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Russia’s growing stealthy conventional and nuclear submarine fleet posing threat to NATO maritime dominance

Russia is seeking to bolster its sub-surface capabilities, with new generations of conventional and nuclear propulsion submarines, which promise to be significantly more difficult to detect and track for western naval forces. This includes the Yasen, Lada, and Kalina classes of submarines. Russia’s op­erational submarine force consists of an estimated: 12 SSBNs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) , 8 SSGNs ( Cruise Missile submarine ), 11 SSNs ( Nuclear powered general purpose attack submarine ), and 20 SSs. There also are several spe­cial-purpose nuclear and diesel-electric submarines.


Attack submarines – nuclear-powered (SSNs) and conventional (SSKs) – provide covert presence; tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence gathering; and strike capability for Russia with Kalibr land-attack/anti-ship cruise missiles. Such tasks are central to the Russian Navy’s operational posture.


Russian nuclear-powered submarines conducted an exercise near American military bases with the objective of avoiding detection as they came close to the US coast, a submarine squadron commander told a Russian military TV channel. “This mission has been accomplished, the submarines showed up in the set location in the ocean and returned to base,” the commander of the submarine squadron, Sergey Starshinov, told Zvezda. The date and location of the covert mission have not been disclosed, but the channel said the Russian nuclear-powered submarines “reached the very coastline of the US.”


“The submarines that we’re seeing are much more stealthy,” Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces in Europe at the time, told CNN. The Russians “have more advanced weapons systems, missile systems that can attack land at long ranges,” and their operational capabilities were getting better “as they range farther from home waters.”


In recent times, Russia has also demonstrated its growing capability to perform land attack missions with submarines. In December of 2015, a Russian submarine in the Mediterranean fired Kalibr missiles against land targets in Syria. NATO considers these stealthy submarines loaded with Kalibr anti-ship missiles can hold naval or merchant vessels at risk and are part of Russia’s  anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategies. Second, Kalibr’s long-range anti-ship and land-attack capability means Russian submarines can complicate NATO planning by projecting power eastwards while operating west of the UK in the North Atlantic, in NATO’s ‘friendly space’.


“We are creating a group of nuclear-powered submarines that will carry out missions in all regions of the global ocean and ensure Russia’s security,” Korolev said at the Kazan launch ceremony, as cited by TASS. He went on to say that Russia also plans to launch another state-of-the-art submarine this summer – a nuclear-powered ballistic missile cruiser named Knyaz Vladimir.


Rebalancing this emphasis and regaining ASW advantage is strategically vital for NATO, senior officials and analysts noted in a recent Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) report titled ‘Security in Northern Europe: Deterrence, Defence, and Dialogue’. In the report, Admiral James Foggo, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, and Alarik Fritz, a senior research scientist at Center for Naval Analyses, argued that, with the North Atlantic critical to collective Western security, “the unavoidable operational reality is that, should conflict arise, whoever can exert control over this region can either protect or threaten all of NATO’s northern flank.”


Thus, deterring the most capable potential adversary – namely, Russia – is “the one constant that must guide NATO policies, operations, and forces”. Pointing to Russia’s increased underwater capability, they contested that “Russia’s submarines are more active than ever across the entire North Atlantic, not only testing our reactions but also familiarising themselves with the environment in which we operate.” Sustaining European stability will require, amongst other factors, NATO to “maintain [its] technological edge and positive balance of forces today and into the future”.


In his annual state-of-the-nation address on March 1, 2018, Putin discussed a number of new weapons undergoing testing and development, including a nuclear-capable undersea drone. Using colorful graphics and video, Putin said the high-speed drone could target both aircraft carriers and coastal facilities with nuclear weapons. Putin claimed the drone would be impossible to intercept. The drone was later named Poseidon.


In his most recent state-of-the-nation address on February 20, Putin announced that the first submarine equipped to carry the Poseidon would be floated out before summer. TASS reported that Moscow plans to eventually deploy more than 30 underwater nuclear-capable drones carried on four submarines.


