While the gem of Russia’s surface fleet, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetzov, continues to serve as more of an embarrassment than a form of force projection, the Russian Navy’s submarine fleet has still been extremely busy beneath the waves in recent months, says Adm. James Foggo, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa.
“This has been one of the busiest years that I can remember, and I’ve been doing this since 1983,” Foggo said this week. “Russia has continued to put resources into their undersea domain. It’s an asymmetric way of challenging the West and NATO alliance and actually they’ve done quite well.”
Over the years, Russia has found ways to work around their stagnate economy and the sanctions placed on it by Western nations by forgoing the idea of a well balanced global military presence and instead relying almost entirely on asymmetrical warfare. Among these endeavors are Russia’s much-touted nuclear “doomsday” drone-torpedo said to carry a mind boggling 100-megaton warhead, their hypersonic missile programs like the 3M22 Zircon and the RS-28 Sarmat, which is likely the most powerful nuclear tipped ICBM ever to see service in a nation’s military.
These high profile endeavors, alongside other tech programs that are aimed as much as garnering press attention as they are at military capability, are all a part of Russia’s broader effort to maintain its perceptual role as a global power while courting the international weapons sales market.
While many of Russia’s defense initiatives are more about bark than bite, their submarine programs are among the most threatening to American and allied interests. Earlier this fall, Russia’s Northern Fleet conducted large scale submarine exercises in the north Atlantic, which according to reports had the aim of getting as many as eight nuclear attack submarines as far out into the Atlantic as possible while evading NATO detection.
The intent behind this drill was supposedly two-fold: first, to train in a realistic setting for the possibility of combat operations against NATO fleets; and second, to send a message, to the United States in particular, that Russia could threaten its mainland in a conflict.
This drill echoes Russian claims of a previous submarine drill supposedly held in 2017, in which Russian nuclear attack subs allegedly made it all the way to America’s eastern seaboard and parked themselves outside some U.S. Navy bases, before returning to Russian territorial waters. The U.S. Navy did not comment on Russia’s claims, but shortly thereafter the decision was made to stand up the Navy’s then-defunct 2nd Fleet with the expressed purpose of defending America’s east coast and its Atlantic interests.
According to the statements made by Admiral Foggo, the United States maintains the competitive edge over Russia in the undersea domain; but he points out that Russian subs are technologically advanced, quiet and represent a real challenge for American and allied forces.
So, while many of Russia’s headline-grabbing military programs may be little more than PR stunts, it seems that their real strengths are being developed just outside the public’s focus.