A malfunctioning lithium-ion battery might have sparked a deadly fire on a top-secret Russian nuclear submersible earlier this month that killed 14 naval officers, according to reports.
The Kremlin has remained tight-lipped about the incident, citing the sensitive nature of the submarine, AS-31, also known as the Losharik, but at a funeral service for the decorated sailors, a navy officer claimed they died preventing a global catastrophe, alluding to a threat from the nuclear reactor.
However, details of what took place leaked to Russian media suggest a different story.
Investigators told Kommersant that a leading theory behind the fire in the Barents Sea on July 1 was battery failure.
The submersible was equipped with a lithium-ion battery made in Russia to replace older, proven batteries procured from the Ukrainian defense industry.
Advanced batteries were one of many components sourced by the Russian military from Ukraine before Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine banned exports of military goods in response, forcing Russia to pursue crash programs to develop domestic alternatives.
One of the major losses for the Russian navy were Ukrainian-made diesel turbines used to drive surface ships.
That put the construction of an entire class of new Russian frigates on hold and only recently have Russian turbine manufacturers been able to catch up.
Little is known about the Losharik, but publicly available information paints a picture of a unique boat designed to dive to extreme depths well beyond those most modern submarines are rated for.
The submersible is able to achieve the depths due to its unconventional design: seven titanium spheres housed inside an unpressurized outer hull that resembles a modern submarine.
The boat is understood to be equipped with mechanical arms and small underwater drones.
Operated by the deep-sea research directorate, the Losharik is capable of, among other things, tapping and cutting fiber-optic communications cables lining the ocean floor.
The directorate is not formally part of the Russian navy, but rather a naval intelligence service subordinate to the general staff, similar to the GRU military intelligence service blamed for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil.
The Losharik is also unique in that it is designed to be ferried into an operations area by a larger “mothership,” understood to be a heavily modified Delta IV-class ballistic missile submarine known as the Podmoskovye.
The fire broke out as the Losharik was docking with mothership the Podmoskovye, Kommersant reported.
The sailors died attempting to control the blaze.
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