Diplomatic tensions between Russia and the United States have been heightening for some time, but it was only within the past year or so that concerns about Russian naval aggression in the Atlantic began to work its way back into the national security discussion. While Russia’s Cold War era surface fleet, worthy of American concern and vigilance, now seems little more than a memory from the flight deck of Russia’s sole and barely functional aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov… deep beneath the waves, a resurgence in Russian naval power is already underway.
According to Russian reports, last year their nuclear attack submarines were able to park just outside multiple U.S. Naval bases along America’s east coast, traveling into and out of U.S. territory undetected in a large-scale training operation that is to become the subject of a docu-drama series on Russian television. The United States responded by announcing that they would once again stand up the 2nd Fleet — a facet of the U.S. Navy tasked specifically with defending America’s coastline and policing the North Atlantic. Statements made by U.S. and U.K. defense officials have both characterized Russian naval activity in the Atlantic in recent months as significantly increased. A confirmation that Russia now possesses a sub-launched submersible drone armed with a 100-megaton nuclear warhead adds to a growing concern that Russia’s methodology of focusing its funding on “bang for the buck” defense enterprises rather than fielding a well rounded national military may prove effective after all.
The U.S., which boasts the largest and most powerful Navy in the world, has a slew of new ballistic missile and attack submarines on the way — as does Russia. In fact, the newest additions to each nation’s submarine fleets were launched within just days of each other last week.
Russia’s new Severodvinsk-class K-561 Kazan
The Kazan has been touted as Russia’s most advanced submarine ever by defense experts on both sides of the America/Russo divide. A guided missile sub, this new platform boasts two fewer torpedo tubes than its predecessor (at eight) but it makes up for that reduction in anti-ship capability with the addition of two additional ballistic missile silos. That means the Kazan offers a total of 10 missile silos, each carrying four nuclear missiles, for a total potential launch payload of 40 nuclear-tipped missiles.
At 390 feet long, 50 feet wide, and nearly 30 feet tall, the Kazan is not the biggest Russian submarine to ever take to the seas, but it is the most advanced. It is capable of maintaining speeds of around 30 knots while submerged to depths of up to 1,200 feet, all while being the least detectable Russian submarine in history, if the Kremlin’s claims can be believed.
“It’s a very impressive submarine,” Adm. James Foggo, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, said of the Kazan as it was being developed in 2016. “If you look across the design of the Russian Federation Navy, where they have put their resources and their research and development efforts has primarily been in the undersea domain and in the submarine force.”
The Kazan began sea trials on Thursday and is expected to enter into full duty sometime in 2019.
America’s new Virginia-class USS Indiana
On Saturday, the USS Indiana was commissioned during a ceremony that saw Diane Donald, wife of retired Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, serving as the event’s sponsor. The Indiana is the 16th Virginia class attack sub to join the fleet, but only the sixth since the Navy adopted its Block III design. The Indiana isn’t built to serve as a ballistic missile sub, but rather as a hunter tasked with anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare. However, that hasn’t stopped it from adopting the vertical launch system (VLS) from its Ohio class sister ships, allowing it to bolster its torpedo armament with two VLS tubes each housing six missiles. It also boasts upgraded passive and active sonar arrays, allowing it to detect enemy ships without having to reveal its own position through the use of active sonar.
It is believed that the Indiana is both stealthier and has better detection systems on board than Russia’s Kazan. The tale of the tape favors the Russian sub, however, with the Indiana measuring in at 13 feet shorter (377 feet), and only 34 feet wide (16 feet smaller than the Russian ship). It is also slower than the Kazan, with a top submerged speed of around 25 knots.
Thanks to new technology (including an X-box 360 controller adopted to control the periscope), the U.S. Navy believes size isn’t going to be the deciding factor if U.S. and Russian subs find themselves facing off, but with the proposed addition of hypersonic weapons platforms aboard Russia’s new ballistic missile submarines, any advantage the U.S. claims to have may soon be rendered moot, as no one has yet discovered a way to effectively intercept hypersonic platforms once they’re airborne.