Against the backdrop of escalating Russia-NATO military tensions, Russia’s Ministry of Defense has equipped yet another one of its Steregushchiy-class corvettes with the navy’s latest anti-submarine/anti-torpedo system in preparation for the Baltic Fleet’s November military exercise.
The vessel, Boiky, is the third corvette to be commissioned as part of Russia’s latest Steregushchiy-class series. It is preceded by Steregushchiy and Soobrazitelnyy, and is one of thirteen Steregushchiy-class vessels to be commissioned through 2021.
It’s not particularly surprising that Russia would start replacing its aging 1970’s Grisha class ships, but what should raise concern among western observers is the speed with which these new vessels are being armed with Russia’s formidable Paket-E/NK anti-submarine/anti-torpedo system.
Paket is a naval weapon consisting of an integrated central control system, a “hydroacoustic station” for sonar target detection, and a launcher equipped with anti-submarine MTT torpedoes as well as heat-seeking M-15 anti-torpedoes. Paket’s MTT torpedoes and M-15 anti-torpedoes are similar in size, can be varied in quantity before each deployment, and boast effective ranges of up to 10,000 and 100-800 meters respectively.
Russia’s agency of defense exports (Rosoboronexport) claims that “warships equipped with such systems have their anti-torpedo defence effectiveness augmented 3-3.5 times,” though their comparison baseline is unclear. Also unclear is how much the entire system costs to produce, but Rosoboronexport’s apparent willingness to sell Paket by its individual components may give them additional leverage in export negotiations.
Paket offers drastic range and targeting improvements over the old Soviet RBU anti-submarine rocket-launcher system, but its long-term advantage lies in its modularity. That is, Paket’s constituent parts are designed to be individually upgradable without any overarching alterations; it is aptly named, in that “Paket” is Russian for “bundle.”
How, then, does Paket stack up against its competitors? Given its versatility and dual offensive-defense capability, there are no direct parallels to Paket as a unified system. There are, however, similar concepts worth considering. The US Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) system presents the closest analogy in that it combines an acoustic sensor and control processor with a Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo missile (CAT). However, it doesn’t integrate an anti-submarine solution in the same launcher.
India’s Mareech Advanced Torpedo Defence System (ATDS) combines torpedo detection with indirect torpedo countermeasures, and also has no integrated anti-submarine technology. Germany’s SeaSpider Anti-Torpedo Torpedo (ATT) is an anti-torpedo missile with an advanced solid-state guidance system, reportedly compatible with a wide array of launchers. But as of 2016, SeaSpider has encountered technical hurdles late in its development and is reportedly undergoing a significant redesign.
To date, all five operational Steregushchiy-class corvettes have been equipped with Paket. It is unclear when or to whom the Russia plans to sell Paket, but they may focus on installing it in the eight remaining Steregushchiy vessels before signing any major export deals. Paket is purportedly compatible with a wide range of frigates and carriers, but future installation plans beyond the Steregushchiy line have not yet been revealed.
It is premature to conclude that Russia is commiting to Paket as its be-all and end-all naval weapon. Last year, Russian defense company Rostec announced that it seeks to modernize the RPK-8 anti-Submarine system with its 90R1 rockets. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Russian navy sees Paket as a fruitful platform for long-term investment and development.
Paket is a capable and versatile weapons system that, with its multipurpose launcher, can further muddle the distinction between offense and defense as Russia holds ever-larger military exercises in the context of an ongoing Russia-NATO military buildup on the Baltic Sea.
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor toThe National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. Image: Creative Commons.
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor toThe National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University.
Image: Creative Commons.