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Part I appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of THE SUBMARJNE REVIEW.

Dr. Lajos F. Szaszdi earned his B.A. in International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. Also at the Elliott School he obtained his M.A. in Security Policy Studies with a concentration on the Russian Armed Forces and the Russian Navy, graduating with distinction in the fields of Russia and the Russian Military Power, and Military History. He earned an M.A. in World Politics at The Catholic University of America, where he received his Ph.D. in World Politics. His book Russian Civil-Military Relations and the Origins of the Second Chechen War is an abridged version of his doctoral dissertation. Dr. Szaszdi worked as a Visiting Fellow on defense equipment and military technology at The Heritage Foundation. He is an independent open sources intelligence researcher and analyst, and a student of sea power, contemporary naval issues and naval history. In the 1990s he was invited several times to lecture on the Russian Navy and its Submarine Force at the late Professor Charles F Elliott’s courses on the Russian military at The George Washington University. He is a Life Member of the U.S. Naval Institute and a member of the Naval Submarine League. Dr. Szaszdi has been a/lending the League’s annual symposiums since at least 1995.

Another missile that could potentially be carried in SEVERODVINSK’s eight missile tubes would be a submarine-launched version of the Tochka-U (NATO designation: SS-21 SCARAB) SRBM, if it is developed. The idea of deploying SS-21 short-range ballistic missiles in a submarine would also replicate plans to deploy in U.S. submarines a naval version of AT ACMS. The SS-21 has a diameter of 650 mm (26 inches) and a length of 6.4 meters which would allow the missile to be fitted inside a pressurized canister with the dimensions of the SS-N-26 SLCM missile canister, which has a diameter of 710 mm (28 inches) and a length of 9 meters (SS-N-26 has a length of 8.9 meters). 6R Hence, each of the submarine’s eight missile tubes could hold as many SS-21 as SS-N-26 could be carried, to a maximum of four missiles per launcher or just three. The TochkaU missile has a range of 120 km, with reports that a smaller missile was designed with a 185 km range. It has also been suggested that with a smaller warhead the Tochka-U missile could have its range increased to 150 km. 69 Tochka-U can carry a 482 kg conventional warhead or tactical nuclear warheads with yields of 10 kilotons and 100 kilotons. The missile could be armed with an anti-radar blast warhead to attack radars on the ground or in ships. 70 There is reportedly a version of the SS-21 armed with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warhead, the Tochka-R missile, designed to attack enemy radars. This missile would fulfill one of SS-21 ‘s Cold War functions, which was to take part in the suppression of NATO enemy air defenses by targeting, for instance, the radars of Patriot SAM batteries. According to Jane’s, the Tochka-U SRBM has “the capability to fly depressed trajectories, and to make pre-programmed manoeuvres of up to 10 g during the terminal phase of flight to make interception more difficult for the defense.” A Yasen/Yasen·M class submarine could fire salvoes of SS-21 used as an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) to overwhelm the defenses of a carrier battle group, probably by launching a mix of ASBM and supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles.

Currently the Pentagon has plans to deploy in the future the Prompt Global Strike vehicle in U.S. Navy submarines. The Prompt Global Strike, which could be a hypersonic glider, would be launched from the 87-inch launch tubes of the Virginia Payload Module, to be fitted to future Virginia class SSNs. The Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), likely to be a hypersonic glider, would be used to hit time-sensitive targets by being able to reach anywhere on Earth in 30 to 40 minutes. It is feasible that Russia could develop a similar weapon to Prompt Global Strike, to match this future U.S. missile strike capability. The Soviet Union already developed the concept of a hypersonic strike vehicle back in 1959 in the form of the Tupolev Tu-130 gliding strike UAV, identified as izdeliye ‘DP.’ The DP vehicle, mounted on top of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, would have been lifted to a height of 80,000 meters to 100,000 meters above the earth where it would have detached itself from the missile to glide towards the target 4,000 km away at speeds of Mach 10. The Tu-130 would have been armed with a thermonuclear warhead. The maximum range for the Tu-130 has been quoted also as 12,000 km.76 The length of the final Tu-130 design was 8.8 meters and the vehicle’s height was 2.2 meters.77 If Russia develops a weapon equivalent to the Conventional Prompt Global Strike, it could also arm it with a tactical nuclear warhead, and use it in case of war against the command and control centers, radar installations, and missile batteries of the European missile defense system or of the U.S. National Missile Defense system. Such a weapon would be designed to be launched, one per missile tube, from the Yasen class of nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines.

