Up to date there is uncertainty surrounds the cause of the sudden explosion and massive damage which took the Russian "Oscar II" class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN) Kursk (K 141) and its 120 crew down to the bottom of the Barents Sea.
The 14,200-ton submarine is reported experienced two major explosions which devastated the front of the boat hull. However, it remains unclear whether these were the cause of the catastrophe, or occurred as a result of a previous incident near the surface which saw the Kursk plunging to the bottom.
As Jane's Defence Weekly reported that, Russian naval and government sources were suggesting that the Kursk was involved in a collision with a surface ship at periscope depth. However, initial claims that the SSGN collided with a foreign submarine have been discounted.
There is plausible theory that a weapon malfunction (presumably mishandling torpedo's inside the pressure tube) had triggered a massive explosion in the boat's forward weapon compartment (see Figure below). The Kursk was apparently about to conduct a torpedo firing as part of a North Fleet exercise at the time contact was lost.
According to a reports from seismologists in Norway say that a monitoring station registered two explosions at the time the Kursk sank. The first, recorded just before 0730GMT on 12 August, registered 1.5 on the Richter scale. A second, stronger explosion measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale -equivalent to 1-2tons of TNT underwater - was recorded just over 2 mins later.
Video film of the Kursk lying more than 100 m down on the seabed shows the starboard side of the submarine's hull ripped open by the force of the blast. Damage extends back to the sail, suggesting that those spaces forward of the reactor compartment - including the control room and accommodation spaces - were rapidly flooded, leaving no time for personnel in those compartments to escape. According to the Russian Navy, both the submarine's reactors have been shut down. They also insisted that there were no nuclear weapons on board.
Attempts to rescue by British and Norwegian for any surviving crew in the after compartments were hampered by bad weather, strong currents and turbid waters in the vicinity of the Kursk. To assist the Russian effort, the UK deployed its LR5 submarine rescue vehicle, while Norway sent a diving team.
The Kursk was commissioned in 1995 for the Northern Fleet's, and one of the most modern SSGN, and maintained at a high level of combat readiness. It made a high-profile deployment to the Mediterranean in September 1999 and was due to return later this year as part of a planned task group deployment to the region.
With crippling Russia's economic constraints have plagued the Russian Navy in recent years, forcing the early retirement of numerous ships and submarines, and the disruption of fleet repair and maintenance activities.
Nonetheless, there is nothing yet to suggest that the loss of the Kursk, a modern submarine with a well-trained crew, was the result of any inadequacy in maintenance or training.Uncertainty surrounds the cause of the sudden and massive damage which took the Russian 'Oscar II' nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN) Kursk (K 141) and its 118 crew to the bottom of the Barents Sea (Source: ONI)