Russia submarine nuke drills indicate Moscow is focused on undersea domination

Russia recently carried out submarine drills involving a simulated nuclear response, according to photographs and footage released by the Ministry of Defense.

The video, published by UK media, show several nuclear missile drills the MoD said were “ordered” by President Vladimir Putin.

According to the report, the sub-launched missiles were fired in Arctic waters in the Okhotsk and Barents seas. MoD officials said the drills were “designed for retaliation against an enemy attack.”

The report said that footage of the exercises did not include Russia’s new Yasen class submarines, which are believed capable of launching strikes at any European capital.

The new class is of major concern to the U.S. Navy and to NATO because it is believed to be extremely stealthy and difficult to locate and track. Also, the sub has new land-attack capabilities as well, making it particularly lethal.

U.S. Navy Adm. James Foggo, head of American naval forces in Europe and Africa, notes that the new subs carry the sophisticated Kalibr cruise missile (which comes in a nuclear-tipped version as well). Kalibr “has been launched from coastal defense systems, long-range aircraft, and submarines off the coast of Syria,” Foggo noted.

The subs have “shown the capability to be able to reach pretty much all the capitals in Europe from any of the bodies of water that surround Europe,” he added.

Analysis: While the UK media source was hyping the launch as a prelude to “World War 3,” the fact that the Russians are staging nuclear weapons drills in and of itself isn’t significant. We do the same thing and so do other nuclear-armed countries. It’s part of maintaining a ready deterrent force or one that is capable of responding in a ‘second strike’ scenario if attacked.

But as Foggo has warned before, Russian submarine capabilities are increasing. He told reporters at the Pentagon that “while the Russian navy knows it cannot compete on the level of aircraft carriers and larger surface vessels, they have continued to do research and development and recapitalize the undersea domain.”

In other words, they are putting their limited naval resources in submarines, and that investment is paying off.

“They see it as one (in) which there is a challenge, and that challenge is the United States Navy and the United States submarine force,” he continued.

As to U.S. capabilities in the undersea domain, “I can tell you that we hold an acoustic advantage and we will continue to do that,” Foggo said, in reference to the listening technologies that assist the Navy in locating enemy submarines. 

Some estimates, however, put the Yasen class boats on the same level as the U.S. Seawolf-class submarines. Also, because Kalibr missiles are nuclear-tipped and have a range of about 1,600 miles, they could easily be used as first-strike weapons. For instance, Russia could target U.S. government installations and the White House in a decapitation strike from the mid-Atlantic.

This could be one of the main reasons why the Pentagon is standing up the Second Fleet again. Disbanded in 2011 by the Obama administration, the Second Fleet historically was responsible for protecting and patrolling the East Coast and North Atlantic Ocean.

The emergence of the Yasen-class submarines and the weapons these boats can carry indicate that Moscow is betting on undersea domination rather than challenging U.S. and NATO navies on the ocean’s surface.



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