Two of Russia’s most advanced nuclear submarines will be launched in 2017, despite ballooning program costs and delays, according to a report by a Russian state news agency.
Vice Adm. Viktor Bursuk, deputy commander of the Russian navy, said last week that the ballistic-missile-carrying, Borei-class Prince Vladimir and the Yasen-M attack boat Kazan “will be floated out” by the end of next year. While there had been reports that the vessels would be delayed, Bursuk said the navy expects to take possession of the vessels “within the time limits stipulated by the contract.”
The terms “launched” and “floated out” do not necessarily mean the vessels will be ready for sea trials and commissioning. Once they move from the shipyard to their docks, more systems will likely need to be installed.
The Borei- and Yasen-class boats endured a tortuous development cycle as money dried up after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even though the keel of the Yury Dolgoruky, the lead boat of the Borei class, was laid down in 1996, the nearly two-football-field-long sub wouldn’t join the Russian fleet until 2013. Likewise, the initial Yasen-class vessel, the Severodvinsk, first underwent construction in 1993 only to earn its commission 20 years later.
Though two other Borei-class submarines have entered service following the commissioning of the Dolgoruky, the Prince Vladimir will be the first of four more advanced Borei-type subs, known as the Borei-A class, that will enter the Russian fleet. Construction began on the Vladimir in 2012, and in the coming years, eight Borei-class submarines – five A-types and the three current variants – will be at sea. On Friday, the keel of the eighth and likely final Borei-A class, the Prince Pozharsky, was laid down.
A 2013 article written by a U.S. naval officer for Proceedings magazine discussed the importance of the Borei- and Yasen-class submarines. Lt. Cmdr. Tom Spahn argued that the Borei and Yasen classes would become the backbone of the Russian sub fleet as the Russian navy sought to consolidate the capabilities of its different classes of submarines into two types.
The Borei – which means North Wind – costs roughly $890 million, according to Spahn and has a silent propulsion technology much like the new U.S. Virginia attack-class nuclear submarines. The Borei is also capable of carrying 16 ballistic missiles, while the Borei-A class is rumored to carry 20.
The Yasen class, or Ash Tree, is designed primarily to attack other subs, surface ships and gather intelligence and requires a crew of only around 90, compared with the Virginia class’s 134. Spahn said that the relatively small crew size indicates an advanced level of autonomy in the Russian sub.
The small crew size and high-tech systems might have something to do with its price tag, as the initial Yasen boat, the Severodvinsk, costs roughly $1.5 billion. The second vessel, the Kazan will likely cost double that by the time it takes to the sea. The Yasen, according to Spahn’s piece, has eight torpedo tubes, capable of launching underwater projectiles that can reach roughly 230 mph. The Yasen class can also carry a wide array of cruise missiles. In April, the Severodvinsk successfully test fired Kalibr cruise missiles, the same type of weapons Russia fired into Syria.
Russian submarine activity has steadily increased since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. In February, a top NATO admiral, Royal Navy Vice Adm. Clive Johnstone, said that NATO sub commanders are reporting “more activity from Russian submarines than we’ve seen since the days of the Cold War.” Earlier this month, news reports indicated that two Oscar-II class Russian cruise missile submarines were operating near a U.S. and French aircraft carrier sailing in the eastern Mediterranean, setting off a NATO-led hunt for the boats.
The Russian navy has dozens of submarines, the majority of which are Soviet-era nuclear and diesel-powered subs. While Russia is trying to churn out new vessels, its navy is also modernizing some of its older boats. The U.S. Navy, however, has upward of 50 submarines, all of which run on nuclear propulsion. Congress’s most recent defense spending bill authorizes the construction of six Virginia-class submarines through 2019 and has allocated money to replace the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine.