As we said earlier, historically the most important component of the strategic nuclear forces (SNF) of the USSR, and then of the Russian Federation, has always been the Strategic Missile Forces (Strategic Missile Forces). In the United States, the development of strategic nuclear forces began with the aviation component - strategic bombers and free-fall nuclear bombs, but they had bases in Japan and continental Europe, which allowed them to attack targets deep in the territory of the USSR. The capabilities of the USSR in this regard were much more modest, therefore, a guaranteed nuclear strike against the United States became possible only after the appearance of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on alert.
To this day, the Strategic Missile Forces retain the leading role in ensuring nuclear deterrence, and it is likely to remain so in the medium term. The aviation component was almost always the least significant in the USSR / RF SNF, which is explained by the vulnerability of carriers - strategic missile-carrying bombers both at home airfields and on the routes of advance to the launch point of missiles, as well as the vulnerability of the main weapon of strategic missile-carrying bombers - subsonic cruise missiles with a nuclear warhead (YABCH). However, the use of air-launched ICBMs as the main weapon of strategic aviation may, if not increase the combat stability of the aviation component of the strategic nuclear forces, then turn it into a serious threat to a potential adversary.
The naval component of the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces has always been catching up with respect to the Strategic Missile Forces. On the one hand, the ability of nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles (SSBNs) to hide in the depths of the ocean ensures their highest survivability in the face of a sudden disarming enemy strike, which determined the role of SSBNs as the leading component of the US strategic nuclear forces, and in fact the only component of the strategic nuclear forces of Great Britain and France. On the other hand, the main factors in the survival of SSBNs are stealth and the presence of a powerful fleet capable of providing cover for the deployment and patrol areas of SSBNs. The United States, Great Britain and France (in the context of NATO) have all this, but China does not, so the naval component of its strategic nuclear forces, like the aviation one, is extremely insignificant in comparison with the ground component.
If we talk about the USSR / Russia, then the USSR had a powerful fleet capable of providing deployment to protect the areas of SSBN patrolling. It is believed that Soviet submarines for a long time were inferior in noise to submarines of a potential enemy, but by the mid-1980s this problem had been resolved.
With Russia, everything is much more complicated. If the noise, as well as the capabilities of the sonar systems of the newest Russian strategic missile submarine cruisers (SSBNs), can presumably be considered acceptable, then the ability of the Russian Navy (Navy) to ensure their deployment and cover patrol areas can be called into question. Nevertheless, in comparison with the USSR's strategic nuclear forces, the relative share of nuclear warheads deployed on naval carriers has even increased.
Let us try to assess the consequences of this decision and the possible directions of the evolution of the naval component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces in the medium term.
Locked in the "Bastions"
SSBNs have two main states - when it is on alert, and when it is at the base. The time spent by SSBNs on alert is determined by the operational stress factor (KOH). For American SSBNs, the KON is about 0.5, that is, the submarine spends half of the time on duty. In the USSR Navy, the KOH was always lower, and most likely this situation persists at the moment. Let's assume that 30% -50% of SSBNs are on alert. In this case, the remaining 50-70% are in the base and can be destroyed by a sudden disarming strike even with non-nuclear weapons, however, for such a purpose, they will not spare a dozen nuclear warheads. Now this will allow the enemy to destroy about 350-500 Russian nuclear warheads with one blow - the ratio is not at all in our favor.
SSBNs on alert can hide in the depths of the oceans, but for this their safe deployment must be ensured - leaving the base, as well as covering patrol areas. This requires a powerful surface fleet, anti-submarine aircraft, and multipurpose hunter submarines to escort SSBNs. With all this, the Russian Navy has serious problems. To launch SSBNs into the sea without cover is like knowingly giving them up to be torn apart by the enemy.
