The U.S. commander responsible for North America and the Navy’s top officer warned lawmakers this month about Russia’s increasingly capable and active submarines, which they say are operating closer to U.S. shores.

Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck and Navy Adm. Michael Gilday are the latest officials to express concern about Russia’s submarine fleet, which is smaller than its Soviet predecessor but has improved considerably in recent years.

Asked about threats “below the nuclear threshold” at a June 15 House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, VanHerck — who leads U.S. Northern Command and NORAD — said Russia and China are “developing capabilities” below that threshold “to hold the homeland at risk.”

“Those capabilities would include very quiet submarines,” VanHerck said. “Russia just fielded their second Sev-class submarine, which is on par with ours.”

Russia submarine Arctic
Russian Yasen-class submarine K-560 Severodvinsk. (Russian Ministry of Defense)

VanHerck appeared to be referring to Russia’s Yasen-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, which NATO calls the Severodvinsk class. The second Yasen-class boat, Kazan, was commissioned on May 7.

Kazan is also the first sub of the Yasen-M sub-class, which has upgrades such as new quieting technology and a quieter reactor. Russia plans to add five more Yasen-Ms to its fleet by the end of the decade.

“Within a five-year period or so, they’ll have eight to nine of those submarines, which will be a persistent, proximate threat off of our East and West coast that we haven’t had ever in the past,” VanHerck said.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 17, Gilday, who is chief of naval operations, defended the Navy’s request for only eight new ships in 2022 by citing Russian submarine activity.

Four of those ships, including the first new TAGOS-class ocean-surveillance ship, are support ships “that we can’t wait on any longer,” Gilday said.

TAGOS ships have “a very unique capability to do wide-area search for submarines,” Gilday added. “If I look at Russia these days, well, not so long ago Russia only operated their submarines during a certain period of the year. Now they’re a pretty persistent threat against the East Coast of the United States, and so those kinds of capabilities become more and more important.”

The Navy’s request also includes two Virginia-class attack submarines, which are designed to hunt enemy submarines and are armed with cruise missiles capable of long-distance strikes.

US ocean-surveillance ship USNS Effective in dry dock
U.S. ocean-surveillance ship USNS Effective in dry dock in Yokosuka, Japan, September 13, 2007. (Photo by MCS Seaman Bryan Reckard/U.S. Navy)

Vice Adm. Daryl L. Caudle, commander of Naval Submarine Forces, and Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who is responsible for the East Coast as head of 2nd Fleet, have expressed similar concerns, warning that the U.S. is no longer “a sanctuary” and that the East Coast is no longer “a safe haven.”

That concern is driven by the development of the Kalibr cruise missile, which gives Russian subs a land-attack capability.

The Kalibr’s range of 1,000 miles to 1,500 miles would allow Russian subs to strike strategically valuable targets, such as ports, in the U.S. and Europe.

“Russia has developed a capability through long-range cruise missiles that provide a very low radar cross-section that are incredibly challenging to detect,” VanHerck said at the June 15 hearing in response to a question about cruise-missile threats.

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In addition to using bombers and surface ships, “Russia has developed capabilities from undersea with their advanced, very quiet, nearly on par with our submarines to field that capability,” VanHerck added, without mentioning the Kalibr specifically. “So I’m very concerned about the cruise-missile defense of the homeland.”

Russian submarine launching Kalibr cruise missile
Russia’s Veliky Novgorod and Kolpino submarines fire Kalibr cruise missiles at ISIS bases in Syria, September 14, 2017. (Photo by Vadim Savitsky/TASS via Getty Images)

At a hearing in April, VanHerck said Northern Command didn’t see “indications” that a peer competitor was likely to attack the U.S. “right now.”

But, VanHerck added at the time, the capabilities those competitors are developing could “influence” the U.S. military’s “ability to project power on our timeline.”

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. hasn’t had to do “a lot of thinking” about threats like those posed by air- and sea-launched cruise missiles or by new weapons like hypersonic missiles, said Mark Gunzinger, an expert at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“Those are the kinds of threats that keep our combatant commanders awake at night,” Gunzinger told Insider in October.


This article was written by Christopher Woody and originally published on the Insider.