite end of the Earth.
Top Quality Scrap
Snider’s Top on the northern portion of the Usean Continent. With the tandem rotors buzzing, the helicopter that carried the inspection team took off from the offshore platform. On the other side of the window, a dense fog stretched across the landscape, wrapped in the lukewarm sunlight of the northern sea. Visibility was bad, but I strained my eyes and little by little, I could see a dark shadow.
Before our eyes, a submarine with a jet black trimaran hull appears. Overall length: approximately 550 meters. That massive figure which dwarfs aircraft carriers by a large margin should be compared to a mobile small island. The majestic appearance of it silently moving through the northern sea is overwhelming, and even the 4 large-scale ocean tugs that are towing it look small. I remembered a time when I witnessed a whaling ship returning to port when I was a child.
As we got closer, smiles appear on the faces of my fellow passengers. Next to me is Commander Gromov of the Yuktobanian Far Eastern Military District. Directly across from him is the Osean Federation commerce representative Holland. The two promptly began making a toast with the cheese and wine that was offered. Staedtler, undersecretary of foreign affairs of the Federation of Central Usea, was concentrated only on recording [media] with his smartphone. It’s an age where things that used to be top secret military info up until recently is spread instantly through social media. I was also offered drinks by a lady wrapped in a tight suit, but I requested hot tea for now. In the rear seats, 2 suit-clad people from the media were holding a large camera and were rapidly shooting pictures of the scene outside the window. Analysts like me who dress casually and lightly are in the minority.
The submarine’s transfer situation is explained by the public relations chief of GR Trading, who was in charge of the attendants. As part of the strategic weapons reduction treaty enacted by both the Yuktobanian and Osean governments the year before, the sub was disarmed in Okchabursk’s special zone B4 where it was originally constructed. After a four-week long joint inspection, its transfer began on February 2nd. Accompanied by guard ships, it was towed over the open ocean for two weeks. Today, it will be re-examined and go through immigration procedures at one of its stopping points, the offshore ST (Snider’s Top) Platform A site. Five days later, it is planned to be transferred to GR Trading’s headquarters in Port Edwards, where it will be dismantled.
The ballast tanks had valves added onto them so that the ship could not submerge, and the deck was lined with [Usean] reconstruction support supplies and wheeled vehicles as a multi-layered fraud prevention measure. “Osean-made high-mobility vehicles that we’re proud of.” Mr. Holland said contently. Commander Gromov nodded and added, “This ship is no longer a weapon, but top quality scrap that resulted from careful joint supervision.”
To us, this wasn’t the first time we saw this enormous piece of “scrap.” Back during the year 2000, it livened up the neighborhood. Previously, there had been rumors among military analysts of a new strategic missile submersible carrier by the Yuktobanian Navy. The Scinfaxi as the first ship, the Hrimfaxi as the second, and a third ship to succeed them, or possibly a new class, a “Super Scinfaxi-class” that used the previous ships as a basis. Those rumors became conclusive due to then-Prime Minister Nikanor’s implementation of “Glasnost (freedom of information to promote organization reform).”
What was revealed then was the name “Projekt Alicorn” and a portion of a design blueprint. In Yuktobanian, “projekt” is a term used for warships in the design stage. “Alicorn” is a winged unicorn. The “winged” term was likely the enormous auxiliary hulls used for propulsion that juts out on either side of the main hull. The “unicorn” part was speculated to originate from the aircraft carrier functionality from what looked like a [flight] deck. These image files, stamped “Yuktobanian New Navy 4th Design Arsenal” made their way into the hands of military critics around the world, but due to the actions of those who sought to tamper with the information at the same time, the original location was obscured.
Now, Yuke military information can be easily accessed, but things immediately after the end of the Cold War in 2000 are still restricted. I recall the media, who didn’t know what they were talking about, make whatever conclusions they wanted based on information from unknown sources. These included wild delusions like one that claimed that it was a doomsday ship equipped with 64 x 4 rows of SLBM launch tubes for a total of 256 nukes.
How much of that was actually true for the scrap that lie below my eyes?
