On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs

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On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs
On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs

Video: On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs

Video: On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs
Video: French Navy launching it's first E-2C Hawkeye and Rafale's towards Eastern Europe 2023, November

In the last article, we examined the pros and cons of the naval component of the triad of strategic nuclear forces. And we came to the conclusion that the strategic missile submarine cruisers (SSBNs) of the Russian Federation are absolutely necessary both now and in the foreseeable future. But all these, generally correct, reasoning will become meaningless and insignificant if it is not achieved …

SSBN stealth in combat services

The key task of the Russian Navy should be considered participation in strategic deterrence and ensuring nuclear retaliation in the event of an atomic war. To solve this problem, the fleet must ensure the covert deployment of a certain number of SSBNs on alert (BS) in full readiness for an immediate nuclear missile strike. At the same time, secrecy is the most important, fundamental advantage of SSBNs, without which the very idea of submarines carrying strategic nuclear weapons completely loses its meaning.

Obviously, in order to be able to perform the function of deterrence, and, if necessary, to strike back at the aggressor, our SSBNs must carry out combat service by undetected, unaccompanied multipurpose nuclear submarines and other ASW and naval reconnaissance assets of our very likely adversaries. If this condition is not met, then SSBNs cannot serve as a weapon of guaranteed retaliation and a means of preventing nuclear war. They will be destroyed at the start of the aggression and will not have time to use their own nuclear weapons, so the enemy will have no reason to fear.

Can our Navy today ensure the secrecy of its strategic nuclear forces? Due to the lack of relevant statistics in open sources, the author, being neither a submariner, nor even a naval sailor, should rely on the opinion of professionals in this matter. Alas, the pros often adhere to polar points of view on this issue, and it is extremely difficult to understand where the truth is.

It is believed that, although our SSBNs periodically fell on the guns of the Los Angeles and Seawulfs, a considerable number of them managed to avoid unnecessary attention from the US Navy and NATO. And that was enough to guarantee nuclear retaliation in the event of a sudden Armageddon. But there are, alas, other statements: that neither the USSR nor the Russian Federation could ensure the secrecy of the SSBN. And that American submariners have been tracking and continuing to track our strategic submarines on an ongoing basis, ready to immediately destroy the latter as soon as the order is given.

What is actually happening, it is absolutely impossible for an outsider to understand from all this. But nevertheless, the author has an assumption that to a certain extent "reconciles" these positions.

A bit of history

To begin with, it is worth remembering that the USSR was losing for a long time in the "low-noise race" - domestic nuclear submarines were much inferior in this indicator to our "sworn friends". The situation began to level off on the latest 2nd generation multipurpose nuclear-powered ships. The same Americans noted that Russian nuclear submarines of the Victor III type (Project 671RTMK Shchuki) are noticeably quieter than the previous types of Soviet submarines, so that the gap in this indicator between them and the US nuclear submarines has significantly narrowed.


The situation was even better with the 3rd generation multipurpose nuclear submarines "Shchuka-B", or "Shark", according to NATO classification. This predator should not be confused with the heavy SSBNs of Project 941, which was also called "Shark", but in the USSR and the Russian Federation. In NATO, these TRPKSNs were called "Typhoons".

So, even the most pessimistic assessments of the noise level of our 3rd generation multipurpose nuclear submarines indicate that our Shchuk-Bs, if they have not reached, are very close to the American indicators. Here, however, the range of opinions is also quite large. There are claims that the Pike-B surpassed the Los Angeles and caught up with the Improved Los Angeles, or that our nuclear submarines even managed to surpass the Americans in stealth. But there is also the opposite opinion: that the lag is still preserved, and in terms of the low noise level of the Pike-B, they did not even reach the Los Angeles. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the Shchuk-B series has been constantly improving, and the same Americans in their classification divide them into 4 subseries: Shark, Improved Shark, Shark II and Shark III. moreover, the noise level of these submarines was constantly decreasing. So it cannot be ruled out that the ships of the first sub-series were inferior to the usual "moose", but the nuclear submarines "Shark II" or "Shark III" could still compete with the "Improved Los Angeles".