Yasen and Yasen-M class submarines are expected to be very quiet, to approach by stealth to a target and strike it with salvoes of missiles. Back in 1996 the Project 885 submarines were expected by the Office of Naval Intelligence to have been as quiet as the SEAWOLF and NSSN (Virginia) classes of SSN in terms of narrowband noise, produced by specific frequencies. It was also expected that in terms of broadband noise, that which is caused by the submarine’s overall noise levels, the Seawolf and Virginia classes would be quieter than the Yasen class.78 It may be that the SEVERODVINSK is in both narrowband and broadband as silent as the U.S. fourth-generation nuclear-powered attack submarines, and if not, that the Russian submarine KAZAN under construction and the following vessels of the Yase11-M class would be at least as quiet as the U.S. Navy’s fourth-generation submarines. By being very quiet SEVERODVINSK and its sister ships could approach a target undetected to deliver a devastating blow with missiles against ground-based missile defense elements, land-based air defenses, sea-based missile defense platforms, military bases, carrier battle groups, coastal industrial, energy and economic infrastructures, and cities.

In wartime the Yasen and Yasen-M class submarines would intercept NATO submarines, including nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), and nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines (SSGN) that would threaten Russia with ballistic missile or cruise missile strikes. As part of their sonar suite, the new Russian fourth generation SSN/SSGN submarines will be equipped in the bow with a large-sized spherical sonar array, a low-frequency active and passive sonar system for search and attack.

SEVERODVINSK and the Yasen-M class submarines will be armed with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missiles designed to quickly engage and destroy enemy submarines at a stand-off distance. One of these ASW missiles, according to a report from 1999, is an upgraded version probably derived from the 90RU Tsakra (NATO designation: SS-N-15 Starfish) missile. There is no data on the 90RU Tsakra, and the original version of the SS-N15, the RPK-2 or 81R Vyuga missile, was armed with a depth charge that was either nuclear with a 200 kiloton yield or conventional with a 300 kg high explosive warhead. The 81R Vyuga missile was launched from a 21-inch torpedo tube from as deep as 50 meters and after surfacing and leaving the water it could fly to a maximum range of 35 km or a minimum distance of 10 km to a location above where the enemy submarine would be located. The missile would then release the depth charge, which would denote close to the target down to a depth as far as 350 meters.

A new ASW weapon that SEVERODVINSK could be carrying is the 91R1 missile, a member of the Klub, SS-N-27 family of missiles. The weapon is armed with a lightweight ASW torpedo and it is similar in design to the SS-N-15 and SS-N-16 ASW missiles, with the SS-N-16 also armed with an ASW torpedo. In this regard, it may be that the new improved version of the SS-N15 reported over twelve years ago is in fact the 91R1 missile. The 91R1 can be launched from a 21-inch torpedo tube, and after leaving the water it flies above the sea surface towards the location of the target up to 50 km away, over which it releases the torpedo. The missile is armed with the MPT-1 UM torpedo, and may probably carry the bigger APSET-95 ASW torpedo, with both lightweight torpedoes reportedly having a 60 kg warhead. APSET95 can operate at depths of 15 meters to 500 meters, it can acquire a submerged target 1.2 km distant, and it has a range of about 15 km at a speed of 40 knots.

The 91R1 could also be armed with the APR-3 torpedo, which arms its ship-launched version, the 91R2 ASW missile. Propelled by a water-jet, the APR-3 can reach a target 800 meters deep, it has a range of 10 km, a search speed of 65 knots and an attack speed of 100 knots, a search range of up to 2 km, and a warhead that has been mentioned as either 76kg or 100 kg. The earlier version of the APR-3, the rocket-propelled APR-2, was designed to hit a submarine’s bow, its control room or propeller. The Yasen/Yasen-M class submarines would be armed with at least four ASW missiles.

