On the secrecy of the Soviet SSBNs


In a previous article, we examined the pros and cons of the naval component of the triad of strategic nuclear forces. And they 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 arguments, which are generally correct, 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 nuclear retaliation in the event of a nuclear war. To solve this problem, the fleet must ensure the hidden deployment of a certain number of SSBNs on alert (BS) in full readiness for the immediate launch of a nuclear missile strike. Moreover, secrecy is the most important, fundamental advantage of the SSBN, without which the very idea of ​​submarines carrying strategic nuclear weapon completely meaningless.


Obviously, in order to be able to fulfill the deterrence function and, if necessary, to strike back at the aggressor, our SSBNs must carry out military service not detected, not taken for escort by multipurpose submarines and other anti-aircraft and naval reconnaissance equipment of our very probable opponents. If this condition is not met, then the SSBNs cannot serve as weapons of guaranteed retaliation and as a means of preventing nuclear war. They will be destroyed at the moment of aggression and will not have time to use their own nuclear weapons, so the enemy will have no reason for concern.

Can our Navy secure the secrecy of its strategic nuclear forces today? Due to the lack of relevant statistics in open sources, the author, not being either a submariner or even a military sailor, should rely on the opinion of professionals in this matter. Alas, pros often adhere to polar points of view on this issue, and it is extremely difficult to understand where the truth is all the same.

It is believed that, although our SSBNs periodically fell into the sights of the Los Angeles and Sivulfs, a considerable number 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 allegations: that neither in the USSR, nor in the Russian Federation could ensure secrecy of the SSBN. And that the American submariners on an ongoing basis monitored and continue to monitor our strategic submarines, being ready to immediately destroy the latter as soon as the order is issued.

What really happens, it is decidedly impossible for an outsider to understand from all this. But still, the author has an assumption, to a certain extent, “reconciling” these positions.

A bit of history


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


"Pike" of the project 671RTMK - B-138 "Obninsk"

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

So, even the most pessimistic estimates of the noisiness of our 3-generation multipurpose nuclear submarines suggest that our Pike-Bs, if they didn’t achieve it, were very close to the American indicators. Here, however, the range of opinions is also quite large. There are allegations that Pike-B surpassed Los Angeles and caught up with Improved Los Angeles, or that our submarine nuclear submarines even managed to surpass Americans in stealth. But there is an opposite opinion: that the lag nevertheless remained, and in terms of low noise “Pike-B” did not even reach the “Los Angeles”. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the Shchuk-B series was constantly being improved, and the same Americans in their classification divide them into the 4 sub-series: 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 Shark II or Shark III nuclear submarines could still compete with Improved Los Angeles.


K-335 "Cheetah". "Pike-B" of the 971 project in our opinion, "Shark III" in NATO

If you believe the American data, then "Pike-B" gained superiority over the "Improved" Los Angeles "already starting from the sub-series" Improved "Shark". This is what the naval analyst N. Polmar announced when he delivered a 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 the United States Naval Operations, Admiral Jeremy Burdu: “For the first time since we launched the Nautilus, a situation arose that the Russians in the sea have submarines that are quieter than ours.”

And if we assume that all of the above is at least partially true, then we can say that the USSR was gradually overcoming the lag in quietness from American atomarians. So, the main “Los Angeles” was transferred to the fleet in 1974, then an analogue comparable in noise to it, the first “Pike-B” - only in 1984. We can talk about the 10-year lag. But the first "Improved" Los Angeles "was commissioned in 1988, and the" Improved "Shark" Pike-B "in 1992, that is, the difference was already only 4 of the year.


In other words, the author does not have reliable data on the real noise ratio of domestic and American nuclear submarines. But the significant progress made by designers and shipbuilders of the USSR in reducing low noise in the 80's 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 "Improved" Los Angeles "- in 1992.

What about the SSBN? For a long time, our submarine missile carriers differed significantly worse than American submarines. This, alas, is true for the last representatives of the 2 SSBN of the 667BDR Kalmar project.


One of the last 667BDR - K-433 "St. George the Victorious." Currently awaiting disposal

But, as you know, after the Squid, the development of domestic naval strategic nuclear forces went in two parallel ways. On the one hand, in 1972, the design of the latest 3 generation SSBN, which became the "Shark" of the 941 project, was begun. But a little later, work was continued to improve the Squid, which led to the creation of the Dolphins project 667BDRM. What were these ships?

The heavy SSBNs of the 941 project became extremely famous due to their gigantic size and hitherto unprecedented firepower in the USSR Navy. More than 23 thousand tons of standard displacement and 20 powerful ICBMs. But with all this, it was the Sharks who became real, full-fledged representatives of the 3 generation of the SSBNs in which, like in the multipurpose Shchuky-B of the 971 project, a significant noise reduction was achieved. According to some reports, our 941 project SSBNs were slightly more noisy than their American counterparts Ohio, but less than Los Angeles (probably not advanced) and less than our Pike-B "(First sub-series?).