If you believe the American data, then "Pike-B" gained superiority over the "Improved Los Angeles" already starting with the sub-series "Improved" Shark ". This was exactly what the naval analyst N. Polmar announced in his speech to the US Congress in 1997. It should be noted that N. Polmar was not alone in this opinion: in his speech he quoted the Commander of US Naval Operations, Admiral Jeremy Burda: "For the first time since we launched the Nautilus, the situation has arisen that the Russians have submarines at sea that are quieter than ours."

And if we assume that all of the above is at least partially true, then we can state that the USSR was gradually overcoming the lag in low noise from American atomarines. So, the lead Los Angeles was transferred to the fleet in 1974, then the analogue comparable with it in terms of noise, the first Pike-B - only in 1984. We can talk about a 10-year lag. But the first "Improved Los Angeles" entered service in 1988, and the "Improved Shark" "Pike-B" - in 1992, that is, the difference was already only 4 years.

In other words, the author does not have reliable data on the actual ratio of the noise level of domestic and American nuclear submarines. But the significant progress achieved by the designers and shipbuilders of the USSR in reducing low noise in the 80s cannot be denied. And we can say that even according to the most pessimistic estimates, we approached the level of Los Angeles in 1984, and to the Improved Los Angeles in 1992.

And what about the SSBN? For a long time, our submarine missile carriers were distinguished by significantly worse performance than American submarines. This, alas, is also true for the last representatives of the 2nd generation SSBN of the project 667BDR "Kalmar".


But, as you know, after the "Kalmar", the development of domestic naval strategic nuclear forces went in two parallel ways. On the one hand, in 1972, the design of the newest SSBN of the 3rd generation, which became the "Shark" of project 941, began. What kind of ships were they?

Heavy SSBNs of Project 941 have become extremely famous due to their gigantic size and firepower unprecedented in the Soviet Navy. More than 23 thousand tons of standard displacement and 20 most powerful ICBMs. But with all this, it was the "Sharks" that became the real, full-fledged representatives of the 3rd generation of SSBNs in which, as in the multipurpose "Shchuky-B" project 971, they managed to achieve a significant reduction in noise. According to some reports, our project 941 TRPKSNs had a slightly higher noise level than their American counterparts Ohio, but less than Los Angeles (probably not improved) and less than our Pike-B "(First sub-series?).


But with "Dolphins" 667BDRM, things were much worse. That is, they, of course, turned out to be much quieter than their predecessors 667BDR "Kalmar", but, despite the use of many technologies of Project 941, "Dolphins" still "made noise" much louder than "Sharks". The ships of the 667BDRM project, in fact, cannot be considered submarines of the 3rd generation, they were rather transitional from the 2nd to the 3rd. Something like today's multifunctional fighters "4+" and "4 ++", whose performance characteristics are significantly superior to the classic aircraft of the 4th generation, but do not reach the 5th. Alas, the 667BDRM noise figures, according to the author, were also "stuck" somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd generations of nuclear submarines: they did not reach the standards of Project 941, not to mention Ohio.

And now it should be remembered that submarine carriers of ICBMs of the 3rd generation, both here and among the Americans, appeared relatively late, in the 80s of the last century. The lead "Ohio" and TK-208 of project 941 (later - "Dmitry Donskoy") were transferred to the fleet in 1981, later the number of "Sharks" and "Dolphins" in the USSR Navy grew as follows

On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs
On the secrecy of Soviet SSBNs

It should be noted that the figures indicated in the table can be safely shifted to the right by a year - the fact is that SSBNs were mostly transferred to the fleet in the last days of December, that is, they actually entered service next year. And it can also be assumed that the newest ships did not immediately leave the shipyard for combat duty, but were mastered by the fleet for some time.