Another option is to create "bastions" for SSBNs - conditionally "closed" water areas, tightly controlled by the Russian Navy, taking into account its limited capabilities. This immediately raises the question of how much the bastion is controlled in reality, and how quickly it can be "hacked" by the enemy. But most importantly, the adversary's knowledge that Russian SSBNs "graze" in these bastions will allow him to place in relative proximity a sufficient number of missile defense ships capable of intercepting launching ICBMs in pursuit.
We cannot stop them. In peacetime, attacking the enemy's fleet in neutral waters is a declaration of war, and in the event of a sudden disarming strike by the enemy, there will be no time to suppress his fleet.
Based on the foregoing, it can be assumed that the only effective application of SSBNs is to patrol them in various points of the world ocean, where it is impossible to predict their appearance, and to deploy missile defense ships in advance. But this brings us back to the problem of covertly deploying and covering patrol areas. It turns out a vicious circle, and is there a way out of it?
In the near future, SSBNs of project 955 (A) Borey and Bulava ballistic missiles of submarines (SLBMs) should become the basis of the naval component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces. Presumably, their characteristics make it possible to effectively hide from the enemy in the depths of the ocean, but at least this does not negate the problem of a safe exit from the bases.
Huge funds have been invested in the program 955 (A) "Borey" / "Bulava", the total number of "Borey" in the Russian Navy can be up to 12 units. At the same time, the number of Project 885 (M) Yasen multipurpose nuclear submarines (ISSAPL) is being conducted at a much lower speed. In Russia, a unique situation is emerging when SSBNs in the fleet will be larger than SSBNs. Is it possible to build SSBNs at an accelerated pace, interrupting the construction of SSBNs? Far from being a fact - different shipyards, different design bureaus. Conversion to another type of submarine will require a lot of time and money.
But there is an option - the continuation of the construction of the Boreyev series in the SSGN version - a nuclear submarine with cruise missiles. Earlier, we considered this option, and saw that SSGNs can be very useful for the Russian Navy, both for countering large aircraft carrier and ship groupings of a potential enemy, and for delivering massive strikes against the enemy's armed forces and infrastructure. In fact, the Borei-class SSGNs will be able to replace the relatively highly specialized Project 949A SSGNs at a new level (some of which may be upgraded to more versatile 949AM SSGNs). Now we can say that the possibility of building, at least a limited series, Project 955K SSGN is really being considered by the Russian Navy.
The continuation of the construction of SSGNs on the basis of Project 955 will not only equip the Navy with sufficiently effective combat units, but also reduce the cost of each individual submarine due to the greater serial construction. In addition, an important advantage of building SSBN / SSGN based on one project (955A) will be the almost complete indistinguishability of their visual and acoustic signatures for the enemy. Accordingly, by organizing paired access to combat duty of SSBNs and SSGNs, we double the load on the enemy's Navy to track SSBNs. Any resources are not limitless, and it is far from a fact that the US / NATO will have enough strength to reliably track all SSBNs / SSGNs of the Russian Navy.
How effective is this solution? Let's face it - building a powerful balanced fleet is better, but you have to work with what you have. The construction of Project 955 (A) SSBNs has been debugged by the industry and is proceeding without delays; it can be expected that the Project 955K SSGNs will be built at no less high rates.
Another factor that can significantly increase the load on the enemy's navy may be an increase in KOH to a level of at least 0, 5. For this, it is necessary to ensure prompt maintenance and routine maintenance of SSBNs / SSGNs at the base, as well as the presence of two replacement crews for each submarine …
In turn, the enemy will have to keep several multipurpose nuclear submarines on duty near Russian bases all year round to track the exit and escort our SSBNs. In the absence of information about when and how many simultaneously our SSBNs can simultaneously go out on a campaign, the number of US / NATO nuclear submarines required for guaranteed escort will have to be 2-3 times higher than the number of SSBNs we have.
