A Russian-owned media outlet announced plans for the new submersible drone this week. The drone, called Surrogat, has been designed to “realistically reproduce the physical fields of the enemy—the acoustic and electromagnetic.” In other words, it’s been designed to mimic the signals produced by submarines, potentially fooling enemy vessels into thinking it’s any number of different submersible ships.
The Rubin Design Bureau, famed for their development of cold war era Russian submarines such as the gigantic Typhoon Class missile sub, announced that they have been developing the new submersible drone in cooperation with the Russian Navy. The Surrogat will be fifty-five feet long and capable of diving for fifteen to sixteen hours at a time. It is planned to weigh approximately fifty tons and will be capable of reaching depths of six hundred meters using a lithium-ion battery power source. Plans call for the submersible to travel at speeds “in excess of 24 knots” with a maximum range of six hundred miles.
Surrogat will come equipped with a deployable trailing antenna that will allow it to broadcast the sounds made by different classes of ballistic missile submarines as well as their active sonar signatures. The antenna is extended from the hull of the drone at the appropriate length for the submersible it attempts to mimic, creating a realistic doppelganger in the eyes of enemy sonar arrays.
Although no announcements have been made regarding equipping the Surrogat with offensive weapons, one could easily foresee the underwater drone using this kind of audio-camouflage to reach waters not normally traversed by the Russian fleet. Such a drone could also be employed for a number of other strategic purposes.
One proposed use of the submersible would be to draw out NATO hunter-killer submarines by imitating the sound signatures of the Russian Borei class attack subs. NATO submarines would engage the decoy, revealing their positions and leaving them susceptible to attack from actual Russian attack subs hiding nearby.
The drone submarine could also be used to draw attention away from embattled Russian subs by running silent and releasing the Surrogat with instructions to broadcast its own unique audio signature, drawing the enemy ships away. The Rubin Design Bureau also intends to use the Surrogat to reduce the cost of naval force-on-force exercises by programming it to imitate NATO submarines while Russian vessels practice locating and engaging it. The reduced cost would permit increased training exercises in realistic conditions, which are a challenge for the Russian military under current financial constraints.
Recently, the Russian government announced plans to bring three thousand old T-80 battle tanks back into service, an announcement that may have been intended to concern Western powers, but can also be seen as an attempt to keep up with developing NATO military movements along their borders despite having limited available finances.
The Russian submersible drone is being developed for non-military roles as well, including more traditional underwater exploration like seabed mapping. The drone ship could be particularly useful in arctic exploration, where it would be less expensive and risky than sending manned vessels.
This announcement comes on the tail of a number of other disconcerting military projects recently announced by Putin’s regime, including a new intercontinental nuclear missile with anti-missile defense system capabilities. Russia’s president has indicated a decisive push toward “intelligent weapons” in the recent past, as the nation hopes to modernize the various weapons it employs in conflicts around the globe.
“Much has been done, we have made major technological progress,” said Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of defense and space industries, “But everything that has been made was designed in the Soviet era. I can feel it in my bones that we won’t be able to advance using only innovations of the past. Even the Syrian campaign has shown that the future belongs to robotics and unmanned aircraft. We are moving towards intelligent weapons because we need them.”
Images courtesy of Rubin Central Design Bureau