With this size it is possible to set the brains of world imperialism!

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

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

On the secrecy of the Soviet SSBNs

It is worth noting that the numbers indicated in the table can be safely shifted to the right by a year - the fact is that the SSBNs were mostly transferred to the fleet in the last days of December, that is, they actually went into operation the next year. And it can also be assumed that the latest ships did not immediately leave the shipyard for combat duty, but for some time mastered the fleet.

Then from the above figures it can be concluded that the Soviet Navy simply did not have time to properly feel the opportunities that the new and relatively low-noise SSBNs provided to it. In a somewhat noticeable amount, “Sharks” and “Dolphins” appeared in the fleet only in the second half of the 80's. But even in 1991 and 13 ships of these types accounted for only slightly more than 22,4% of all SSBNs of the USSR - at the end of 1991, the Russian Navy had as many as 58 strategic submarine missile carriers. And, in fact, only 10% of their total number - 6 heavy SSBNs of the 941 Shark project - really met the requirements of that time.

A bit about the enemy


In 1985, the basis of the American multipurpose submarine forces was the 33 submarine of the Los Angeles type.


Parent of the series - SSN-688 Los Angeles

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

Alas, in the beginning of the 90's the situation changed, and not in our favor. The Americans adopted an improved version of their already outstanding multi-purpose nuclear submarines, in which, among other things, they managed to significantly reduce noise. The first “Los Angeles Improved” atomic ship was handed over to the US Navy in 1988, during the 1989-1990 years it went into operation as 4, but still the mass arrival of these ships in the 1991-1995 years, when it was transferred to 16 Nuclear submarines of this type. A total of the U.S. Navy 1996 g inclusive received 23 such ships. And although the author cannot say this for certain, apparently, not one type of our SSBN 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 atomarians, but other SSBNs, including Dolphins, could hardly count on this.

It should be noted that the latest in the 80's “Sharks” and “Dolphins” replenished exclusively the Northern Fleet. The Pacific, on the other hand, had to be content with, at best, the 2 generation SSBN, such as Squid, or earlier episodes.

A little thought


In general, the situation from the author’s sofa looks something like this. From the moment of their appearance and before the commissioning of the ships of the 667BDRM and 941 project, our nuclear submarine-based SSBNs had noise levels that did not allow them to overcome the boundaries of the NATO PLO and enter the ocean. Our ships were too noticeable to throw them against a whole anti-submarine system, including 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 underwater ballistic missile launchers was to place them in the so-called "bastions" —the areas of dominance of the USSR Navy, where the presence of surface and air forces of the NATO PLO was, if not completely excluded, then extremely difficult. Of course, we could build such "bastions" only in the seas adjacent to our borders, so such a concept could appear only after ballistic missiles of the corresponding range appeared on the arsenal of the SSBN.

Thanks to this decision, we removed the SSBN patrol areas from the range of the enemy’s PLO system to our area of ​​similar purpose. Thus, the combat stability of the strategic nuclear forces has obviously increased significantly. But, nevertheless, our SSBNs of the 1 and 2 generation, even in the "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 80-ies of the last century, when the Dolphins and Sharks entered the arsenal of the Northern Fleet in a noticeable amount.

The author suggests that in the second half of the 80's, the Northern Fleet provided for the secret deployment of SSBN projects 941 and 667BDRM. Yes, it is possible that even the Shark was not able to avoid contact with the American multipurpose nuclear submarine, but the whole point is that reducing the noise of the SSBN is an extremely important factor even if it is not possible to achieve superiority or at least equality in terms of this indicator with the enemy’s nuclear submarines. And here it is.

The lower the noise of the SSBN, the smaller the distance of its detection. And the capabilities of the US nuclear submarines to search in the same Barents Sea were largely limited to the Soviet anti-aircraft defense system, which included many surface and submarine ships, planes and helicopters. In the 80s, Los Angeles met “black holes” in northern waters - diesel-electric submarines of the 877 project “Halibut”, BODs of the 1155 project, equipped with a monstrous mass (about 800 t) but also a very powerful Polyn ", Multi-purpose" Pike "and" Pike-B ", etc. All this did not exclude the passage of "moose" to the "bastion", but still seriously limited their search capabilities. And the low noise of the SSBN, combined with the difficulties that the Soviet anti-aircraft defense system created for the Americans, reduced the likelihood of such a meeting to acceptable values ​​for us.

Moreover, 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 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 true) data, under favorable weather conditions, Dolphins can be detected by the Superior Los Angeles submarine at a distance of up to 30 km. But these favorable conditions in the north are approximately a month in a year. And in the remaining 11 months, the detection distance of "Dolphin" does not exceed 10 km or even less.


