Russia's New Nuclear Submarines to Target U.S. Aircraft Carriers

July 6, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Eurasia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaNuclear SubmarinesAircraft Carrier

Russia's New Nuclear Submarines to Target U.S. Aircraft Carriers

Russia is designing two new classes of fifth-generation nuclear submarines.

Russia is designing “carrier killer” nuclear submarines, local media is reporting.

According to reports in The Moscow Times and Pravda, among others, Anatoly Shlemov, the head of the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation's state defense order department, recently said that Russia will build two-classes of fifth-generation submarines as part of Vladimir Putin’s military modernization plan.

The first of these submarines will be designed to intercept strategic submarines whereas the other class will be built to target large surface vessels, principally aircraft carriers. “Though the designs have not yet been named, one will be classified as an ‘underwater interceptor’ and the other an ‘aircraft carrier killer,’” The Moscow Times paraphrased Shlemov as saying.

Shlemov elaborated in the report: “The main purpose of the [underwater interceptor] is to protect groups of [ballistic] missile carrying submarines, and to battle with enemy submarines…. The second ship will be a cruise missile carrier [used] for defeating coastal and surface targets.” With regards to the second class of ships, the report noted that Shlemov specifically stated one variant with be a “carrier killer.”

The two new classes of submarines will have the same design, with the principal difference between them being their armaments and purposes. According to The Moscow Times report, the two new submarines will be used to replace the Soviet-era Oscar II-, Sierra-, and Victor-class multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines.

As The National Interest reported last month, work on the fifth-generation submarines is already underway. Vladimir Dorofeyev, CEO of Russia’s Malakhit Marine Engineering Design Bureau, told TASS in June 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.”

Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, subsequently confirmed this, telling a conference: “In order to avoid pauses and standstill, we have started design work on developing submarines of the next, i.e. fifth generation.”

The fifth-generation submarines are part of a revival of Russia’s submarine building industry. After laying dormant for much of the post-Cold War era, Moscow recently unveiled two new classes of fourth-generation submarines.

The Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which first entered into service in 2013, will serve as the undersea leg of Russia’s strategic deterrent.

The first Yasen-class nuclear attack submarine was also commissioned in 2013, and has impressed many U.S. naval officers. Much like the carrier killer variant of Russia’s forthcoming fifth-generation submarine, the Yasen-class is designed to engage surface vessels. Dave Majumdar has reported that the Yasen-class sub is equipped with:

24 missile tubes which can carry the supersonic NPO Mashinostroyeniya P-800 Oniks anti-ship missile which can hit targets roughly 200 nautical miles away. Severodvinsk can also carry Novator RK-55 Granat nuclear-capable 1,600 nautical mile-range subsonic land attack cruise missiles. Additionally, the Yasen-class boats can also launch the 3M14 Kalibr and 3M54 Biryuza land attack and anti-ship missiles, which have a roughly 300-mile range, though its torpedo tubes.

Some have doubted the potency of Russia’s budding undersea fleet. For instance, Norman Friedman, a longtime naval analyst, told Defense News that he is “skeptical” of Russia’s planned submarine boom. “There's a history in that country of laying down things that don't get finished for a long time. No question they'll lay down the subs, but actually building them after that is a more interesting question."

Other analysts disagree, however, Bryan Clark, a former U.S. submariner who is now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told the same publication: “The Russians have put their money where their mouth is with regard to submarine construction and development. They see that as a way to generate an asymmetric advantage over U.S. forces. If they can develop a really high-end submarine force like they did in the Cold War, it would create a problem for U.S. naval planners and strategists thinking through how to deal with a potential Russian threat—one that could emerge without a lot of warning."

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Admiralty Shipyards