Reports have begun to surface that suggest Russia is doubling down not only on their use of nuclear submarines, but on the importance of hypersonic-capable missile platforms, as they appear to be adjusting their defense budget to fast track the development of eight new nuclear missile submarines purpose built for the next generation of Russian missile technology. Unlike many high profile Russian defense initiatives, these new submarines may actually be more substance than theater, as they are expected to enter into service as soon as 2024.
According to an anonymous source cited first by CNBC, a new U.S. intelligence report shows that Russia has begun reallocating funds away from ongoing maintenance and modernization efforts on things like the Russian Navy’s surface fleet, shifting that money instead toward expediting production on their new Borei II class of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. According to their source, Russia expects to have as many as eight of these state-of-the-art subs already in service by 2024, each armed with 20 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles. Each Bulava is capable of carrying as many as 10 warheads, including hypersonic gliders that American missile defense systems currently have no way to intercept.
While NEWSREP has been unable to independently corroborate CNBC’s claims, this shift in emphasis seems in keeping with recent Russian defense strategy. In March, Russia announced that state media outlets would be producing a docu-drama based on a real Russian military exercise they claim took place sometime last year. According to statements made by the Russian military and the show’s producers, Russian nuclear attack submarines were dispatched to America’s East coast and tasked with parking just outside prominent American naval bases undetected. Once successful, the unknown number of Russian submarines then left the area, again evading detection as they traveled back into the North Atlantic. The United States did not issue a formal statement regarding Russia’s claims, but quickly moved to bring the Navy’s 2nd Fleet back into operation — a Naval presence tasked specifically with defense of the Eastern seaboard and policing of the North Atlantic.
In the intervening months, repeated reports have come from U.S and U.K. defense officials regarding a steep increase in Russian submarine activity throughout the Atlantic.
“Look at Russia’s resurgence under President Putin. Its submarine activity has increased tenfold in the North Atlantic,” U.K. Defense Minister Gavin Williamson said in May. “But that’s not all — in 2010 a Royal Navy ship was called on just once to respond to Russian Navy ships approaching UK territorial waters. Last year we had to respond 33 times.”
U.S. officials have made similar statements regarding Russia’s increased submarine activity.
“Russian submarines are prowling the Atlantic, testing our defenses, confronting our command of the seas, and preparing the complex underwater battlespace to give them an edge in any future conflict,” Naval Forces Europe commander Adm. James Foggo III wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute’s publication, Proceedings. “Not only have Russia’s actions and capabilities increased in alarming and confrontational ways, its national-security policy is aimed at challenging the United States and its NATO allies and partners.”
These new submarines are effectively upgraded versions of Russia’s most capable Borei class of ballistic missile submarines. The first Borei class sub took to the seas in 1996 and was capable of launching as many as 16 nuclear tipped ballistic missiles. The Borei I subs are 525 feet long and 45 feet wide. The Borei II will carry four more missiles, so it stands to reason that it may be larger than its predecessor — or employ a different internal layout.
More pressing than the additional payload is the revelation that Russia may soon be fielding hypersonic weapons in their submarine fleet. These weapons travel at speeds in excess of Mach 5, making them too fast to intercept using any of America’s three missile defense systems. Russia is currently one of only two nations in the world said to have hypersonic capable weapons platforms, with America investing heavily in catching up, but reportedly still at least a year away from operational testing of any of the platforms currently under development. Hypersonic nuclear weapons launched from stealthy Russian submarines represents not one, but apparently two hurdles America’s defense apparatus currently seems unable to counter: with Russian submarines apparently moving throughout the Atlantic unchecked, soon to be carrying weapons America can’t stop, even if they see them coming.
It would seem the 2nd Fleet may have its work cut out for it.