Nuclear submarines are the leading strike force of a fleet, capable of covertly controlling the expanses of the world’s oceans and quickly deploying in the required directions. They deliver unexpected and powerful strikes from the depths of the ocean on both sea and land targets.
The main striking force of the Russian Navy is nuclear submarines armed with ballistic and cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. They are constantly in various parts of the world’s oceans, ready for immediate use of their strategic weapons. Submarines, armed with cruise missiles, are aimed mainly at combating the enemy’s large surface ships and strike on the enemy’s coastal infrastructure. Torpedo nuclear submarines are used to disrupt the enemy’s underwater and surface communications and in the defense system against the underwater threat, as well as to escort surface ships and missile submarines.
Nuclear submarines will be analyzed in this material. Since the equipment of submarines with nuclear power and nuclear missiles, powerful hydro-acoustic systems and high-precision navigation weapons along with integrated automation of control processes and the creation of optimal conditions for the life of the crew they significantly expanded their tactical properties and forms of combat use.
Goals and Tasks
The following tasks, in order of importance, can be identified for the nuclear-powered submarines (NPS). It is the constant readiness for a nuclear strike, protection of its NPSs, and interception of enemy NPSs. To this end, they perform the following tasks.
Supporting the combat service of the SMS (strategic missile submarines) in the patrolling areas and during transitions.
Tracking ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and submarines carrying sea-based cruise missiles of the potential enemy’s Navy in the areas of their combat duty and at the transitions, in readiness for their destruction, in order to disrupt or weaken the nuclear missile strike on the territory of Russia.
Tracking the multi-purpose aircraft carrier group and ship strike group of the potential enemy’s Navy, in the patrolling areas, and on the transition to these areas, in readiness to strike the multi-purpose aircraft carrier group, in order to disrupt or weaken the air and/or missile attack on the territory of Russia.
Anti-submarine protection of the Russian Navy’s ship strike group in the patrolling areas and the transition to these areas.
Implementation of reconnaissance tasks through a system of bases, routes to patrol the forces of the Navy of the potential enemy, the collection of sonar information about submarines and surface ships of the potential enemy.
Combat duty in adjacent areas in territorial waters of the potential enemy in readiness to strike targets on its territory with sea-launched cruise missiles.
Currently the strategic nuclear submarines of the Russian Navy for performing the above tasks are as follows:
Nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles
Project 667BDR: These are second-generation NPSs. They are equipped with four 533mm and two 400mm torpedo launchers. There are 16 launchers for the R-29R missiles. Most of the submarines of this project are decommissioned. However, “Ryazan” is still in service in the Pacific Fleet. “St. George the Victorious” is in reserve.
Project 667BDRM: These submarines are the basis of the marine component of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad with the role gradually being transferred to Project 955 “Borei” submarines.
Submarines of the class are equipped with four 533mm torpedo launchers. There are 16 launchers for the R-29 RMU2 “Sineva” ballistic missiles. On board, there are portable anti-aircraft launchers for the 9K310 “Igla-1” / 9K38 “Igla” systems.
- “Verkhoturye”, “Yekaterinburg”, “Karelia”, “Novomoskovsk”, and “Tula” are in service in the Northern Fleet;
- “Bryansk”, which is also in the Northern Fleet, is undergoing scheduled maintenance.
Project 941: It is a series of Soviet and Russian submarines, the world’s largest nuclear submarines. A large coefficient of buoyancy and a strong cabin allows the boat to break ice up to 2.5 meters thick. This allowed, for the first time, to carrying out of combat duties in latitudes which include the North Pole.
Submarines of the class are armed with six 533mm torpedo launchers, 22 torpedoes 53-65K, SET-65, SAET-60M, USET-80 and anti-submarine missiles “Vodopad”, 20 “Bulava” ballistic missiles, 8 “Igla” anti-aircraft missile systems.
One Project 941 submarine, Dmitry Donskoy, is in service with the Northern Fleet. “Arkhangelsk” and “Severstal” are prepared for dismantlement.
