The appearance of three new types of Soviet nuclear submarines — the Typhoon, Oscar and Alfa indicate by their characteristics certain special capabilities which should impact on U.S. war planning. In addition, there are other new Soviet technologies which should affect U.S. concepts for naval war.
Unlike the Soviets, the U.s. has .continued to build, since the Nautilus, a same kind of submarine a nuclear submarine designed basically for a single mission, either as an SSBN for the strategic mission or as an SSN for the antisubmarine mission. The Soviets, on the other hand, have responded with a wide variety of submarines — both nuclear and conventional –for a wide variety of jobs. Their approach is towards a total submerged-fleet concept where coordinated operations with other units, whether air, surface or subsurface, are emphasized.
By examining the characteristics of the new Soviet submarines as well as other supporting echnologies, some judgements as to the probable operational use of these submarines can be made.
This new, 25,000-ton ballistic missile submarine, carrying twenty SS-N-20s of over 5,000 miles range, was first considered to be either a bargaining chip in SALT talks or just a huge submarine, built “in mindless imitation” of the U.S. Trident and necessarily bigger, regardless. Had the Typhoon, however, been meant as a bargaining chip against the 24-SLBM Trident submarine, it would have been built with 30 to 40 SLBMs crammed aboard. Trying to just be bigger seems even sillier. The Typhoon, however, is a fast (over 30 knots) double hulled submarine, and is exceedingly tough with a reported spacing of over 4 meters between outer and inner hulls. its lack of exposed propellers also suggests that stern chasing torpedoes would not tend to damage it seriously. More logically, then, the Typhoon,
if operated shallow and protected by a similarly tough submarine (the Alfa), seems to be a
particularly good Soviet answer for the strategic mission, a ballistic missile submarine which is
survivable in “nuclear” war. As such, a force of Typhoons can be a fleet-in-being to politically
influence the outcome of a “nuclear” war whether strategic or one confined to the use of
tactical nuclear weapons. Such a force — as postulated in Soviet writings – could threaten
strategic strikes against an enemy’s homeland which would be so unacceptable to the enemy as to
cause the Soviets to win the war.
As suggested above, the Alfa seems well designed to protect a force of Typhoons in nuclear
war. its great cost for the titanium hull and the many difficulties titanium causes in fabrication
seem justifiable only if the Alfa helps to ensure the Soviet’s highest priority naval mission — the
strategic bombardment of shore object! ves. The Alfa’ s titanium hull, while giving the Alfa more
than a thousand meter depth capability, also makes the Alfa capable of withstanding tremendous shock effects from nuclear blasts. The Alfa’s very high speed of more than 43 knots plus its well designed characteristics for shallow operations indicate that its great mobility can minimize the
effectiveness of tactical nuclear ASW weapons. (The radius of destruction of an underwater
nuclear blast is least against submarines near the surface.) The Alfa’s titanium hull makes it
virtually impervious to MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) gear — carried by airborne units. its
double-hull design with long low conning tower appears excellent to reduce the detectable
hydrodynamic wave effect on the surface of the ocean, which might be produced by a shallow running submarine. And its infrared signature at the surface of the ocean is likely to be reduced
through less disturbance of surrounding waters. Additionally, with low planes deep under its bow
it has proved highly stable when operating radically at periscope depth and is a noisy
submarine only at very high speeds. Armed with a quiet, long range wire-guided paasi ve torpedo it
becomes an effective destroyer of enemy surface warship threats against Soviet SSBNs. And, if
operated at low speeds and closely coordinated with other submarines, is likely to even provide
a significant level of antisubmarine protection for SSBNs.
This double-hulled Soviet submarine is truly a modern “battleship” with its 24 big-warhead, long
range ( 250 miles) , antiship SS-N-19s of several mach numbers of speed, in vertical launching
tubes which can be fired submerged, and its 32- torpedo load. At about 14, 000 tons, it is far
larger than any other SSN, and its guesstimated 120, 000 shaft horsepower should make it capable
of speeds well in excess of 30 knots. With more than two meters distance between its outer and
inner hulls it should be virtually impervious to light-warhead, air launched antisubmarine
weapons, and with ita high mobility it should be able to either evade heavyweight torpedoes or
prevent them from hitting effectively. The Oscar thus appears to be an anti battle group
submarine, which can saturate the group’s defenses in a near simultaneous attack with a
rapidly fired salvo of 24 missiles from a great distance. (Firing all available missiles in a
single salvo is consistent with the Soviet’s “first salvo” doctrine.) At very high speed, the
Oscar could then go to deep submergence and close the main units of the battle group through the
hole blasted in the defenses of its missile targets. In a short time, the Oscar would be in
a position for torpedo attack against units of lesser speed. Then, by firing passive, quiet torpedoes, it would make attacks which could not be properly evaded. The Soviets evidently realize that torpedoes sink carriers more efficiently than missiles.