Destination of the Discarded Ship
What the re-appointed Prime Minister Nikanor and President Harling heralded together last year in April was the complete mending of relations between Yuktobania and Osea. What started as part of that was the execution of START-3 (3rd Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). This was a comprehensive reduction in the number of nuclear and strategic weapons since the Arkbird Declaration. In both cases, disposing of these cost money, and is “baggage” that is hard to transfer.
Projekt Alicorn is just one of those pieces of baggage.
That reason lies with the Scinfaxi and Hrimfaxi during the Circum-Pacific War that ended in that previous year. Great amounts of time and money were spent in constructing both ships in underground docks in the outskirts of Okchabursk, and were unveiled in 1991 as “warships of a new era.” However, in reality, there were whistleblower reports that they were constructed with structural flaws. Additionally, their actual deployment was 20 years later in the Circum-Pacific War, and both sank in accidents during missions without showing much success. The Alicorn was something that magnified that design concept and is also incomplete. It can’t be helped that it’s called baggage.
That’s when GR Trading introduced themselves. This company was a trading firm that served as the core of the GR Group that had raised its stock value from the private Usean reconstruction projects, and paid half the cost to purchase and dismantle discarded military vessels. In addition, it appealed to the FCU government by presenting it as an opportunity to acquire foreign engineers. GR, a giant conglomerate from Usea, would be handling Yuke and Osean capital by being entrusted with this task, and is trying to break out into a true multinational corporation. Focusing on reconstruction activities in their own countries by entrusting most of the technology and personnel required to dismantle discarded ships to the private sector is attractive for both countries. In September 2011, the 3 countries came to a consensus on Usea receiving discarded military vessels.
Port Edwards, the harbor that this ship will enter in a few days, is the GR Group’s headquarters and is one of the “Usean Big 8” massive shipbuilding locations. There are no other places that can store massive hulls. Nonetheless, it’ll likely cause an unwanted uproar for the company. “The International Space Elevator is being built in Southern Usea, but the north gets the waste from foreign countries?” Dissatisfaction is rising among the citizens, and activists are already calling for large-scale demonstrations through social media.
In order to prevent this, we, the inspection team, are expected to grasp the actual current situation of the Alicorn and report it to the world. However, I will say this. If I accomplish my task correctly, a future where this ship is actually scrapped is hard to see. There is the possibility that this ship will make its way to a third country in one shape or another. There are three reasons why I believe this.
First is that GR Trading is the trading firm behind it. For a trading firm, serving as a middle-man to a third party and earning profits is its livelihood. If what GR Trading is saying is true, the third party will be a scrapping company. In order to scrap it, dismantling of the nuclear reactors is something that cannot be avoided. And it will cost money. Both countries will give funds to dismantle it, but they admit that contributing the full amount with only the two countries right after the end of a war is impossible. Even if the gains from selling off steel is added, it is hard to believe that they’ll end up in the black (be profitable).
Second is GR Trading’s earnings report from last year. Other than the main urban improvement projects that GR Trading takes part in various Usean countries, they hold 23 percent of the world’s marine transportation and 18 percent of air transportation. But in reality, one-third of these figures include rear logistics, or procurement of equipment. People like us who fly all over the world have seen the number of containers with the “G” mark increasing daily in airports, ports, and even battlefields in various countries.
And third is the existence of GR Marine and Ships, which is in charge of the shipbuilding business. In the twilight of shipbuilding, when it was deemed no longer profitable, they bought out companies from various nations, and by thorough cost-cuts and securing of their own raw material procurement routes, their shares made up 35 percent of the marine transport ships being constructed worldwide in 2011. Port Edwards Shipyard is also managed by the company. The remaining “Usean Big 8”: North Port Shipyard, Farbanti Shipyard, Dennis Shipyard, Anchorhead Dock, Dakiouk Arsenal, Comberth Shipyard, and Saint Ark Shipyard all are under the influence of the company.
Moving on to the main subject, approximately 45 million tons of ships have been sunk in conflicts in various regions over the past 10 years. Of that, about half are military vessels. Recently, this company has targeted this statistic and have been accepting orders for general purpose military vessels, excluding state-of-the-art ships. However, GR Marine and Ships has no track record when it comes to modern warships. I’ve concluded that they will remodel the Alicorn in order to build that track record.
