Project 971 Щука-Б (Shchuka-B, ‘Shchuka’ meaning “pike”, NATO reporting name “Akula“) is a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) first deployed by the Soviet Navy in 1986. The class is also known under the name Bars (meaning “snow leopard”). There are four sub-classes or flights of Shchuka, consisting of the original seven Akula Is, commissioned between 1984 and 1990; six Improved Akulas, commissioned between 1991 and 2009; one Akula II, commissioned in 1995; and one Akula III, commissioned in 2001. The Russians call all of the submarines Shchuka-B, regardless of modifications.
Some potential for confusion may exist, as the name Akula (Акула meaning “shark“ in Russian) was used by the Soviets for a different submarine, the Projekt 941, which is known in the West as the Typhoon class. By contrast, the Projekt 971 (the subject of this article) was named Shchuka-B by the Soviets but designated as the “Akula class” by the West after the name of the lead ship, K-284.
The launch of the first submarine in 1985, according to defense analyst Norman Polmar, “shook everyone [in the West] up”, as Western intelligence agencies had not expected the Soviet Union to produce such a boat for another ten years.
Akula I Improved (project 971 and 971I)
The six Akulas of this class are all thought to be in service. They are quieter than the original Akulas. The MGK-500 sonar is upgraded to MGK-501 Skat-MS. Sources also disagree as to whether construction of this class has been suspended, or if there are a further two units planned.
Improved Akula-I Hulls: K-328 Leopard, K-461 Volk, K-154 Tigr, K-419 Kuzbass, K-295 Samara and K-152 Nerpa. These submarines are much quieter than early Akula class submarines and all have the SOCKS hydrodynamic sensors except Leopard. The Akula-I Improved submarines have six 533 mm decoy launching tubes, as do subsequent submarines. They have a different arrangement of limber holes on the outer hull than Akula Is. Nerpa and Iribis (not completed) have a different rescue chamber in the sail, which can be distinguished by the large dome on the top surface.
- 4 × 533 mm torpedo tubes (28 torpedoes) and 4 × 650 mm torpedo tubes (12 torpedoes). (K-152 Nerpa has 8 × 533 mm torpedo tubes) 40 torpedoes total
- 1–3 × Igla-M surface-to-air missile launcher fired from sail (surface use only)
- Kalibr cruise missiles.