Then, from the above figures, we can conclude that the USSR Navy simply did not have time to properly feel the opportunities that the new and relatively low-noise SSBNs provided it. In a somewhat noticeable amount, "Sharks" and "Dolphins" appeared in the fleet only in the second half of the 80s. But even in 1991, 13 ships of these types accounted for only a little more than 22.4% of all SSBNs of the USSR - as of the end of 1991, the Russian Navy numbered as many as 58 strategic submarine missile carriers. And, in fact, only 10% of their total number - 6 heavy SSBNs of Project 941 "Akula" - really met the requirements of that time.

A little about the enemy

In 1985, the basis of the American multipurpose submarine forces was 33 Los Angeles class nuclear submarines.


It can be assumed that ships of this type were able to detect first and maintain contact, remaining unnoticed, with any Soviet SSBN, possibly with the exception of the Sharks. If among the Soviet SSBNs there were those who had a chance to notice the enemy first and evade a meeting before they themselves were discovered, then these are the giants of Project 941.

Alas, in the early 90s the situation changed, and not in our favor. The Americans adopted an improved version of their already outstanding multipurpose nuclear submarine, in which, among other things, they were able to significantly reduce noise. The first atomarina of the "Improved Los Angeles" type was transferred to the US Navy in 1988, in the period 1989-1990 another 4 entered service, but still the massive arrival of these ships was already in 1991-1995, when 16 Nuclear submarines of this type. And the entire US Navy up to 1996, inclusive, received 23 such ships. And, although the author cannot say this for sure, but, most likely, not a single type of our SSBNs could "dodge" the "Improved Los Angeles". It can be assumed that the "Sharks" had good chances, if not to leave, then at least to detect the "surveillance" of modern American multipurpose atomarines, but other SSBNs, including the Dolphins, could hardly count on this.

It should be especially noted that the newest in the 80s "Sharks" and "Dolphins" replenished exclusively the Northern Fleet. The Pacific, at best, had to be content with the 2nd generation SSBNs, such as the Kalmar, or earlier series.

A little reflection

In general, from the author's sofa, the situation looks something like this. From the moment of their appearance and before the commissioning of the ships of the 667BDRM and 941 projects, our nuclear-powered SSBNs had noise levels that did not provide them with overcoming the NATO ASW lines and entering the ocean. Our ships were too visible to be thrown against an entire ASW system, which included stationary hydrophones and sonar reconnaissance ships, numerous frigates and destroyers, submarines, specialized aircraft and helicopters, and even spy satellites.

Accordingly, the only way to ensure the combat stability of our submarine ballistic missile carriers was to deploy them in the so-called "bastions" - zones of dominance of the USSR Navy, where the presence of NATO surface and air forces was, if not completely excluded, then extremely difficult. Of course, we could only build such "bastions" in the seas adjacent to our borders, so such a concept could appear only after ballistic missiles of the corresponding range appeared in service with SSBNs.

Thanks to this decision, we moved the SSBN patrol areas out of the reach of the enemy ASW system into our zone of a similar purpose. Thus, the combat stability of the NSNF has obviously increased significantly. But, nevertheless, our 1st and 2nd generation SSBNs, even in "bastions", remained vulnerable to enemy multipurpose nuclear submarines, which had a great advantage in low noise. Apparently, the situation dramatically improved only in the second half of the 1980s, when Dolphins and Sharks entered service with the Northern Fleet in some significant numbers.

The author suggests that in the second half of the 80s, the Northern Fleet provided covert deployment of SSBNs of projects 941 and 667BDRM. Yes, it is possible that even the Akula did not have the opportunity to evade contact with the American multipurpose nuclear submarine, but the point is that reducing the noise level of SSBNs is an extremely important factor even if it is not possible to achieve superiority or at least equality in this indicator with the enemy's nuclear submarine. And the point is this.