Putin’s bellicose 2018 speech came at a time of high tensions with the United States over sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and Moscow’s support of separatist formations waging a war in eastern Ukraine, as well as a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russia’s National maritime strategy

“The goal of the national maritime policy is unaltered – to implement and protect the national interests of our country in the World’s Oceans and to strengthen the position of Russia amongst the leading maritime nations. The new edition of the Maritime Doctrine corresponds to baseline documents in the field of Russian national security; it is a major document of the national maritime policy,” the Russian Security Council deputy secretary said.

Naval Modernization Roadmap

To take account of the implementation time and existing/forecast resource and technology restrictions, the creation of the new-model navy has been divided into three phases: up to 2020; 2021-2030; and 2031-2050. The content of each phase was outlined by Adm Chirkov for the various elements of the navy.  Additionally, the doctrine seeks to create a general-purpose marine force armed with long-range and high-precision strike systems capable of providing a non-nuclear deterrent.


The general-purpose marine force inventory will include in its first phase the creation of a strategic non-nuclear deterrent force, enhancements to its SSN and diesel-electric submarines (SSKs), the build-up of the inventory and capability of its surface forces, and the creation of the new marine rapid-response force.


In the midterm the non-nuclear deterrent will be provided by Yasen-class (Project 885M) SSNs and Oscar-class (Project 885M) nuclear-powered guided missile submarines (SSGNs). The Yasen class is next-generation hunter-killer submarines, which hunt enemy submarines and surface ships. During the 2021-2030 phase Russia’s existing SSN/SSK fleet is planned to be improved by adding unmanned technologies, while construction of a new-generation SSN class is also planned.


Korolev also said that Russian submarines have reached Soviet Union-era levels in terms of the combat patrols as the vessels had spent some 3,000 days at sea in 2016, adding that “it is an excellent level.” “Last year, we returned to the level we had before the post-Soviet era in terms of the days at sea. Russia’s submarine fleet has spent 3,000 days at sea,” the admiral said. In June 2016, Vice Admiral James Foggo III, commander of the US 6th Fleet, wrote in the June issue of the US Naval Institute’s magazine that “an effective, skilled, and technologically advanced Russian submarine force is challenging” NATO’s maritime dominance.


Russia is planning on developing a new Russian ‘hunter-killer’ submarine that would hunt U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarines. Belgorod will be the first vessel armed with Russia’s Poseidon intercontinental nuclear-powered nuclear-armed autonomous torpedo. Putin alluded to the upcoming launch of Belgorod in his address to the Federal Assembly on 20 February 2019, saying, “In this connection, I would like to make one important remark. Nothing has been said about this so far, but it is possible to do so today. In the spring of this year the first nuclear-powered submarine armed with this unmanned vehicle [Poseidon] will be launched.” In the November 2015 ‘leak’, a profile illustration of Belgorod was shown on the leaked slide, together with the Khabarovsk and Sarov . The slide indicated that Belgorod will carry six Poseidon torpedoes. Jane’s assesses that Poseidon is likely to be a very large torpedo-like vehicle that can travel at great depth, at torpedo-like speeds of approximately 50–60 knots, and for an effectively unlimited range, to deliver a nuclear warhead.


Russia’s new state of art Nuclear Submarines

Nuclear submarines are considered nemesis of Aircraft carriers, over the course of World War II, no less than seventeen aircraft carriers were sunk by submarines including seventeen were put down by U.S. submarines.


The Russian Navy has several nuclear submarines; some were inherited from the Gorbachev while others were built. In total, the Russian navy has 45 nuclear submarines in three categories attack, ballistic missile, and cruise missile submarines. The attack submarines in the Russian navy can also carry land nuclear cruise missiles.


Russia’s sea-based nuclear deterrent currently relies on Delta 4 submarines, soon to be augmented by eight new-generation Borei-class submarines. Up until 2020 the maritime strategic nuclear force will focus on completing the development and launching of its fourth-generation Borey-class (Project 955/955A) SSBNs, while maintaining its remaining Delta III/IV-class (Project 667BDR/667BDRM) SSBNs in operational service.