The latest Charlie with its submerged launch capability of the SS-N-9, 60-mile antiship missile and its 24-torpedo load, make this under 30 knots, relatively slow submarine, a major threat to convoys — the missiles to take out the escorts, the torpedoes to sink the merchant ships.
The latest Soviet submarines exhibit a marked reduction in their radiated noise, making them less susceptible to very long range detection. This sound quieting plus a marked awareness of operating means to reduce detectability from radiated noise, and a practice through good long range submerged communications of coordinated/combined operations with other noisier units (which provide a masking effect), develop an ASW threat of a new dimension. The very thick anechoic coating on the hulls of most of the Soviet submarines (of several inches) not only greatly reduces active sound ranging off such a coated hull but also cuts down markedly the terminal acquisition range of a torpedo’s active sonar. This very effective torpedo countermeasure by itself, may force u.s. submarines into closer firing ranges to insure more precise locating of Soviet submarines or it might force U.S. submarines to go active before firing — thus disclosing an attack.
The frequent Soviet submarine use of active sonar in combined ASW operations, with one unit
active while others are passive, should have a significant impact on U.S. strategies.
What these likelihood of techniques one u.s. suggest is submarine the high having to attack several oviet submarines supported by other units rather than a one-on-one situation.
The Soviet conventional submarine Tango appears to have carried diesel-electric technology to an advanced state. With up to eight days submerged endurance on the battery being evidenced and with tankage for about 20,000 miles on the diesels, these modern Fleet boats, carrying long range, wire-guided torpedoes or a mine belt of !JO mines pose a threat which can’t be ignored as merely being a coastal one. The latest Kilos appear to be particularly designed for mine laying, carrying an exterior
mine belt which lends itself to quiet launching of mines without a surge and with more simple
compensation. In fact, the Soviets very large force of about 200 conventional submarines, which
includes 60 Foxtrots, and the expectation that they will be used in coordinated operations with
other submarines and surface ships, must be seriously regarded.
Some of the new technologies must be guessed at. The photographed protuberance near the stern
of the Victor III submarines seems to indicate a use of linear arrays • Means to reduce drag and
the submarine’s hydrodynamic flow-wave seem to be identifiable from pictures of various Soviet
submarine types. There is also some evidence of unconventional propulsion systems being used.
The possibility, then, of Soviet submarines having a burst speed capability — like cutting
in the after burners on an aircraft — should not be ignored.
THE IMPACT OF THESE SUBMARINE TECHNOLOGIES
The u.s. forward submarine barrier strategy is apparently being faced with, instead of a one-onone
type of encounter with a transiting Soviet submarine, a more likely engagement with a combined force in transit. This would probably involve a force of air, surface and several subsurface units in coordinated movement through a barrier area.
The U.S. strategy for protecting battle groups against Soviet missile attack, similarly needs
reappraisal with the advent of the Oscar submarine. The Soviet’s long range missile threat
has been assumed to come basically from land based aircraft. An “outer air battle” response has thus
been predicated. But the Oscar poses a perhaps more critical “outer submarine battle” response
requirement, since the Oscar is likely to launch missiles with a far greater element of surprise
than that obtained with land based air.
The U.s. strategy for insuring control of the seas is particularly at risk with the Soviet development of combined/coordinated operations (including submarines) for overwhelming a sea control group’s defenses with a near simultaneous missile at tack from a variety of launching platforms in widely diverse positions.
And finally, some of the new Soviet submarine technologies clearly point towards a Soviet readiness to engage in tactical nuclear war atsea, and to win such a war because their submarines are designed to survive in the nuclear environment.
(A recent news item tells of a small Soviet nuclear submarine in the range of about 2000 tons which has just been launched and which is guessed to make over 50 knots. Ed)