The Russian Navy is refining its ability to track, attack, and destroy submarines from torpedo-armed surface warships by conducting attack drills in the White Sea, a move which signifies continued Russian ambitions to assert power, control, and influence in the Arctic region.
Two anti-submarine Russian warfare ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet, the Onega, and the Naryan-Mar, fired practice torpedoes at an undersea cruiser simulating a submarine.
“The warships searched for the submarine using onboard sonars and launched a torpedo attack against it. The heavy nuclear-powered underwater cruiser Dmitry Donskoi operating at a depth of over one hundred meters simulated the underwater enemy for the small anti-submarine warfare ships,” the press office of Russia’s Northern Fleet said in a statement, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
While the torpedoes that were fired did not have warheads, the exercise seemed aimed at refining targeting procedures and attack tactics against submarines from the surface, an ability of great strategic value in areas such as the Arctic where submarines can more easily lurk beneath the surface ice, yet still fire offensive attacks.
An ability to track and destroy submarines could be vital in vast undersea regions such as the Arctic where undersea platforms can operate more freely, be harder to detect, and access geographical areas surface ships are unable to transit. Furthermore, given the pace of melting ice and the expanding waterways in the regions, submarines could increasingly be used to hold the continental United States at risk from portions of the Arctic Ocean given how far cruise missiles and torpedoes can travel.
Russia also appears heavily invested in an effort to try to maintain an undersea advantage against the United States, which is now in the process of fielding a new generation of attack- and ballistic-missile submarines. Perhaps the drills represent a Russian effort to prepare to counter emerging U.S. submarines that are stealthier, faster, and much more lethal than their predecessors.
In the next several years, the Block V Virginia-class Attack Submarine will arrive, bringing massive new amounts of offensive U.S. Navy firepower to the undersea domain, and the first new Columbia-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines are expected to emerge by the end of the decade. Countering these new U.S. Navy submarines will likely prove quite difficult for Russian surface ships, given some of the advanced quieting technologies with which they are being built.
While details are likely not available for security reasons, Block III Virginia class attack submarines now operate with advanced quieting technologies and coating materials intended to make them much harder to detect. Also, the Columbia-class submarines are being built with a much quieter electric drive for undersea propulsion, a development which is leading some to suggest that the new Columbia-class submarines will likely be the stealthiest undersea boats ever to exist.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.