During the 2021-2030 phase work will proceed on replacing the Delta class with fourth-generation SSBNs. Within this second phase Russia will also work on developing a new ship-based (in fact submarine-based) strategic missile system and a fifth-generation SSBN class. The doctrine sets out that series production of the fifth-generation SSBN will then commence in the final 2031-2050 phase.


Russia is set to start construction of its new fifth-generation Kalina-class diesel-electric submarine in the “imminent future,” earlier than previously announced, according to Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice-Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov.


Russia Launches New Submarine Believed Capable Of Carrying Nuclear-Armed Drones

Russia has launched a special-purpose, nuclear-powered submarine that is believed capable of carrying nuclear-tipped underwater drones that when fully developed could threaten U.S. coastal cities. The submarine Belgorod was launched on April 2019 in the northwestern city of Severodvinsk. Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the proceedings via video link from the Severnaya Shipyard in St. Petersburg.


State-run TASS news agency said development work on the Belgorod will continue and that tests will begin next year with a goal of deploying the vessel by the end of 2020 or early 2021. It measures 184 meters long, the longest submarine ever built, and will be capable of carrying six underwater drones. The drones themselves are expected to be ready for service in 2027, according to media reports citing a U.S. intelligence assessment.


Construction on the vessel started in 1992 but was delayed several times due to financing issues. Russian media reports say the Belgorod will carry deep-water rescue vehicles and autonomous underwater drones. In November 2015, a state television channel briefly showed a document with drawings and details of a planned, nuclear-capable, submarine-launched drone.


The document said the purpose of the drone was to “strike important enemy economic facilities in coastal areas” and create “zones of extensive radioactive contamination that are unfit for military, economic, or other activity for a long period of time. The Kremlin quickly dismissed the report as a mistake, although analysts speculated the reveal was deliberate.


Husky-Class fifth-generation Nuclear submarine

Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (UAC) has announced the start of the development of a fifth-generation Husky-class stealth nuclear submarine to replace the existing Yasen-class boats. The research and development stage of the project is scheduled to be completed next year. The goal is to have a cost-effective multi-purpose nuclear submarine, with a construction time of four to four and a half years to produce 15-20 submarines totally. That vessel is expected to be made of fundamentally new materials, and armed with hypersonic missiles.” The first Husky is to be delivered in 2025, while the last would be delivered in the 2030s.


Oleg Vlasov, head of the robotics sector of the Malakhit Bureau, said that the Husky-class submarine will be equipped with robotic systems able to operate in water and air. According to Deputy Navy Commander Vice Adm. Viktor Bursuk, the construction of Husky-class multi-purpose nuclear submarines is expected to begin in 2023-2024. The first Husky is to be delivered in 2025, while the last would be delivered in the 2030s.


The new class is expected to have a common hull design, a common sonar, power and propulsion systems for three variants: a new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), a nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN). The SSGN variant will incorporate a vertical launch system (VLS) payload module. The displacement of a SSBN version, will be larger to accommodate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The SSGN and the SSBN variants would be added an extra hull section.


The basic attack submarine design is expected to have the following specifications: displacement: between 4,000 and 6,000 tons (about 13,800 tons submerged), length: 140m, width: 13m, draft: 9.4 m, depth: 600m, endurance: 100 days, crew: 64, service life: 25-30 years. The expected speed is between 32 to 33 knots. The boat will be capable of delivering and recovering special operations forces and their gear.


The armament suite will include 30 533 m torpedoes, sea-mines and cruise missiles launched via 10 torpedo tubes. SSGN’s 8 launchers will accommodate 32 cruise missiles. The SSGN variant will also be armed with the 3M22 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile, which is already undergoing tests. The new missiles capable of Mach 5.0-Mach 6.0 will have a range of 250 miles, with sheer speed making it extremely difficult to intercept with existing missile defense technology. The weapon is currently in testing. It is expected to enter into production in 2018.