If the US / NATO can still scrape together 14-21 nuclear submarines for 7 SSBNs, then for 12 SSBNs 24-36 nuclear submarines are needed. In the case of the construction of SSGNs based on SSBNs in the amount of 6/12 units, the number of nuclear submarines required to accompany them will already be 54/72 - 72/96 units, which is completely unattainable. Of course, aviation and the surface fleet can also track SSBNs, but in this case, we will at least have an understanding that unhealthy enemy activity is being conducted in the SSBN patrol area, which will allow us to take appropriate measures.
Thus, if Project 955 (A) SSBNs become the basis of the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces, then the Project 955K SSGNs will become an effective weapon of the Strategic Conventional Forces, which, unlike the strategic nuclear forces, can and should be used in current and future limited conflicts. And the joint deployment of SSBNs / SSGNs in combination with replacement crews will significantly complicate the tracking of SSBNs / SSGNs by the enemy and increase the likelihood of their successful concealment in the depths of the oceans
Presumably, the new hope of the Russian Navy should be promising SSNS of the project "Husky" (ROC "Laika"), which should be produced in two versions - a hunter for enemy submarines and a carrier of cruise / anti-ship missiles.
Earlier in the network periodically there was information that the project "Husky" will be even more versatile, and it will be able to use not only cruise, but also ballistic missiles, the installation of which will be carried out on a modular basis.
This information is partly confirmed even now - this follows from the documents circulated at the meeting on the development of shipbuilding held at the Federation Council in 2019:
"The project of the nuclear submarine" Husky "(" Laika ") will use modules with anti-ship and ballistic missiles," - said in the materials.
The materials do not indicate what kind of ballistic missiles they will be, perhaps a "chilled" version of the Iskander complex, which has already received registration on aircraft in the form of the Dagger complex.
Logically developing the option with the construction of a large series of SSBNs / SSGNs based on a single project 955 (A / K), it can be assumed that an even more effective solution could be the creation of a single version of SSBN / SSGN / SSGN based on the Husky project. In this case, any nuclear submarine of the Russian Navy that is on duty can and should be considered by the enemy's navy as a carrier of nuclear weapons. A situation of uncertainty will arise as to whether the tracked nuclear submarine is a carrier of nuclear weapons, or a multi-purpose hunter. With a sufficient number of universal nuclear submarines, it will become practically impossible to identify carriers of nuclear weapons among them
The question arises, is it possible to make such a universal nuclear submarine, since SSBNs are much larger than SSNs in size? Let's try to consider this issue in more detail.
Rockets and dimensions
In the history of the construction of NATO SSBNs and the Russian Navy, several landmark projects can be distinguished that characterize the possibilities of building SLBMs and SSBNs of various sizes.
At one end of the scale are the giant Soviet SSBNs of Project 941 "Akula" ("Typhoon") with an underwater displacement of 48,000 tons! Their size is not a consequence of the gigantomania of the leadership of the Soviet Navy, but only a consequence of the inability of Soviet industry to create at that time SLBMs with the required characteristics, in acceptable dimensions. Placed on Project 941 SSBMs R-39 Variant SLBMs had a launch weight of about 90 tons (with a launch container) and a length of about 17 meters. At the same time, the characteristics of the R-39 SLBM are inferior to the characteristics of the American Trident-2 SLBMs, which weigh only 59 tons with a length of 13.5 meters.
At the other end of the scale, you can put the American SSBNs of the Lafayette project, or rather their third iteration, the Benjamin Franklin SSBNs, which have an underwater displacement of only 8,250 tons, which makes them smaller than most modern Soviet / Russian multipurpose nuclear submarines, whose submarine displacement often exceeds 12 thousand tons.
If at first the boats of this type carried 16 Poseidon SLBMs with a flight range of up to 4,600 kilometers, then later they were rearmed on the Trident-1 SLBMs, the maximum flight range of which was already 7,400 kilometers. The length of the Trident-1 SLBM is only 10.4 meters, with a mass of 32 tons. According to its characteristics, the newest Russian SLBM "Bulava" with a length of 12 meters and a mass of 36.8 tons is comparable to it.
