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Submarine defense: Russian subs posing Pacific threat to US Navy

Ahead of Submariner Day marked on March 19 in Russia, TASS reviews Russian submarines that cause the US Navy’s greatest concern in the Pacific region

According to Head of the US Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris, Russia is a Pacific threat and the program of modernizing its Navy “signals the seriousness with which Moscow views this region.”

“Ships and submarines of the Russian Pacific Fleet and long range aircraft routinely demonstrate Russia’s message that it is a Pacific power,” the US admiral said.

The Russian submarines that cause the US Navy’s greatest concern in the Pacific region are discussed in a TASS special material.


Russia’s submarine defense in Pacific

The Yuri Dolgoruky strategic nuclear submarine EPA/ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL
The Yuri Dolgoruky strategic nuclear submarine

Admiral Harris who spoke during hearings in the US Senate Committee on Armed Services in February this year expressed his concern that the US Pacific Command lacked a sufficient number of submarines for operations in that region. The US admiral noted that Russia was modernizing its existing fleet of Antey-class (NATO reporting name: Oscar-2) third-generation multipurpose submarines, producing their next generation Yasen-class nuclear-powered submarines and homeported its newest Dolgoruky-class SSBN (the Project 955 Borei-class lead underwater missile cruiser) in the Pacific, significantly enhancing its strategic deterrence posture.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet ensures the country’s defense security in the Asia-Pacific region. Its submarine fleet comprises:

  • five strategic undersea missile cruisers (Project 955 Borei and 667BDR Kalmar submarines)
  • five nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines (Project 949A Antey)
  • six Project 971 Shchuka-B (NATO reporting name: Akula) nuclear-powered torpedo submarines
  • eight Project 877 diesel submarines

A single grouping of troops and forces has been operational in Russia’s northeast as part of the Pacific Fleet since 1998, which comprises units and formations of the Navy, the Army, the Aerospace Force and Air Defense.


Yasen-class submarines

The Severodvinsk nuclear submarine Lev Fedoseyev/TASS
The Severodvinsk nuclear submarine
© Lev Fedoseyev/TASS

The Project 885 is considered as the most classified and the most advanced project of Russia’s submarine fleet.

Yasen-class multipurpose attack submarines are designed for raids in sea lanes. Actually noiseless in oceanic depths, they operate equally effectively against transport and combat ships and are capable of delivering cruise missile strikes against the enemy’s coastal infrastructure. These submarines are the most powerful by their armament.

The Russian Navy operates only one submarine of this project – Severodvinsk. Another three submarines – the Kazan, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk undersea cruisers – are in the workshop of the Sevmash Shipyard in north Russia in various degree of their readiness.

Under Russia’s state armament program, the Sevmash Shipyard, which is part of Russia’s United Ship-Building Corporation, is expected to build eight Yasen- and Yasen-M nuclear cruise missile submarines before 2020.

It is well-known that the renewed Yasen-M project features more sophisticated electronic warfare systems than the classic Yasen-class submarine program.

As compared to the newest Project 955 Borei-class fourth-generation strategic underwater cruisers with their novel technologies making up no more than 40%, the advanced Yasen-M-class submarine Kazan features all systems, assemblies and mechanisms that are completely new and have never been used before.

The new project features a combined system of the hull’s design: the outer hull covers only the nose of the submarine’s strong hull. Also, torpedo tubes are located beyond the central post compartment for the first time in domestic shipbuilding instead of the vessel’s forebody, which has allowed shipbuilders to place a new sonar system antenna in the submarine’s bow section.

Eight vertical launchers are used for missile weapons. The submarine’s hull is made of high-strength low-magnetic steel, which allows submarines of this class to dive to a depth of 600 and more meters compared with no more than 300 meters typical of conventional submarines and stay actually out of reach of all anti-submarine warfare systems. The submarine has a maximum speed of over 30 knots (60 km/hr). According to open sources, a Yasen-class submarine costs more than 200 billion rubles ($2.7 billion).

Borei-class submarines

The Vladimir Monomakh nuclear submarine Lev Fedoseyev/TASS
The Vladimir Monomakh nuclear submarine
© Lev Fedoseyev/TASS

Borei personifies the northern stormy wind in the Greek methodology. However, the operational area of these strategic submarines is not limited only to northern latitudes as these underwater missile cruisers are capable of operating in any part of the planet. Their seaworthiness is actually unlimited.

 Borei-class submarines have become a breakthrough project for today. Borei developers have managed to achieve the submarine’s maximum stealth capability by using a hydraulic propeller placed in a special ring nozzle and operating like a water pump receiving a streamflow.

The submarine’s hull is assembled of blocks while all its equipment is mounted on shock absorbers. They separate each block from the hull, thus further reducing the vessel’s noisiness level when a submarine moves under the water.

Besides, all the submarine’s sonars are united into a single automated digital system, which both locate targets and, for example, measure the ice thickness and search for ice openings.

According to some data, the sonar system mounted on the Yury Dolgoruky submarine excels similar equipment installed on US Virginia-class submarines by the range of its operation. This means that Borei-class submarines can detect targets under the water while staying out of reach of sonars used by any of the enemy’s warships. Submarines of this class are armed with Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are their basic combat striking power. The performance characteristics of Bulava ICBMs are not disclosed and constitute a state secret.

The Russian Navy currently operates three submarines of this class:

  • the Yury Dolgoruky as the project’s lead vessel operational in the Russian Navy since 2013;
  • the Alexander Nevsky submarine built under the modernized Project 09551 and operational in the Russian Navy since 2013;
  • the Vladimir Monomakh submarine built under the modernized Project 09551 and operational in the Russian Navy since 2014.

The next underwater missile cruisers are being built under the Project 09552 Borei-A. They are characterized by better stealth capabilities, more advanced electronic equipment and more comfortable conditions for the crew.

Borei-class submarines will make up the mainstay of the naval grouping of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces in the coming decades. At the turn of the 2020s, Russia’s Pacific Fleet will receive another two undersea missile cruisers armed with Bulava ICBMs and built under the improved Project 09552.

Antey-class submarines armed with Granit cruise missiles

Antey-class submarine Yuri Smityuk/TASS
Antey-class submarine
© Yuri Smityuk/TASS

Project 949A Antey submarines represent a series of nuclear-powered submarines armed with Granit cruise missiles. The vessels of this class are the leaders by the number of missile launchers per carrier.

This project is an improved modification of the Project 949 Granit.

The two-hull submarines have a 3.5 meter distance between their external and inner hull, which ensures a considerable margin of buoyancy (30%) and provides additional protection from underwater explosions.

The submarine’s inner hull is divided into ten compartments. The submarines of this class are capable of lying on the seabed. This project was dubbed “the loaf” for the characteristic shape of the submarine’s hull.

 It was reported in December 2011 that Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau for Marine Engineering had developed a modernization project to replace the Granit missile system with more advanced Oniks and Kalibr weapons. There are plans to modify launcher containers without redesigning the submarine’s hull.

At present, the submarines of this project are the main military hardware along with Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers of Russia’s naval aviation to counter the US Navy’s aircraft carrier strike groups.


by Roman Azanov