Project 955: It is the most modern (4th generation) NPS with ballistic missiles in Russia’s Navy. The NPSs of this project are the first Russian submarines using a single-shaft hydraulic propeller with high propulsive performance. Project 955 is armed with six 533mm torpedo launchers, torpedoes, torpedo-rockets, cruise missiles, 16 “Bulava” intercontinental ballistic missiles, and portable anti-aircraft missiles systems.
- In service in the Northern Fleet : “Yuri Dolgoruky”
- In service in the Pacific Fleet: “Aleksandr Nevsky”; “Vladimir Monomakh”
- Laid down and in varying degrees of readiness: “Prince Vladimir”, “Prince Oleg”, “Generalissimo Suvorov”, “Aleksandr III”; “Prince Pozharsky” There are plans to deliver 14 nuclear-powered Project 955 submarines between the Northern and Pacific Fleets.
Nuclear submarines with cruise missiles
Project 885: It represents the 4th generation of NPS with cruise missiles. This submarine is able to use all the armed sea-based cruise missiles of the Russian Navy. Project 885 is armed with ten 533mm torpedo units, P-100 “Onyx” anti-ship cruise missiles, Kh-35 anti-ship cruise missiles, Kh-101 strategic cruise missiles, ZM-54E and ZM-54E1 anti-ship cruise missiles, ZM-14E cruise missiles for destruction of ground targets.
In the future, submarines of this project should become Russia’s main multi-purpose nuclear submarines.
- “Severodvinsk” is in service in the Northern Fleet;
- “Kazan”, “Novosibirsk”, “Krasnoyarsk”, “Arkhangelsk”, “Perm”; “Ulyanovsk” are Being laid down and in varying degrees of readiness. It’s planned to build a total of seven such submarines.
Project 949A submarines are the most numerous in this class. These submarines lead the way in the number of “Granit” launchers on one carrier. Additionally, every submarine is armed with two 650mm and four 533mm torpedo launchers. Designed to destroy aircraft carrier strike groups, they are the Russian Navy’s main means of countering the US Navy strike aircraft carrier groups.
- “Voronezh”, “Orel”; “Smolensk” are in service in the Northern Fleet;
- “Tver”; “Tomsk” are in service in the Pacific Fleet;
- “Irkutsk”; “Cheliabinsk” are assigned to the Pacific Fleet and undergoing modernization;
- “Omsk” is Assigned to the pacific Fleet and undergoing repairs.
Nuclear submarines with missile and torpedo weapons
Project 671 RTMK: Not one of these submarines was ever lost and none of this project ever experienced a serious accident. Among submarine crews it is considered an extremely successful project for its characteristics of convenience and reliability. Active submarines of Project 671 RTMK are armed with two 650mm torpedo launchers and four 533mm torpedo launchers.
- “Obninsk” is in service in the Northern Fleet;
- “Tambov” is assigned to the Northern Fleet and undergoing modernization;
- “Daniil Moskovsky” is in reserve;
- “Petrozavodsk” is Scheduled for near future dismantling.
Project 945: Submarines of this project marked the beginning of the third generation of multi-purpose nuclear submarines in the Soviet Union and became the basis for Project 971 submarines, which are the basis of the multi-purpose submarine forces of the Russian Navy. The use of titanium alloy of high specific strength allowed reducing the displacement of the submarine, as well as significantly reducing the magnetic field. After modernization, they will remain in service for another 10 years.
Submarines of this class are equipped with two 650mm torpedo launchers, four 533mm torpedo launchers and eight 9K310 “Igla-1” or 9K38 “Igla” portable anti-aircraft missile launcher systems.
- “Kostroma” is in service in the Northern Fleet;
- “Karp” is assigned to the Northern Fleet and undergoing repairs and modernization.
Project 945A: It has a titanium alloy body. The purpose of the class is tracking strategic submarines and aircraft carrier strike groups of the potential enemy and guaranting their destruction at the onset of conflict. It’s armed with six 533mm torpedo launchers, “Granat” cruise missile launchers, eight 9K310 “Igla-1” or 9K38 “Igla” portable anti-aircraft missile launcher systems.
- “Pskov” and “Nizhni Novgorod” are in service in the Northern Fleet.