And the next topic is of course, the “destination” of this ship. Those in my profession believe that Leasath, Estovakia, and Erusea are the top contenders right now.
My guess is towards Estovakia.
Leasath is definitely strengthening its navy. However, the range of its activities is on the coastal level, and this ship will be too much for that. Erusea is in the middle of a transition from an interim autonomous government to a monarchy, and will likely won’t engage in a public arms buildup since they’re worried about public opinion.
But Estovakia is different. There is no region on Earth where the smell of gunpowder is stronger, the Eastern Faction’s General Gustav Dvornik’s proposed “Aerial Fleet Initiative” is effectively at a standstill, and pressure from export controls on strategic resources on Osea’s side prevents purchase of weapons from Belka. And finally, it’s a maritime nation surrounded by oceans.
Whether it’s for reunification or pointing their pent-up anger outwards, the truth is that they want to obtain a new weapon via a “detour” in one way or another. And they’ll be able to fulfill their desires with this ship.
Projekt Alicorn: The Whole Picture
On the other side of the window, the fog began to clear and the hull could be seen in detail. I requested a turn from the starboard side to the PR manager.
The Alicorn has a trimaran hull. The Scinfaxi-class, used as a model, is just a single hull plus bulges. I wanted to clear up the question regarding this difference between the two. Gazing with my eyes wide open, I notice that the wake between the left/right hull and the center hull is particularly calm. That’s why, I thought, and mentally slapped my knee.
There’s a tunnel that runs the length of that area. That’s why the left/right width is wider than the Scinfaxi-class. Analysis is best when seeing the actual thing. The next thing that comes to mind is the electromagnetic drive. If it’s a 20th century design, it’s likely an electromagnetic induction type.
Indeed, I don’t think moving this massive ship with only two pumpjets is possible. That’s because even if the screw is turned faster, efficiency goes down and noise increases. Considering stealth capabilities, it would make more sense to include 4 electromagnetic drives. If that’s the case, the nuclear reactor that’s installed must have considerable surplus of power output. If it’s Yuktobanian-made, it would have one large or two medium liquid-metal cooled reactors. Thinking about damage control, two medium reactors would be appropriate.
On the fully open flight deck that tunnels through the center of the sail, I can see steam catapults that can launch heavily equipped manned aircraft and storage bays for individual ship defense weapons in several places.
Looking at all this, I finally realized why the Alicorn wasn’t thrown into the Circum-Pacific War. It was probably the electromagnetic propulsion drive and steam catapults. First the electromagnetic drives, electromagnetic induction would likely not be enough thrust. The steam catapults have openings on the rails due to its construction, and when submerging, sea water would penetrate the steam generator through the high pressure pipe that is connected to it. They likely dealt with it by using valves, but would limit the ship when trying to dive deep or preparing to launch. This is fatal as a submarine and an aircraft carrier.
On the flank of the sail are eight relatively large bays, which must be the UAV launch bays that saw successful use on the Hrimfaxi. The Alicorn’s aircraft operation model is likely a blend of the Scinfaxi’s manned aircraft and Hrimfaxi’s UAV operations.
By putting the UAVs in charge of escorting the manned aircraft, reconnaissance, observation, and guidance, and putting manned aircraft in charge of dogfighting and attacking ground targets, they’re probably trying to avoid the complexity of handling multiple types of aircraft and increase in necessary personnel.
The SLBM tubes I can see on the left and right hulls are lined up in 12 x 4 rows for a total of 48. It’s a little low for a ship of this size. From the shape and position of the atypical looking bays in front of the SLMB launch tubes, they’re likely naval guns.
Nearly half of the pumpjets are exposed. Evidence that the draft is shallow. It’s probably empty [to make it easier] for towing. Surprisingly, I couldn’t see any torpedo launch tubes on the bow of the ship. In other words, it doesn’t carry torpedoes, which can be said to be symbolic weapons of submarines. Indeed, torpedoes fall behind in terms of range and accuracy. Torpedo battles between two submarines are just stories that dreamers draw up. Anyone in our type of position all say that. Putting that into practice and discarding underwater combat capabilities makes for a clean design.
