Russia's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War in the Water

The Russian Bear can certainly swim. 

Editor’s Note: Please take a look at previous works from our “Weapons of War” series including the Russia’s Military is Back, Russia’s Navy Rising, the Five Best Weapons of War from the Soviet Union, and The Five Most Powerful Russian Weapons of War in the Sky.

At the time of its breakup, the Soviet Union had the largest navy in the world. After the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Russia inherited the bulk of the Soviet Navy. This didn’t do Russia any great favors as her economy could not support a large fleet. Large numbers of ships, planes and submarines were cast aside, or simply tied up at the dock to rust.

Like the rest of the Russian military, what has emerged nearly twenty-five years later is a service equipped with a mix of old, familiar and new. Veterans of the Soviet Navy serve alongside updated designs. There are even completely new ships coming online. With that in mind, here are the five most lethal Russian weapons of war on the water.

Borei-class ballistic-missile submarine (Project 955)

The Russian ballistic missile fleet is in trouble. Not a single ship has been built since the end of the Soviet Union—most were built in the 1980s. Only one, Novomoskovsk, has actually been commissioned by Russia, and that was in 1992. Russia’s Pacific Fleet is the worst off, relying on Delta-III class subs produced between 1979 and 1982.

Enter the Borei-class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines. At 14,700 tons surfaced the Borei submarines are slightly smaller than the gigantic Typhoon class. Eight will be built, replacing the older Delta-III, Delta IV, and Typhoon class subs currently in service. Four will serve with the Northern Fleet and four with the Pacific Fleet.

The Borei class, which had been in development at the end of the Cold War, was delayed due to a lack of funding. The first submarine, Yuri Dolgoruky, was finally commissioned into the Russian Navy on January 10, 2013. Three ships have been launched. Construction is being performed by the Sevmash shipyard, which recently completed the transformation of the Indian aircraft carrier Vikramaditya.

The class will carry sixteen Bulava submarine launched ballistic missiles, each in turn with 6-10 warheads, for a total of 96 to 196 warheads per submarine. Missile Threat pegs the missile's range at up to 8,300 kilometers. This means submarines in the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk—where the Russian Fleet hides its ballistic missile submarines—could reach any point in the continental United States.

Bulava, has had a difficult development period, with just over 40 percent of its twenty-one launches ending in failure. The latest test, a successful launch carried out from the Vladimir Monomakh, occurred in early September. Until issues with the Bulava’s reliability are ironed out, Yuri Dolgoruky and her sisters in the Russian Navy will be without their primary armament.

Yasen class nuclear attack submarine (Project 885)

Originally conceived in the early 1990s as replacements for the Akula and Oscar class submarines, Yasen nuclear attack submarines are finally entering regular production. Two subs have been completed, Severodvinsk and Kazan, with additional units planned.

The Yasen class is one of the most advanced submarines in the world. The class reportedly has a crew of only ninety, implying a high level of automation. A 200MW nuclear reactor is thought to power the submarine to a maximum speed of 35 to 40 knots, with a “quiet operating speed” of 20 knots. A Irtysh-Amfora spherical bow sonar array provides both active and passive detection. The submarine is also equipped with a towed linear passive array.

The Yasen class has eight vertical launch tubes, four 650mm torpedo tubes and four standard-diameter 533mm torpedo tubes. Besides standard guided torpedoes, Yasen will almost certainly be armed with the Shkval supercavitating torpedo, capable of traveling at 200 knots to ranges from 7 to 13 kilometers.

Like the USS Virginia class submarines, Yasen has vertical launch tubes capable of carrying cruise missiles. The tubes are likely loaded with SS-N-26 or SS-N-21 Sampson missiles. The SS-N-26 Oniks is a ramjet-powered, sea-skimming, anti-ship missile with a range of 120 kilometers and a 200 kilogram warhead. The Sampson is a land-attack cruise missile similar to the American Tomahawk with a range of 2,500 kilometers.

At least five Yasen class submarines will be built. Typically the first ships in any Russian ship class serve with the Northern Fleet, with ships only sent to the distant Pacific Fleet after design kinks are ironed out. However, if this report on Severodvinsk’s sea trials is any indication, the Pacific Fleet isn’t going to see Yasen subs anytime soon.