A famous Russian submarine design bureau is working on a drone that imitates submarines. The drone, tentatively named “Surrogat,” could be a useful decoy in baiting a trap…or escaping one.
The Rubin Design Bureau of St. Petersberg, designer of Cold War Soviet missile submarines including the enormous Typhoon class, is working on this drone for the Russian Navy. According to Russian state media, “Surrogat” will have a deployable trailing antenna, allowing it to “realistically reproduce the physical fields of the enemy—the acoustic and electromagnetic.” The antenna will allow Surrogat to broadcast, for example, the sound made by a particular class of ballistic missile submarine, as well as the sub’s active sonar signature.
Surrogat will be 55 feet long and, thanks to lithium-ion batteries, capable of operating for 15 to16 hours at a time. It will weigh approximately 50 tons with a maximum diving depth of 600 meters and a maximum speed “in excess of 24 knots.”
How could the Russian Navy use Surrogat? The drone could be useful in wartime by hunting NATO hunter-killer submarines tasked with destroying Russia’s ballistic missile submarines. Surrogat could imitate a Borei-class submarine, with Russian attack submarines lying in wait in an ambush. Any submarine attacking it will give away its own position, allowing the Russian submarines to close in for the kill.
Alternately, a Russian submarine carrying a Surrogat could launch it after being attacked, programming the drone with its own unique underwater signature and letting the unmanned, underwater vehicle assume its identity. This is a far more risky proposition since the Russian submarine would have to “run silent” on the battlefield, and the enemy might not fall for it.
Surrogat will also function as a training device for Russian submarine crews. Mimicking the acoustic underwater signature of any number of NATO submarines, Surrogat could function as an effective stand-in for another submarine in force-on-force exercises. This would lower the cost of training, allowing Russian Navy crews to train under realistic conditions more often.
It’s important to note that this story is coming from TASS, an arm of Russian state media. Government-controlled media in Russia is less than reliable, often disseminating propaganda favorable to the government or rather fantastical stories about new military hardware. It’s important to take the story with a grain of salt. Still, there’s nothing particularly unusual or unfeasible about Surrogat.
The Rubin Bureau also envisions Surrogat used for classic underwater exploration roles, including seabed mapping and prospecting. With the waters under the Arctic opening up to commercial exploitation robots such as Surrogat are becoming increasingly useful. Let’s hope that’s all it ends up doing.