Put together, I’m hesitant to call this ship an existing strategic nuclear submarine or a nuclear attack submarine. A ship that combines stealthy cruising capabilities by submerging, missile cruiser capabilities with its naval guns and missiles, and aircraft carrier capabilities with manned planes and UAVs. “Submersible Aviation Cruiser” would be a more correct expression.
Then, what would you do to make this even more of a “valuable product?”
I’ve never heard of an instance where GR Marine and Ships built a submarine. Cutting and pasting the hull would never work in reality. The liquid-metal cooled nuclear reactors would be no problem in terms of power output, so they likely won’t replace those. It’s hard to see because of the sail, but using those aircraft elevators which have a much larger opening than regular submarines to improve the interior equipment would likely be the main focus.
Then, the addition of IEP (Integrated Electric Propulsion) comes to mind. If they do this, considerable performance can be expected. There is a high possibility that they’ll utilize the large internal volume of the ship to equip a lithium battery and use it as a power source for cruising stealthily.
Of course they’ll replace the electromagnetic drive and the catapult. If they change the electromagnetic drive for a high efficiency helical type, there would be no need to change the hull structure. If they swap the steam catapult for an electromagnetic one, the problem that was pointed out would be solved.
Weapon diversity would likely be greatly improved.
The guns it is currently equipped with are probably conventional artillery weapons. From the IEP-ification, they’ll likely change it out for railguns. And the SLBM launch tubes. The missiles inside them had already been removed at Yuktobania. Even if it did still have them, the launch and boost phase of the SLBM makes it easy to find the location of the ship that fired them. MD (Missile Defense) has also been evolving, and SLBMs aren’t as superior as they used to be. These launch tubes will likely be adapted for tactical weapons. I predict that these will be fit with multi-stage canisters stuffed with medium-sized anti-air, anti-ship, or even cruise missiles to increase its anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-ground attack capabilities.
Of course, software will likely be replaced along with this. It’s no longer difficult to imagine the creation of new weapons that only use basic designs.
“Experts always picture the worst. That’s just how things are, but times are already changing.” Commander Gromov laughs this off. It would be fine if this possibility was only a dream.
The whistle of the accompanying ships reverbated, and the discarded ship is about to arrive at the stopping point that is the offshore platform. Inside the helicopter, a lady in a tight skirt handed everyone a paper bag. It seems we’re getting souvenirs. In the front seat, Undersecretary Staedtler gives a shout of joy. I was also handed a paper bag. Inside was a lovely cosmetic case with my name stamped in gold. It’s a state-of-the art smartphone launched by GR Phonetech just a few days ago. As is expected. There’s no escape. Since it’s an atmosphere where I can’t simply refuse to accept it, I promptly open the box and point the camera outside the window.
I zoom in on the guard ships that run parallel [to the Alicorn]. “GRGM” is written on the hulls. It’s GR Group’s newest business, GR Guardian Mercenaries. Maritime escort is what they state as their business. Basically, they’re a PMC. Their official stance is that it’s for the protection of their own company’s vessels since marine transport ships across the ocean trying to help reconstruction efforts after the Continental War suffered huge amounts of damage from pirates. Their equipment consists of a guard ship which is based on a merchant ship that GR Marine and Ships constructed, but the armament is pretty impressive. Their expansion of equipment is so remarkable that there are rumors they’ll even have escort forces for an air transport division in the future. I soon came to my senses and put the smartphone away.
GR Trading, with its ability to procure equipment; GR Marine and Ships, trying to dig into the military vessel shipbuilding industry; and GR Guardian Mercenaries, which uses those ships to accumulate experience in actual combat.
The intentions of each individual business is hard to see. However, I’m likely not the only one who feels they start to see something when looking at them from a higher level.
Up until now, we military critics have made conclusions from what we could see: armaments and outcome of wars of major nations, new weapon developments or information related to them. However, times are changing. From now on, in addition to the previous things, we have to look at victories/defeats in logistics and economies as well as conspiracy theories associated with those to find out who will be the final victor. The world has most definitely changed.
General Resources LTD. Right now, in a place unrelated to the battlefield, this world, the military and civilians, and we the military critics, all are being pulled in as their assets.