Currently, the United States plans to deploy hypersonic weapons with conventional warheads on board Virginia-class attack submarines (previously discussed the deployment of these weapons on larger carriers - Ohio-class SSGNs). On the modernized Virginia-class nuclear submarines, a VPM (Virginia Payload Module) payload module is added, capable of accommodating up to 28 cruise missiles, increasing their total number on board the nuclear submarine to 40 units.
By 2028, it is planned to place a CPS hypersonic complex in the VPM module, which includes a C-HGB hypersonic glider with a conventional warhead on a two-stage launch vehicle. The biconical hypersonic glider of the CPS project is also expected to be used in the LRHW and HCSW projects of the ground forces and the US Air Force.
The estimated range of LRHW can reach 6,000 kilometers (according to other sources, 2,300 kilometers) with a block speed of more than Mach five, respectively, the CPS hypersonic complex of the Virginia nuclear submarine can have a similar range.
The length of the existing anti-ship missiles (ASM) 3M55 P-800 "Onyx" is about 8-8.6 meters, the length of the promising anti-ship missile 3M22 "Zircon" is supposedly 8-10 meters, which is comparable to the length of the SLBM "Trident", created at the end of 70 -s of the XX century - more than 40 years ago.
Based on this, it can be assumed that a promising SLBM with a range of about 8000 kilometers may well be created in dimensions that allow it to be placed on promising universal nuclear submarines of the Husky project or even on the upgraded ISSNS of project 885 Ash
Undoubtedly, the number of even small-sized SLBMs on board the SSNS will be much less than on a specialized SSBN, presumably no more than 4-6 units. During the construction of multipurpose nuclear submarines in a large series of 60-80 units, of which 20 units will be equipped with SLBMs, with 3-6 nuclear submarines on each SLBM, the total number of nuclear warheads in the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces will be about 240-720 nuclear submarines.
The creation of a universal nuclear submarine capable of carrying all types of weapons will ensure maximum stability of the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces without involving additional naval forces. Not a single existing and potential enemy will physically be able to track all nuclear submarines on duty, and the lack of information about which of them carries SLBMs will not provide a guarantee of their destruction during a sudden disarming strike. Thus, the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces will make a significant contribution to deterring a potential enemy from delivering a sudden disarming strike.
An even more significant advantage of placing SLBMs on universal nuclear submarines is the maximum implementation of the offensive capabilities of the Navy. For this, a promising SLBM should be able to launch from a minimum range of the order of 1000-1500 km. Moreover, if the dimensions of a promising SLBM do not allow it to provide a firing range that allows them to shoot "from the pier", that is, their maximum range will be, for example, about 6,000 kilometers, then this is absolutely uncritical in the context of the deployment of such SLBMs on universal nuclear submarines. An SSBN standing at the pier is in any case not a resident when the enemy delivers a sudden disarming strike, but the desire of Russian nuclear submarines equipped with SLBMs with a short flight time, to the shores of the United States, will rightly be regarded by the latter as a threat of a decapitation strike against them. Accordingly, in order to eliminate this threat, they will have to use significant anti-submarine and anti-missile forces already on their own, and not on our borders. And this, in turn, will simplify the deployment of our nuclear submarines, reduce the threat of a sudden disarming strike, and reduce the threat of a missile defense system to the ground component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces.
Thus, the promising naval component of the strategic nuclear forces will not only have significantly greater survivability, in the context of the enemy's ability to deliver a sudden disarming strike, but will also make it possible to turn the situation upside down, forcing the enemy to reduce its offensive capabilities by redistributing efforts to defend against a possible similar strike from our side
There is a possibility that an increase in the number of sensors in the world's oceans will lead to the fact that submarines will increasingly lose their stealth, which will require them to be able to quickly switch from stealth mode to an aggressive combat mode. Proceeding from this, it is necessary to maximize the capabilities of both SSBN / SSGN and SSNS to counter surface and submarine forces, as well as enemy aircraft. This is a large and interesting topic, which we will return to in a separate article.