Secret fairway: For what purpose could Russian submarines with nuclear weapons urgently leave their bases?

Secret fairway: For what purpose could Russian submarines with nuclear weapons urgently leave their bases?

Sergey Andreev

Surveillance of the nuclear arsenal

On November 30, several foreign publications reported that almost all the submarines of the Russian navy, which are part of the nuclear triad, left their bases and went to sea. Their trail was lost almost immediately after leaving the base water area: neither Japanese nor Norwegian anti-submarine aircraft were able to detect Russian “strategists” in neutral waters. This prompted some analysts to think that the submarines are urgently going to sea in connection with unscheduled exercises. Surveillance of the carriers of Russian nuclear weapons and the locations of the submarines is carried out continuously: over each object, according to the retired military, at least three satellites of surveillance and radio-technical reconnaissance are constantly “hanging”.

The location of the doomsday submarines’ parking lots is well known to both the Russian military and their American counterparts: in Russia it is Kamchatka and Gadzhievo in the north of the country, for the United States these are the bases of Kitsap, Kings Bay and other US facilities in Europe, for example, the base submarines in the Norwegian Tromsø, which the US Navy has reactivated relatively recently. This attention to the Russian submarine forces is easy to explain: back in the fall, the US Navy Institute issued a report, which reported on “Russia’s active investment in the submarine fleet.” But where did several submarine carriers of nuclear weapons go at once, suddenly leaving their points of permanent deployment?

Versions and conjectures

The military has not yet confirmed that the Russian submarine fleet has entered a high alert mode. There was also no news about the next exercises, surprise checks and tests of the latest weapons. However, satellite images clearly show that since the end of October, almost all quay walls in Vilyuchinsk and Gadzhiev have been empty. This means that the ships really went to sea. Before trying to guess the reason for leaving the bases, it is worth taking a closer look at the composition of the submarine fleet.

The main difficulty for American analysts was that the European Sentinel-2 satellites recorded the movement of all types of submarines: according to foreign media reports, both “strategists” and multipurpose submarines capable of hunting down aircraft carriers and strategic submarines of a potential enemy left their bases. However, this, according to Andrey Ryumin, a former crew member of the K-223 Podolsk submarine, is a common thing, and the ships of the submarine fleet, regardless of their destination, are operated “as often as passenger aircraft.”

Each submarine has two or three crews. Primary, redundant and backup. Multipurpose ships and “strategists” are a permanent tool for deterring a potential enemy, they are constantly at sea, the interval between campaigns can be several weeks, or maybe several days. During the time that the submarine is at the quay wall, it is checked, serviced and sent back to sea. What should be the activity is determined by the general staff and the headquarters of the fleet, so I would not focus on the fact that the equipment is at sea. If she is there, then it is necessary. Andrey Ryumin, Former deputy chief of warhead-2 on the submarine K-223 “Podolsk”.

What are such submarines for?

In 2019, many foreign media outlets published sensational headlines. American and European media noted that the Russian president had warned the West “About a possible blow to decision-making centers.” Almost two years ago, in his message to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin emphasized that the flight time of Russian missiles would be adequate to the flight time of American missiles, which he estimated at 10-12 minutes.

Then many American analysts noticed that naval carriers could well play the role of a lightning-fast “doomsday weapon” and there was no point in building a large fleet for a retaliatory nuclear strike. Igor Gerkin, the former deputy commander of the BCH-3 submarine of the K-55 submarine, explained: strategic submarines have only one task in case of a major war.

The task of such a submarine is to launch. Further, such a submarine will either be destroyed, or it will have time to submerge and at full speed go towards the basing point. In Soviet times, it was like this: the completion of the task first of all, the rest – later. Training for such events is a responsible business, and significant forces of the fleet can be involved in them. They report this to the higher management, and the rest will find out only in exceptional cases. If now the Americans are wondering why there are no submarines at the base, it means that this is by design. Igor Gerkin, Former deputy commander of the BCh-3 submarine K-55.

According to Gerkin, the weapons on the Project 955 Borey, 949 Antey and 667 BDRM Dolphin submarines are enough to destroy all the “decision-making centers” in a matter of minutes. Ballistic missiles such as Bulava and Sineva contain up to a dozen warheads with a capacity of 150 kilotons. A dozen hits, according to retired submariners, will be enough to “work out a large list of targets, without the functioning of which the management of a country like the United States would be either difficult or practically impossible.”

Former US DIA analyst Michael Giorgiani, in an interview with Life, explained that the modern SOSUS submarine tracking system is far from perfect and often malfunctions that the US Navy is unable to fix.

The problems of the US anti-submarine system have been observed for several years. They have been trying to fix it for about four years, but no tangible progress has yet been achieved. Russian submarines have been modernized over the past few years: their noise, according to some reports, has decreased by tens of percent, so they can still penetrate through the deployed network of sensors. This was possible many years ago, but now it has become easier for the Russian military to do it. Michael Giorgiani, Former analyst at RUMO USA.

According to Giorgiani, if the commander of the Russian submarine “decides to surface in neutral waters and look at the Statue of Liberty through powerful optics, then no one can stop him from doing so.”

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