Project 971/971M: The submarines of this project became the main type of the multi-purpose nuclear submarines of the Russian Navy, replacing the outdated submarines of Project 671RTMK “Shuka”. Submarines are armed with four 650mm torpedo launchers, 4 533mm torpedo launchers.
- “Panther”, “Tigre”; “Cheetah” are in service in the Northern Fleet;
- “Kuzbass” is in service in the Pacific Fleet;
- “Boar”, “Wolf”, “Leopard” are assigned to the Northern Fleet and undergoing renovations;
- “Samara”, “Magadan”, “Bratsk”, “Cachalot” are assigned to the Pacific Fleet and undergoing renovations;
- “Barnaul” is assigned to the Pacific Fleet and subject to dismantlement.
Thus, the situation with the nuclear submarine component of the Russian Navy, which is in formation and ready to perform tasks, at the end of 2018, is as follows:
This table deliberately does not indicate submarines undergoing repairs or modernization. According to Russian media reports, submarine repair facilities are almost 100% full. Consequently, part of the nuclear submarines in service, in the near future will undergo routine maintenance.
Based on the above, it can be concluded that as of the second half of 2018, the available nuclear submarine fleet of the Russian Navy is conditionally ready to carry out the assigned tasks. It is able to ensure the state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of Russia by keeping watch by maintaining constant readiness for a launch-under-attack or preventive massive nuclear missile strike on the territory of the country. However, for the task of protecting their submarines and intercepting the enemy, it is not ready. Separately, it should be said that part of the NPSs is obsolete. Existing 2018 plans for the commissioning of new ones will not improve the situation fundamentally. In this regard, in order to maintain a quantitative balance and achieve parity in the field of weapons for the Russian Navy, it is necessary to increase the number of cruise-missile-carrying nuclear submarines and torpedo submarines by 30%, without taking into account plans to re-equip the ballistic missile submarines.
Problems and solutions
The underwater component of the Russian Navy, to a certain extent, did not address the problems of the surface component. The reason for this is that the SSBN was, is, and will be, a critical component of the strategic nuclear triad of Russia. The state tried to save it even in the conditions of collapse of the army and military-industrial complex in the 1990-2000 years. Here you can add the fact that the submarine fleet, to this day, remains an extremely science-intensive sphere. Therefore, Russia simply cannot afford to lose scientific personnel and technology.
The progress of low-noise submarines of the Russian Navy. This topic is periodically raised in the Russian media, as it is one of the most important for the NPS. With the same noise level, the speed of the submarine of the most modern Project 885 is much lower than the American Project “Virginia” and “Seawolf”. Another proof of the Navy’s lag in the field of hydro-acoustics is the unnamed Northern Fleet exercises, during which the Russian submariners superimposed the flight path of the American reconnaissance aircraft Orion on the movement of Russian submarines on the map. All the turning points of the Russian submarines’ route were very accurately noted. In fact, the plane was not even looking for them, but was heading to a specific point. At the same time, given the possibility of new means of search, the problem of secrecy has no absolute technical solutions. A most advantageous solution would be to systematize work in the field of acoustic stealth development and systems to discover the enemy.
The problem of rearmament on the promising “Bulava” ballistic missile. As of the end of 2018, of the 32 tests conducted, only 25 were successful. This ratio can hardly be considered successful. Different reasons were given for this in the Russian media citing low quality of components and a crisis in technology development. In light of this, the expediency of the project is questioned by a number of high-ranking Russian military members. The weight and range of the rocket is the most criticised. Given the number of tests, it can be concluded that Russia is serious about adopting this missile into service. The solution to this problem, probably, can only be the improvement of the rocket during tests.
The problem of armaments of the Russian submarine fleet with anti-torpedoes. Studies on the possibility of effective destruction of attacking torpedoes with anti-torpedoes began in the USSR in the second half of the 80s of last century. Before that, the problem of detection and accurate targeting was solved. The Russian Navy still does not have such serially produced armament for operational deployments. This fact should cause concern to the naval leadership, as the military-technical idea of the western “partners” does not stand still and its fleet is armed with modern modifications of torpedoes (Mk.48, USA; DM2A4, Germany) and anti-torpedoes (SeaSpider, Germany, Tripwire, USA, MU90HK, France and Italy).