Yasen-M class Nuclear submarines

The Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk in northern Russia has floated out the second Project 885 Yasen-class nuclear submarine Kazan. “It’s probably the most capable nuclear powered submarine out there fielded by a potential adversary,” said Center for Naval Analyses Russian military affairs specialist Michael Kofman.


“The Yasen-M class nuclear-powered submarine cruisers are some of the most advanced battleships that amassed all cutting-edge submarine shipbuilding technologies,” Admiral Vladimir Korolev, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy. The lead unit of the Yasen class SSGNs—the Severodvinsk—Russia’s first truly multipurpose submarine. The Severodvinsk is capable of antisubmarine, antiship, and land-attack missions. The U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World noted that some reports suggest the vessel might have a maximum speed of between 35 and 40 knots. It has battery of eight vertical-launch cells that can carry 32 Kalibr (SS-N-27/30 Sizzler) or Oniks (SS-N-26 Strobile) cruise missiles.


The Yasen-M class vessels are 120 meters long, have a submerged displacement of 13,800 tons and can travel up to 31 knots (57 kph) while submerged. They are also designed to dive to a maximum depth of 600 meters. The submarines carry ten 533mm torpedoes and have eight vertical launching systems equipped with four Onyx and Kalibr supersonic cruise missiles each. Each ship is designed to operate independently for up to 100 days.One of the most interesting features of the new design is a large spherical sonar system which occupies its entire bow, which required that torpedo tubes be slanted and placed behind the main control compartment.


Russia has launched several waves of Kalibr missiles from submarines and surface ships against Islamic State targets in Syria. Kalibr missiles are also nuclear tipped. The first Yasen submarine, Severodvinsk, can carry up to 40 Kalibr cruise missiles while the second, Kazan, can carry 32. The result is a potent potential first strike platform.


It is far quieter than previous Russian submarines and has a maximum “silent” speed of about 20 knots. Like most new nuclear submarine designs, Severodvinsk reactor is designed to last for the life of the boat. Based on the Akula-class submarine and the Alfa-class submarines, it is projected to replace Russia’s Soviet-era attack submarines like the Akula and Oscar-class.


Borei Class

Russia’s emerging Borei-Class Submarine also known as Dolgorukiy-class, is being advertised by Moscow as a strategic nuclear deterrent. One major breakthrough achieved with Borei-class subs is its reduced broadband noise, because of “compact and integrated hydro dynamically efficient hull and the first ever use of pump-jet propulsion on a Russian nuclear submarine.”

According to naval experts, very-low acoustic signatures on a submarine would mean that it can run silent and run deep, increasing, for instance, the its ability to strike before being detected.


Robots, drones to boost Russian 5th gen nuclear subs’ arsenal

“The new [fifth] generation [of submarines] will be equipped with both contemporary weapons and those currently being developed,” Nikolay Novoselov, deputy CEO of the Malakhit design engineering bureau, told RIA-Novosti. “We’re talking about battle robots which can be released by the submarine, and a type of underwater drone,” he explained. According to the designer, the robots would be disposable or returnable of military, surveillance or communications purpose.


“They’ll be released by the submarine and stay offline before being remotely activated on command. It will give the submarine time to leave the area, with the drone staying in place to maintain a semblance that the submarine is still there,” he said. Novoselov stressed that developing robots for submarines isn’t an exclusive Russian field, as “the whole world is moving in this direction.”


Russia has tested a terrifying new ‘drone’ submarine capable of carrying nuclear warheads unmanned within range of the US, it has emerged. The top-secret nuclear-capable sub, code-named Kanyon by the Pentagon, is feared to have a range of up to 6,200 miles with top speeds of 56 knots.


The 50ft underwater ‘robot’ that can imitate any submarine in the world and carry out 600-mile spying missions 1,800ft below the surface. Russian military designers say their ‘submarine imitator’, called Surrogat, will be capable of travelling at speeds of up to 24 knots for hours on end. Powered by lithium-ion battery, it will be able to imitate both conventional and nuclear-powered submarines thanks to its ‘modular design’ which allows it to ‘change its functionality.