The U.S. Navy lacks an ASW stand-off weapon because the planned submarine-launched Sea Lance ASW missile system program was ended in Fiscal Year 1991 for budgetary reasons. Launched from a 21-inch torpedo tube, Sea Lance would have carried a Mk 50 lightweight ASW torpedo to a distance of over 185 km.

In addition to conventional torpedoes, a shorter range weapon that will arm SEVERODVINSK and its follow-on submarines is the rocket-propelled torpedo.90 The weapon in question is an improved version of the VA-111 Shkval (squall) ASW rocket propelled torpedo. The improved weapon has an attack speed of 300 knots, a search speed of 60 knots, a probable laser fuze, and it is also launched from a standard 21-inch torpedo tube. The new version of the Shkval would also have the capability of being used against sea surface targets. The original Shkval rocket torpedo has a speed of 200 knots, a 210 kg warhead, and a range of 10 km at 200 knots, although a maximum range of 15-20 km has also been reported, probably traveling at 50 knots.

Other missions that the Yasen/Yasen-M class of submarines would perform are protection of Russian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, particularly in the Arctic Ocean, the search for foreign nuclear-powered attack submarines operating in Arctic waters and hunting for Russian SSBN, and the defense of Russia’s interests in the Arctic, including the protection of the Northern Sea Route.

In case of war between Russia and NATO, SEVERODVINSK could also attack the sea lines of communication (SLOC) linking Europe with North America. The submarine’s torpedo and anti ship cruise missile load potentially could allow it to destroy one single convoy of 30-35 merchant ships similar to the Allied Atlantic convoys of the Second World War. Additionally, the Yasen/Yasen-M class submarines could carry at least 80 sea mines and probably 100 if not more, with two sea mines in place of each torpedo. In case of war with NATO, SEVERODVINSK could attempt to mine Norway’s coastal waters to hinder efforts to send NATO naval forces and troop reinforcements by sea to the Norwegian fjords.


To meet the potential challenges posed by Russia’s fourth generation nuclear-powered multirole attack and cruise missile submarines, and their planned and potential missile armament, the U.S. and its NATO allies should:

– Build two new nuclear-powered attack submarines a year.

At least maintain the building rate of Virginia class submarines to two per year from Fiscal Year 2011 onwards. It is essential to reach the objective of 30 Virginia class SSN and that cuts to this production goal should be avoided. The U.S. Navy plans to have by 2030 a force of 39 SSNs down from 53 in FY11, constituting a drop of 25 percent in the nuclear-powered attack submarine force. The Pentagon should take into account the modernization of both the Chinese Submarine Force. and of the Russian Submarine Force. Russia will build seven Yasen/Yasen-M class submarines, and it may build seven more of a follow-on class of multirole nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines. By 2030 Russia could have at least about 14 fourth-generation nuclear-powered attack/cruise missile submarines. The Russian Navy may also maintain until then the current operational force of eight Oscar-II SSGN and 10 SSN of the Improved Akula-I (6), Akula-II (2), and the titanium-hulled Sierra-II (2) classes. Although the U.S. Navy may have by 2030 more than double the number of fourth-generation SSNs when compared to Russia, our country’s leaders should be aware that in addition to the current missions of our Submarine Force, they may have to face the additional challenge of growing and more capable Submarine Forces in both Russia and China. Russia’s fourth-generation SSN/SSGN submarines may not be numerous in the future, but since it is expected that they would be very quiet and thus hard to find, 100 more of our submarines may be required to look for them in the underwater expanses of the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

– Keep Improved Los Angeles class attack submarines in reserve when retired from service.

There are 23 Improved Los Angeles class (6881) SSNs that were built. By 2030 of the planned force of 39 submarines, 30 would be of the Virginia class, three of the Seawolf class, and six would be of the Improved Los Angeles class. As the U.S. Navy plans to retire prematurely Los Angeles class SSNs due to the current and expected budgetary cuts, it should be funded to maintain in reserve all or part of the 17 Improved Los Angeles class submarines that would be retired by 2030, in case that an emerging naval threat in the two decades ahead would require the submarines to be brought back into service. The first 6881 submarine planned to be retired is SSN 752 PASADENA in Fiscal Year 2019. Incidentally, the Improved Los Angeles class began with SSN 751 SAN JUAN, due to be retired in Fiscal Year 2021 together with SSN 755 MIAMI. Another option that should be considered would be to add more Virginia class submarines beyond the planned 30 if a serious naval threat surfaces in the coming decades.

