Russians Launch First Yasen-class Submarine; Others in Doubt?

Jun 17, 2010


By Oliver Bloom
Nearly two decades after construction originally began, Russian President Medvedev launched the first Yasen-class submarine – the Severodvinsk – on Tuesday. The Severodvinsk – the first in the Project 885 Yasen (Graney) class of attack submarines – was due to be launched on May 7th to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, but was delayed due to technical difficulties. When the submarine enters service with the Russian Navy in late 2010 or early 2011, it will be armed with
24 cruise missiles, including the 3M51 Alfa SLCM, the SS-NX-26 Oniks SLCM or the SS-N-21 Granat/Sampson SLCM. It is also equipped with eight torpedo launchers, as well as mines and anti-ship missiles such as SS-N-16 Stallion.
The multipurpose attack submarine is designed
to launch a variety of long-range cruise missiles (up to 3,100 miles or 5,000 km) with nuclear warheads, and effectively engage submarines, surface warships and land-based targets.
The launch of the Severodvinsk comes a little more than two years after the launch of the Yuri Dolgoruky, the first Russian Borei-class ballistic missile submarine. Unlike the Yasen-class attack submarine, designed to counter ballistic missile submarines and naval assets or launch shorter range cruise missiles, the Borei-class ballistic missile subs are designed for nuclear deterrence—to stay submerged for extended periods and launch long-range ballistic missiles in case of nuclear war. The first in the Borei class was to originally launch in 2002, but the Russians had to redesign the sub after the nuclear missile it was designed to carry failed in test firings. The Russians have started construction on three more Borei-class subs, with a total of eight planned, but they have faced financial hurdles and technical setbacks of their own.   
The launch marks the end of an arduous construction project. Originally, the submarine was to be launched in 1993, but a lack of funding and the collapse of the Soviet Union prevent construction from beginning. When construction finally began in 1993, the sub was slated to be launched in 1998, but was twice delayed, due in part to a lack of funding and a need to modernize the boat’s equipment, much of which was designed in the 1980s. The number of planned submarines has declined, originally six more were planned, then rumors surfaced that that number was cut, and now it appears that only one more will follow the Severodvinsk.     
While the Russian government has kept the price tag of the new submarine secret, estimates put it at around $1-2 billion. Work began last year on a second submarine in the Yasen class, the Kazan. In spite of this, the Russian International News Agency reported that
Mikhail Barabanov, the editor-in-chief of Moscow Defense Brief magazine, said the submarine's cost was too high to make it viable for serial production.
Barabanov told Vedomosti [the Russian news daily] that the U.S. Navy did not produce a large number of advanced Sea Wolf submarines, similar to the Severodvinsk vessel, since they were too expensive. Instead of these, they use cheaper and unsophisticated Virginia-class submarines.
The expert said the Russian Navy would probably replace the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine with a more affordable analogue. Barabanov said the second Yasen (Graney) class submarine Kazan was the most probable alternative to the Severodvinsk submarine.
It appears then the second Yasen-class submarine, the Kazan, will be sufficiently cheaper and different as to be a viable alternative for the Severodvinsk. The Russians seem to be following in the United States’ footsteps and reexamining submarine priorities given their escalating costs and the end of the Cold War. As one Russian news commentator wrote:
One has to wonder if Russia needs to build boats comparable to the Seawolf; the Yasen boats were designed for a potential war against the world's most powerful navy. Perhaps Russia should limit itself to two or three Project 885 submarines and then shift its focus to a cheaper boat that would have comparable power thanks to modern equipment and weapons.
Therefore, it would be advisable to build 12-15 cheaper boats whose specifications will roughly correspond to the latest Project 971 or even Project 671RTM submarines, but which will have better equipment and a lower noise level.
Even with a less costly redesign, Yasen-class attack submarines are at odds with the geopolitical realities of the 21st centuries. These attack submarines were designed to confront the advanced naval capabilities of the United States during the Cold War and counter American ballistic missile submarines in the event of hostilities. Given that the Cold War has long since ended, such advanced and expensive attack submarines have decreased utility. In spite of President Medvedev’s desire for a comprehensive naval rearmament, the value of the Yasen-class is limited.  While some of the Borei-class ballistic missile submarines may be necessary for an assured nuclear second strike capability and some advanced attack submarines for anti-ship and other conventional operations, a large fleet of Yasen-class submarines to counter U.S. SSBNs seems to be a waste of Russian funds. If just for the sake of the Russian taxpayer, perhaps the Russian government will stop at one or two.


//Mike1979 Russia under a Creative Commons License