Fresh off building the fourth-generation Yasen-class submarines, Russia is already developing a fifth-generation submarine.
Vladimir Dorofeyev, CEO of Russia’s Malakhit Marine Engineering Design Bureau, told TASS last week that "The work on the fifth generation of submarines is already underway. The project will be implemented after the Yasen nuclear submarine construction project is completed.”
This was subsequently confirmed by Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy. Speaking at the Army 2015 international military and technical forum in Moscow last Wednesday, Chirkov said that “In order to avoid pauses and standstill, we have started design work on developing submarines of the next, i.e. fifth generation.”
Both men said the submarines would be built within the Russian shipbuilding program through 2050, although they did not have a precise estimate of when the boats would first be launched.
There also only gave limited details of the sub’s design, likely because the concept is still being developed. Dorofeyev did say that the fifth-generation submarines would focus on “network centric” capabilities, which would reduce the primary importance of its dimensions and speed.
Regarding the reactor, Dorofeyev stated that “The reactor [of the subs] will be certainly based on new principles, but there will be no revolution, and it is not needed after all.”
Meanwhile, Admiral Chirkov hinted that robotics would play a central role in the new class of submarines. According to Chirkov, the navy’s emphasis will be “on the universal nature” of the submarines use “and the efficiency of their control and armament systems.” He added that “In particular, the vessels’ combat capabilities will be raised through the development of unified modular platforms of different displacement and the integration of promising robotized systems into their armament.”
The U.S. Navy has long been seeking to integrate submarines into network centric warfare. As far back as 2002, National Defense magazine reported: “The submarine of 2020, according to the Navy’s long-term blueprint for undersea warfare, will interact with unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles. Further, it will be equipped to launch non-Navy weapons, such as Army tactical missiles.”
It went on to explain:
One scenario, for example, would have the submarine lay sensors on the ocean floor, creating an “information grid” that would feed the naval battle group commander valuable intelligence. The sensors would be linked to unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) and pilot-less drones (UAVs) that would fly over the battle zone. The information grid would help the commander, who may not even be anywhere near the submarine, gain control of the situation.
It has sought to turn this vision into a reality with the Submarine Warfare Federated Tactical System (SWFTS) program, which aims to integrate all submarine combat subsystems into a single architecture.
Russia’s fifth-generation submarine is likely to remain a distant aspiration for some time. It was only last year that the Russian Navy officially accepted the first Yasen-class submarine into service. Construction on that ship, named the K-560 Severodvinsk, had begun in 1993. Design of the Yasen-class submarine began in the 1980s under the Soviet Union.
Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.
Image: Admiralty Shipyards