-Deploy and continue to develop strong missile defense and air defense systems on the ground and at sea.

No matter from where it comes, the ballistic missile threat is real, particularly in the form of Iranian and North Korean ballistic missiles. New missile threats are looming over the horizon, as those posed by modem cruise missiles with supersonic and stealth characteristics and with evasive maneuvering capabilities. The same can be said of the latest short-range and theater ballistic missiles, possessing more accuracy, depressed trajectories and maneuvering reentry vehicles to defeat missile defenses. Deploy and continue to develop more capable versions of the Standard SM-3 missile defense missile in both sea and land based versions. Promote the export of SM-3 to our allies in NATO and the Asia Pacific region. Deploy at the earliest possible time in AEGIS cruisers and destroyers the Standard SM-6 surface-to-air missile. According to Jane’s, the SM-6’s “initial design will be optimized for use against supersonic cruise missiles, in particular the Russian P-900 Alfa, but will also have an improved capability against aircraft, helicopters and UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]…. A later version might be developed against SRBM threats.” Continue to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed against tactical and theater ballistic missiles and which is the upper tier of a basic two-tiered defense against ballistic threats. Continue development and consider deployment of naval THAAD at sea and promote the export of International THAAD (ITHAAD) to our allies in NATO and the Asia-Pacific region The extremely fast speed of the THAAD missile of 2,800 meters per second, equivalent to about Mach 8.2, may enable the system to intercept a modern Russian missile system equivalent to the Prompt Global Strike and with the capabilities of the 1959 Tu-130. In this regard, restore funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). Despite Germany’s decision to pull out of the MEADS program this would not erase the very real potential danger that NATO faces from Russian land-attack cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. MEADS was designed to kill enemy aircraft. cruise missiles and UAVs within its reach, while providing next- generation point defense capabilities against ballistic missiles.
Russia has threatened to deploy weapon systems against NATO’s European missile defense system, and as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently: .. the General Staff will be required to take measures of military-technical nature, if modem hardware – radars, interceptors – emerge around our borders.” The Yasen class submarines may provide a platform for those military technical measures Russia threatens to take. MEADS would provide a second tier line of defense to shoot down cruise missiles and SRBM aimed at destroying European missile defense emplacements. Further more, development of laser air and missile defense weapon systems should continue, to deploy them at the earliest possible time.

– Despite budgetary pressures, NATO allies should avoid cuts to their projected Submarine Forces.

In particular, the U.K. should fund construction of the last of the seven fourth-generation nuclear-powered attack submarines of the Astute class. France should maintain its commitment to build and complete its planned six fourth-generation SSN of the Barracuda class, the first of which, SUFFREN, is expected to be commissioned in 2017.

– Enhance anti-submarine warfare capabilities

Atrophied U.S. ASW capabilities are particularly worrisome because developing skilled ASW personnel requires years of intensive training. Congress should allocate sufficient and stable funding to increase ASW capabilities both qualitatively and quantitatively. Specifically, Congress should increase the number of ASW platforms by expanding and accelerating the P-8 program and by building more ships with ASW capabilities, including… DDG-1000 destroyers or upgraded DDG-51s with towed sonar arrays. It should also be noted that the best ASW platform is another submarine, and in particular a nuclear-powered attack submarine.


Back in the mid 1990s, the Office of Naval Intelligence regarded Russian submarine-launched SLCM with a 4,500 km range as the future SLCM threat. Based on these estimates, submarine-launched LRCM with a range of 5,500 km fired from the Norwegian Sea could potentially hit the northeastern seaboard of the U.S. Even though the likelihood of war with Russia is slim, this type of long-range cruise missiles could be Moscow’s answer to NATO’s European missile defense system and the U.S. National Missile Defense. In this regard, these LRCM could be used as second strike weapons, although formally they may be regarded as tactical nuclear weapons. As such they could be used to target military air and naval bases as well as cities in coastal areas. The U.S. and NATO must have robust missile defenses to meet the threat posed by a new generation of cruise missiles, and must maintain strong submarine and anti-submarine forces.

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