MOSCOW, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, crippled by two explosions and stuck on the bed of the Barents Sea with 118 crew feared dead, is an anti-aircraft-carrier attack vessel capable of launching up to 24 cruise missiles at a time.
The 949 series submarines, Oscar-II by NATO classification, form the backbone of Russia's anti-aircraft-carrier force.
The submarines are designed to tail the carriers, keeping them within missile range to be able to destroy them if ordered.
To do so, each vessel usually carries 24 SS-N-19 Granit nuclear-capable supersonic cruise missiles, nestling between the inner and outer hulls.
Each of the missiles, called Shipwreck by NATO, weighs seven tonnes and has a range of more than 500 km (310 miles).
They are launched in salvos, between one and 24 at a time.
Complementing the cruise missiles are 533 mm and 650 mm torpedoes, used to finish off enemy vessels damaged by the missile strike or repel attacks on the submarine itself.
One Oscar-II submarine, with a top speed of 28 knots underwater and 15 knots on the surface, is capable of sinking an aircraft carrier and several escorting warships.
The commander of the Kursk is Gennady Lyachin, 45. He started his naval career with the North Sea fleet in 1978 on diesel-powered submarines.