The lower the noise of the SSBN, the shorter the detection distance. And the capabilities of US nuclear submarines to search in the same Barents Sea were largely limited by the Soviet PLO system, which included many surface and submarine ships, aircraft and helicopters. In the 80s, "Los Angeles" in northern waters met "black holes" - diesel-electric submarines of Project 877 "Halibut", BOD of Project 1155, equipped with a monstrous mass (about 800 tons) but also very powerful SJSC "Polynom" ", Multipurpose" Pike "and" Pike-B ", etc. All this did not exclude the passage of the "moose" to the "bastion", but nevertheless seriously limited their search capabilities. And the low noise level of SSBNs, combined with the difficulties that the Soviet ASW system created for the Americans, reduced the likelihood of such a meeting to values acceptable to us.

At the same time, the concentration of the latest SSBNs in the north was absolutely justified for the USSR. The fact is that the northern seas are extremely unfriendly to acoustics, most of the time of the year the conditions for "listening to the waters" in them are extremely far from optimal. So, for example, according to open (and, alas, not necessarily correct) data, under favorable weather conditions, the Dolphins can be detected by the SJSC Submarine Improved Los Angeles at a distance of up to 30 km. But these favorable conditions in the north are about a month a year. And in the remaining 11 months, the Dolphin detection distance does not exceed 10 km or even less.


Obviously, finding “Shark was even more difficult. Above we have already mentioned the opinion that "Sharks" won in low noise from "Shchuk-B". At the same time, American Admiral D. Burda, when he was the chief of the operational staff of the US Navy, argued that the American nuclear submarines were not able to detect the Pike-B if the latter was moving at a speed of 6-9 knots. And if a heavy SSBN could move even quieter, then it would be extremely difficult to detect it even for the latest American atomarines.

And what about the Pacific Fleet? Alas, he was forced to be content with outdated types of SSBNs and could not ensure their covert deployment. In the north, we had three components of success:

1. Combat services SSBN in the zone of domination of the Soviet fleet.

2. Very poor "acoustic transparency" of the northern seas.

3. The newest relatively low-noise submarine missile carriers "Dolphin" and "Akula".

The Pacific Fleet had only the first item out of the above. And it is extremely doubtful that this would be enough to ensure the secrecy of such relatively noisy ships as Project 667BDR "Kalmar", not to mention the earlier representatives of this class of nuclear submarines.

A bit of disaster

And then 1991 came and everything fell apart. With the collapse of the USSR, the great fleet of the Land of the Soviets was laid up - the country did not have the funds for its maintenance and operation. This led, first of all, to the fact that our "bastions" in fact ceased to be such: the zones of domination of the former Soviet, and then - the Russian Navy turned into nothing without five minutes. Warships stood idle at the piers, were sent to scrap metal or to the reserve, from which the road was only for scrap metal. Airplanes and helicopters quietly rusted on airfields.

These "new trends", apparently, quickly put an end to the ability of the Pacific Fleet to somehow cover their own SSBNs. Most likely, the path to the ocean for the "Kalmar" was ordered back in the days of the USSR, but now the critical weakening of the protection of the Pacific "bastion" in combination with the appearance of the enemy even more advanced and low-noise atomarins "Improved Los Angeles" and "Seawolf" that the "bastion" has become a hunting ground for American submariners.

As for the Northern Fleet, even here the crews of our "strategists" could rely mainly only on themselves. The author suggests that for the "Dolphins" of the 667BDRM project, such conditions became a death sentence without five minutes.

Of course, if we assume that Los Angeles under normal conditions of the northern seas could detect the Dolphin at a distance of 10 km, then in a day the American nuclear submarine, following at the “low-noise” 7 nodes, could control about 6,216 square meters. km. This is only 0.44% of the total area of the Barents Sea. And we must also take into account that if the SSBN went with the "elk" only 12-15 km, then the "Dolphin" will cross the zone "controlled" by the American submarine before remaining undetected.

