Two classes of Russian subs, the Belgorod and the Khabarovsk, stand out among Russian submarine-building efforts as the most enigmatic and mysterious, says submarine analyst, defence observer and open-source intelligence expert H I Sutton.
In an article in Forbes, the analyst points out that unlike the United States, which is currently building just one type of new sub, Russia, by contrast, “is simultaneously building six distinct classes,” representing “the greatest modernization since the Cold War.”
#SubWednesday new article on #Russia submarine construction program. 6 different classes in various states of production at once, vs 1 in #USNavy (2 when Columbia Class starts but same contrast). The Bear wakes from its sleep. #Submarineshttps://t.co/op1KAbBE0P— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) June 3, 2020
Sutton describes the Belgorod class special mission submarine, carrier of the new Poseidon nuclear-powered autonomous drone torpedo, as a “ginormous submarine” that “defies classification,” simultaneously serving as “a ‘special mission’ spy vessel and a carrier for the Poseidon strategic weapon.”
Last week, a defence industry source told Sputnik that testing of the Poseidon aboard the Belgorod would continue until the end of 2021. The Belgorod, or K-329, was floated out and converted for special missions in 2019 after decades of construction. At 184 meters long, the vessel is set to become the longest submarine in the world, even larger than the mammoth Soviet-era Project 941 Akula-class strategic missile sub that preceded it. If all goes to plan, the Belgorod is expected to join the Navy in September.
Next on the list is the Khabarovsk-class strategic missile sub, which Sutton calls “the most enigmatic submarine.” The analyst points out that apart from its ability to carry six Poseidon strategic torpedoes, other details on the vessel or its capabilities “is sorely lacking.” In any event, he suggests that the Khabarovsk “could be the defining submarine of 2020.”
The Project 09851 Khabarovsk is expected to be floated out later this month. The Khabarovsk was laid down at Russia’s Sevmash shipyards in 2014, and is a heavily modified variant of the Borei-class of ballistic missile subs, altered to be smaller and to carry different armaments. Little other information about the sub has been made available, except that the Navy plans to build four of them.
The Knyaz Vladimir, the first upgraded Borei-A (Project 955A) to be delivered to the Navy (a ceremony commissioning the vessel took place in late May) is another of the strategic subs mentioned in Sutton’s list, with each of these subs said to be capable of carrying up to 16 Bulava ICBMs. The vessels are expected to form “the backbone of Russia’s seaborne nuclear deterrent for decades to come,” the analyst suggests. Six more Borei-A-class subs have been laid down, and are expected to be commissioned over the next several years.
Next is the Yasen-M class cruise missile sub, carrying Kalibr land-attack missiles, as well as the Oniks supersonic anti-ship and Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile. Russia’s Navy has one Yasen-class vessel deployed (the K-560 Severodvinsk), with the Kazan undergoing sea trials and the Novosibirsk launched. Four more boats of the Yasen-M class are under construction, with two more laid down last month.
Not to be forgotten is the Lada class, a fourth-generation diesel-electric attack sub designed by the Rubin Design Bureau and armed with anti-ship torpedoes, but also Kalibr cruise missiles. The subs are designed specifically to defend naval bases, coastal waters and sea lanes. One Lada-class sub was commissioned in 2010, with two more set to be deployed in late 2020 and late 2021. Two more are on order from the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg.
Last but not least in Sutton’s list is the improved ‘Kilo class’, known in Russia as Project 636.3 Varshavyanka, another diesel-electric class of boats with anti-ship and Kalibr land attack capabilities. Russia has seven of the vessels in operation, with five more to be commissioned between late 2020 and 2022. In addition, the slightly simplified Project 636 version of the sub has been exported to Algeria, China, and Vietnam.
Sutton suggests that “so many different classes of submarines has pros and cons. It is seen as less efficient, but equally each type can be better suited to its intended role. And the massive spy sub, and the Poseidon related classes, fulfill roles which are unique to the Russian Navy.”
Indeed, because Russia’s naval doctrine does not call for the exertion of naval power throughout the world, nor the operation of costly and exposed carrier strike groups far from their home ports, the large-scale use of submarines offers Moscow the ability to deter threats near its territorial waters, limited power projection capabilities for missions such as the recent anti-terrorist campaign in Syria, and, most importantly, a guaranteed second strike in the event of a surprise enemy attack on the Russian homeland.