State media agency TASS reported the bureau as saying the sub’s ‘ability to carry towed sonar arrays for various applications will help realistically reproduce an enemy submarine’s physical fields – acoustic and electromagnetic. ‘Today, combat submarines have to be involved for exercises or tests and this practice distracts them from carrying out their basic missions. ‘The use of an unmanned imitator will help avoid this and cut the cost of drills. Besides, a submarine without a crew reduces risks while keeping simulated scenarios realistic,’ Rubin CEO Igor Vilnit told TASS.


Diesel Electric Submarines

Russia also maintains a fleet of diesel submarines as they provide the ability, “to conduct operations in re­stricted waters where nuclear submarines are impractical (Baltic and Black seas); coastal defense missions; and special op­erations where larger, nuclear submarines are not required and could be considered a liability; as well as ease of production compared to nuclear submarines,” writes Michael Kofman, Research Scientist at CNA.

Armed with land-attack missiles, cheaper diesel submarines can range the European and Asian theaters while staying relatively close to home waters. They also are easy to produce and a good source of hard cur­rency for Russia’s shipbuilding industry.

The mainstay of the Russian Navy’s conventionally powered fleet are Project 877–class submarines, known as the Kilo class to NATO and the West. The Russian defense industry has completed the construction of a diesel-electric submarine of Project 636.3, the Kolpino, for the Black Sea Fleet.

The Kilo has been improved many times. More than 20 were built for Soviet/Russian service, and about 40 units were built for export to Algeria, China, India, Iran, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam. An improved version, known as Project 636.3, is one of the defense in­dustry’s most popular exports, carrying the export variant of the Kalibr antiship and land-attack missile. Russia recently completed an order of six for Vietnam.


Russian-Built Kilo Submarine ‘Kills’ American Nuclear Sub during exercise

The Indian media is claiming that one of New Delhi’s Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarines,”INS Sindhudhvaj” allegedly “killed” USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705) during an exercise called Malabar that is held annually between India, Japan and the United States. According to the Indians, the submarines were assigned to track each other down in the Bay of Bengal. “The way it happens is that the Sindhudhvaj recorded the Hydrophonic Effect (HE) – simply put, underwater noise – of the nuclear powered submarine and managed to positively identify it before locking on to it. Being an exercise what did not happen was the firing,” an Indian naval officer told India Today. The Indian vessel then “sank” USS City of Corpus Christi using 533mm torpedoes.


Russians are now developing design called Kailina to replace Kilo.

Fifth Generation Kalina diesel electric submarine

A high-ranking Russian Navy source clarified to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that the first Kalina class sub would be laid down in 2018. The ship, designed by the Rubin Design Bureau, will be built at St. Petersburg’s Admiralty Shipyards. Earlier reports had indicated that construction of the new sub, which features a new air-independent propulsion system, would begin only after 2020.

According to some analysts’ estimates, the new AIP system would allow the Kalina to stay underwater for about twenty-five days. In addition, the system has advantages over diesel-electric subs, which need to surface regularly to recharge batteries, and nuclear subs, which must constantly run noisy pumps to cool their reactors.


Russian Super stealthy Lada class diesel electric submarines

Russia has been devloping super quiet submarines like new lada-class diesel electric submarines. “The stealth capabilities of Russia’s new Lada-class diesel-electric submarines far exceed those of their predecessors, Admiraty Shipyard’s CEO Alexander Buzakov told the Russian press.

“According to Buzakov, the new vessels are even stealthier than Russian Kilo-class submarines, thought to be one of the quietest diesel-electric submarine classes in the world and dubbed “black holes” for their ability to “disappear” from sonars. “The new submarines are able to maintain such a low profile thanks to a clever implementation of a next-generation anti-reflective acoustic coating and a new improved hydro-acoustic system, Buzakov said.

New AIP system could be initially tested on the operational Lada-class diesel-electric submarine in service with the Russian Navy, the Sankt Peterburg (St. Petersburg). The Lada-class, or Project 677, is a fourth-generation diesel-electric submarine based on the older Kilo-class submarine and does not currently incorporate an AIP.

