Russia ‘Revives’ Its Soviet-Era Naval Tactic To Strike Opponents With Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles

The Russian Navy is reportedly working on firing ballistic and cruise missiles from nuclear submarines that are docked at its port. Russia is perhaps the first country to have this distinct naval capability.

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Russia is keen to revive a Soviet-era naval tactic in which the submarines have the capability to launch missiles and attack an enemy target without leaving the safety of its port.

In March 2019, Russian newspaper Izvestia reported on the Russian nuclear submarine Severodvinsk of the Northern Fleet launching a Kalibr cruise missile from a naval base.

In 2020, similar reports were circulated about a Soviet-era Delta III class nuclear ballistic missile submarine firing an R-29R ballistic missile from the port, but it was widely believed to be an event prior to Soviet disintegration.

Russian Navy’s Oscar-class submarine. (via Twitter)

It remains unclear whether Russia has actively harnessed this naval capability, but if it has, then it is the first country in the world to do so.

Speaking to Izvestia, Igor Kurdin, the head of the St. Petersburg club of submariners, mentioned how Soviet-era second-generation submarines were taught to shoot ballistic missiles from the berth, and a similar tactic can be used for cruise missiles.

“The possibility of launching cruise missiles directly from the berth significantly increases the combat effectiveness of submarines,” he added.

This innovation in the Russian Navy gives it the ability to carry out a surprise attack on enemy targets without leaving the naval base.

Using long-range cruise missiles like Kalibr or Sampson that can go as far as 3,000 km, Russian missiles can reach anywhere in Europe and parts of the United States and Canada. Other upgraded cruise missiles like 3M22 Zircon, a hypersonic cruise missile still in production, can further improve the dockside missile launch capabilities.

Russia’s Nuclear Submarines

The development of nuclear submarines in Russia goes back to its Soviet legacy. The first known commissioned nuclear subs were called November-class and one of its vessels reportedly became the first Soviet submarine to reach the North Pole in July 1962.

The Russian Navy has been upgrading the submarines with cutting-edge technologies, arms, and ammunition to host a state-of-the-art nuclear fleet through the years.

The Russian Ministry of Defence is paying special attention to the naval fleet as geopolitical warfare is slowly shifting towards seas. Two new series of nuclear submarines are set to replace Soviet-era Delta submarines.

One of them is the Borei-class, which is a series of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines equipped with new sonar and control systems. Considered one of the most advanced nuclear submarines, the first boat under the Borei-class called Knyaz Vladimir was commissioned in 2012.

The second is the Yasen-class (called Severodvinsk class by NATO), the latest addition to the Russian nuclear-naval fleet, which is based on a cruise missile system. Armed with anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, the Yasen and Yasen-M can carry cruise missiles like Kalibr-PL and Oniks as their strike weapons.

Russia’s Yasen-class submarine, Kazan. (via Twiter)

In March, Russian News Agency TASS reported on the induction of three new submarines — Project Borei, a strategic missile-carrying underwater cruiser Knyaz Oleg; and the Yasen-class nuclear-powered underwater cruisers, Kazan and Novosibirsk.

The lead boat of fourth-generation Project 885M or the Yasen-M class, the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, joined the Russian Navy on May 7. The production of other subs is underway, while a second nuclear sub, Novosibirsk will be delivered by the end of 2021.

Russia is also working on building fifth-generation submarines, called Laika-class (also known as Husky class) that will succeed the Yasen-class. The lead vessel of the class is expected to be built by 2027–2030.

The US is reportedly alarmed at the pace at which the Russian Navy is upgrading its fleet.

General Glen VanHerck, the head of US Northern Command of US Air Force, shared these concerns before the House Armed Services Committee members during a hearing on missile defense on June 15, TheDrive reported.

“Russia’s growing fleet of nuclear-powered Yasen class guided-missile submarines, in particular, are nearly on par with US Navy types in terms of quietness and will present a persistent threat to the American homeland unlike any before within five years,” he said.