It seems that everything is fine, but the calculation “for 0.44%” only works if the Americans had the big Barents Sea in front of the Americans, and the SSBN could be located anywhere. But this is not so - in the United States, the basing points of our SSBNs are well known and American submariners only need to control the approaches to the bases and the probable deployment routes of our strategic submarine cruisers. Thus, the US nuclear submarines significantly narrow the search areas, and there are not too many chances that Project 667BDRM SSBNs will be able to enter the duty area unnoticed. But even in these areas themselves, the crews of the Dolphins can hardly feel safe: there are no more powerful general-purpose forces capable of detecting and hindering the actions of American nuclear submarines. And the Dolphin itself can hardly oppose the enemy's modern nuclear submarines today. As mentioned above, Project 667BDRM SSBNs are a transitional type of nuclear submarine from the 2nd to the 3rd generation. And he needs to "dodge" from the 3rd atomicine (Los Angeles), the improved 3rd and now even the 4th generation (Seawulf and Virginia). This is about the same as putting something like the MiG-23MLD or MiG-29 of the first series against the Su-35 or Su-57. Or try to fight the F-22 on a modernized Phantom or Tomcat F-14A, if you like.

Apparently, in the 90s, only Project 941 Akula TRPKSN could solve the problem of nuclear deterrence. Yes, there were no “bastions” anymore, and the Akula was inferior to the latest American nuclear submarines in terms of low noise, but all the same, in order to find a submarine missile carrier of this type, it was necessary to approach it literally a few kilometers. Probably, in a number of cases, American submariners managed to take TRPKSN for escort. But it is extremely doubtful that even the powerful submarine fleet of Uncle Sam managed to build a sufficiently "strong" underwater "seine" outside the zones of their ASW systems in order to guarantee to keep the Project 941 TRPKSN at gunpoint.

And just one "Shark", provided that its missiles are aimed at US cities - this is certain death for about 20 million people.


But, as you know, we destroyed the ships of Project 941 ourselves. Of the six TRPKSNs of this type, three were withdrawn from the fleet in 1996-97. The rest themselves "retired" in 2005-2006. in connection with the expiration of the storage period of their main weapon - the R-39 SLBM. And as a result, the task of nuclear deterrence fell on the "shoulders" of the Dolphins. Which, frankly speaking, in the 90s of the last century were only limitedly suitable for this, and in the 2000s they were already frankly outdated.

Few conclusions

Everything is quite simple here.

For a long time, domestic NSNF were very vulnerable to enemy influence: a significant part of them could indeed be destroyed at the very beginning of a global conflict. The task of nuclear deterrence was carried out rather due to the large number of SSBNs in the fleet. Indeed, having 58 ships of this class, even with an operational stress coefficient of 0, 2, we get 11-12 SSBNs in combat service at any given time. And even if up to 70-80% of this number was controlled by US multipurpose nuclear submarines, it should still be considered that the USSR Navy had 2-3, or even all 4 strategic submarines undetected and ready to launch a nuclear strike.

The combat stability of the SSBNs was ensured only in the 80s of the last century, with the commissioning of the TRPKSN of project 941. But only six such ships were built, and they did not last long. At the same time, the bulk of Soviet and Russian SSBNs were ships of the 2nd (and "2+") generation, which could be relatively easily tracked and accompanied by US multipurpose nuclear submarines. The latter, most likely, gave rise to many negative reviews about the inability of the Soviet and Russian navies to ensure the secrecy of their SSBNs.

Nevertheless, the operating experience of Project 941 "Sharks" shows that SSBNs, even somewhat inferior in the general technological level to the ships of a potential enemy, can still successfully carry out nuclear deterrence tasks. The point is that, regardless of the noise ratio of our SSBNs and American nuclear submarines, if our strategic submarine is quiet enough that it is “easier to find than to hear”, then finding it will be extremely difficult even for the ultra-modern Virginias. In some cases, such SSBNs, of course, will be found, but in some they will not.

In other words, even if we assume that until now the Americans managed to control 80-90% of all our SSBNs on combat duty (the author came across such assessments, which, however, is extremely doubtful), this does not mean at all that we should give up SSBN. It only means that we need to understand which ships of this class need to be built, where to base them, and how to ensure their deployment and combat patrolling.

But we will talk about this in the next article.