The absence of Russian Navy bases abroad. The presence of naval bases in Cuba, Yemen, and Vietnam during the Soviet era made it possible to change crews in strategically important areas of the world’s oceans without returning the boats to the main bases. This allowed actual doubling of the patrol period of one submarine. Currently, Russia does not have such bases. Submarines, after a campaign, are forced to return to their permanent deployment stations. Recreating the spread of bases, their material support, at least one in each strategic direction (the western part of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean) could be a solution to this problem. The presence of a base in the port of Tartus (Syria) can only be considered a conditional decision.
The absence of a system of mobile deployment bases. Its presence could partially solve the problem of the lack of bases. In addition, such a system is capable of ensuring dispersed deployment, repair and normal operation, protection from enemy attacks, combat training and rest for the personnel, as well as bringing the forces to readiness and deployment for combat operations. The restoration of the system of mobile bases would be a solution to the problem. In this regard, it is advisable to add to each fleet, two mobile groups consisting of the following:
Super-LASH (lighter-aboard ship) with a displacement of 70,000 tons of RO-RO type (main base/storage location/helipad)
integrated supply ship with a displacement of 36,000 tons.
2-3 high-speed container ships with a displacement of 25,000 tons, converted for storage/loading of ammunition
2-3 high-speed tankers with a displacement of 25,000 tons
1 hospital ship of 300-500 beds (hospital/NCO club)
1 floating base for submarines with 20,000 tons displacement.
Insufficient number of staff. The downsizing of the Armed Forces of Russia at the end of the 2000’s touched the Navy as well. Currently, only ballistic missile submarines and cruise missile submarines are manned with two crews. The NPSs, in turn, are manned with one. But the crew, after arriving from the self-contained navigation, should rest, prepare for a new campaign, retake tests for self-management, and undergo training for a new type of weapons system and equipment. This is not counting vacations, missions, and other life situations. The constant readiness to perform the tasks of one crew will mean its morale and physical fatigue or will mean that the nuclear submarines will stand idle. In addition, with two crews, the command creates a kind of reserve. The ability of being able to recall one the two crews results in the highest level of preparation for performing important tasks of great responsibility.
Prospects for the development of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet
According to the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Korolev, the efforts of the Navy’s main command will be focused on the further creation and development of a qualitatively new, balanced composition and combat capabilities of the Navy. The Navy has to be capable, together with other forms and types of forces, to provide strategic nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence and protection of Russia’s national interests in the world’s oceans.
The basis of the group of naval strategic forces will be the strategic missile submarines of the new generation. This new generation of SMSs have high combat capabilities in both offense and defense. Prospective submarines from the general purposes forces of the Navy will be multi-purpose carriers, capable of solving a wide range of problems in any area of the world’s oceans. To enhance combat capabilities, the nuclear-powered cruise missile carrying submarines and multi-purpose submarines will continue to be upgraded within the Navy.
The top-priority directions for the construction and development of the Navy in the way of nuclear submarine units will be towards the improvement and maintenance (at a high level) of naval strategic nuclear forces in the groups of strategic missile submarines. This will allow for building up to the required level of combat potential of the Navy. It will happen through the construction and modernization of multi-purpose nuclear and non-nuclear submarines.
According to the Navy commander-in-chief, in the short term, work will be carried out to further improve the combat stability of submarines by further improving the characteristics of their stealth and by increasing combat capabilities of countermeasures and self-defense. As part of the development of the underwater forces of the Russian Navy, the command is working to increase the capability to increase the potential of means covering conditions, improve the quality of automation of control processes, increase the offensive capabilities and further development of the emergency and rescue facilities complex.
In evaluating the statement of the Russian Navy commander-in-chief regarding prospects for developing the nuclear submarine fleet, we can conclude that the military leadership understands the problem[s] and the solutions. Despite well-known problems within the industry, Russia still has the scientific and technological potential to modernize and develop nuclear submarines. This expertise allows for the maintenance of defense capability and serves to deter a potential enemy from rash actions. In the long term, the role of the nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles is secure and will not be forfeited. It will remain an important tool for ensuring the security of the state.