Meanwhile, the two last Lada-class Project 677 submarines will be delivered as scheduled — in 2018 and 2019. Afterwards Moscow will terminate the Project 677 Lada-class in favor of Project Kalina. The failure of Lada class is due to inability of Russia to produce an effective AIP.


Russia’s super-quiet “Improved Kilo” class or Varshavyanka class diesel-electric stealth submarines

The Varshavyanka-class (Project 636), an improved version of the Kilo-class submarines, features advanced stealth technology, extended combat range and provides the ability to strike land, surface and underwater targets. Designed for anti-shipping and anti-submarine missions in relatively shallow waters, the submarines can cruise underwater at a speed of 20k and has a cruising range of 400 miles.

“Armed with 18 torpedoes and eight surface-to-air Club missiles, Project 636.3 submarines are mainly intended for anti-shipping and anti-submarine missions in relatively shallow waters. They have an extended combat range and can strike surface, underwater and land targets,” Russia Today previously reported.

Capable of accommodating a crew of 52, they also are equipped with new MGK-400EM sonar system, newer MG-519EM mine detection and avoidance sonar and stealth features including Anechoic tiles fitted on casings and fins.

Russia’s super-quiet “Improved Kilo” class or Varshavyanka class submarines also possesses an extended combat range, and its relatively small size helps it maneuver in shallow waters. Military experts call them “black holes” due to their presence being virtually undetectable

Equipped with air-independent propulsion systems and advanced lithium-ion batteries, these diesel-electric boats are harder to track down and destroy in the event of a naval conflict. “Picking up the quiet hum of a battery-powered, diesel-electric submarine in busy coastal waters is like trying to identify the sound of a single car engine in the din of a major city,” Rear Admiral Frank Drennan, commander of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command, emphasized in March 2015.

Russian submarines to receive new sonar absorbent composites

Russia’s Krylov State Research Center (KSRC) has developed innovative new technologies, which will reduce the ability of sonar to detect Russian submarines, according to Valeriy Shaposhnikov, chief of KSRC’s endurance and shipping hull construction unit.


“We have developed the appropriate technologies and constructions made of composites,” Shaposhnikov said. These new multilayer composites the company is using have a structure and consistency that absorb sonar signals, thereby preventing the detection of a submarine via hydroacoustics. “Such effect is provided by the extremely complex inner structure of the composite developed by KSRC,” he added. According to Shaposhnikov, the control surfaces of a submarine like rudder blades can be made from the new composites.

Russia deploying underwater surveillance system to detect submarines

The Russian Defense Ministry has started the deployment of an underwater hydroacoustic surveillance system capable of detecting all ships, submarines and even low-flying planes and helicopters aircraft in large areas of the ocean, according to the Izvestia daily. This unique sonar system is capable of detecting enemy ships and submarines at a distance of hundreds of kilometers.


The unique system, designated as Garmoniya, is based on special submarine-carried robotized submersibles setting up sensitive sonars on the seabed. Deep below the surface, the sonars extend their fixed multi-element and seabed hose antennas, the latter being many meters long.


On order from the control center, the seabed station retracts its antennas, releases the comms buoy and gets back to the submarine.  “Seabed sonars are rather pricey. Hence, they will be reusable,” military expert Dmitry Boltenkov says.  In expert opinion, individual elements of the Garmoniya have become operational, and the whole system is due to achieve the full operational capability in 2020 at the latest.


A state-of-the-art sonar system to protect Russia’s territorial waters in the Arctic is already under development, the newspaper Izvestia quoted a Russian Defense Ministry source familiar with the situation as saying. The source said that “the project is due to be finalized in 2017 and after it is approved by the Russian Defense Ministry, the new sonar system will enter service.” According to the source, the fully deployed system can cover an area spanning hundreds of square kilometers. The system will be equipped with sophisticated sonar buoys and underwater sensors that will track the acoustic signals of underwater and surface objects and transmit the information to a ground control center via satellites.


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