K-407 Novomoskovsk - representative of the 667BDRM project

Obviously, finding “The shark was even more difficult. The opinion was already mentioned above that the “Sharks” defeated the Shchuk-B in low noise. At the same time, American Admiral D. Burda, when he was the chief of the operational headquarters of the US Navy, claimed that the American nuclear submarines were not able to detect the Pike-B if the latter was moving at the speed of 6-9 knots. And if the heavy SSBN could move even quieter, then it would be extremely difficult to detect it even for the latest American atomarians.

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

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

2. Very poor “acoustic transparency” of the northern seas.

3. The latest relatively low-noise submarine missile carriers "Dolphin" and "Shark".

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

A little disaster


And then came 1991 and everything crumbled. With the collapse of the USSR, the great fleet of the Country of Soviets found itself in a joke - the country had no funds for its maintenance and operation. This led, first of all, to the fact that our "bastions" essentially ceased to be such: the areas of dominance of the former Soviet and then the Russian Navy turned into nothing in five minutes. The warships stood idle at the piers, sent for scrap or to the reserve, from which the road was only for scrap. Airplanes and helicopters quietly rusted at airfields.

These "new trends", apparently, quickly put an end to the ability of the Pacific Fleet to somehow cover up their own SSBNs. Most likely, the way to the ocean “Squid” was ordered back in Soviet times, but now a critical weakening of the defense of the Pacific “bastion” combined with the appearance of the enemy even more advanced and low-noise atomic “Improved Los Angeles” and “Sivulf” led to that the "bastion" has become the hunting ground of American submariners.

As for the Northern Fleet, here too the crews of our “strategists” could rely mainly only on themselves. The author assumes that for the Dolphins of the 667BDRM project, such conditions became a five-minute death sentence.

Of course, if we assume that “Los Angeles” under normal conditions of the northern seas could detect “Dolphin” at a distance of 10 km, then in a day the American nuclear submarines, following the “low-noise” 7 nodes, could control approximately 6 216 sq. km This amounts to only 0,44% of the total area of ​​the Barents Sea. And we must also take into account that if the SSBN diverged with the "moose" only 12-15 km, then the "Dolphin" will cross the zone "controlled" by the American submarine, previously remaining undetected.

Everything seems to be fine, but only the calculation of “0,44%” works only if the Americans had a large Barents Sea and the SSBN could be located anywhere. But this is not so - in the USA the basing points of our SSBNs are well known and it is enough for American submariners to control the approaches to the bases and the probable deployment routes of our strategic submarines. Thus, US nuclear submarines significantly narrow down their search areas, and there are not too many chances that the SSBN of the 667BDRM project will be able to enter the duty area unnoticed. But even in these areas, the Dolphin crews are unlikely to feel safe: there are no more powerful general forces capable of detecting and hampering the actions of American nuclear submarines. And the Dolphin itself can hardly counter anything with the modern enemy nuclear submarines. As mentioned above, the SSBN of the 667BDRM project is a transitional type of nuclear submarine from the 2 to the 3 generation. And he needs to “dodge” from the atomarians of the 3-th (Los Angeles), the improved 3-th and now even the 4-th generation (Sivulf and Virginia). This is about the same as putting up against the Su-35 or Su-57 something like the MiG-23MLD or MiG-29 of the first series. Or try on the upgraded Phantom or Tomcat F-14A to fight against the F-22, if you like.

Apparently, in the 90's, only the TRNKSN of the 941 Shark project could solve the problem of nuclear deterrence. Yes, there were no "bastions" anymore, and the Shark was inferior to the latest American nuclear submarines in terms of low noise, but all the same, in order to detect this type of underwater missile carrier it was necessary to approach it literally several kilometers. Probably, in a number of cases, American submariners were able to take the SSBN for escort. But it is extremely doubtful that even Uncle Sam’s powerful submarine fleet would be able to build a sufficiently “strong” submarine “net” outside the zones of their submarine systems in order to guarantee that the 941 projected SSBN is in sight.

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


"The Last of the Mohicans" of the 941 project is Dmitry Donskoy. Alas, the times when the salvo of his 20 R-39 missiles was able to wipe off the top two dozen largest cities in any country in the world

But, as you know, we destroyed the ships of the 941 project ourselves. Of the six TRPCNS of this type, three were withdrawn from the fleet in 1996-97. The rest themselves “retired” in 2005-2006. due to the expiration of storage periods of their main main weapon - SLBM R-39. And as a result, the nuclear containment task fell on the shoulders of the Dolphins. Which, frankly, in the 90s of the last century were only partially suitable for this, and in the 2000s they are already frankly outdated.

Few conclusions


Everything is quite simple here.

For a long time, the domestic strategic nuclear forces were very vulnerable to enemy influence: a significant part of them could really be destroyed at the very beginning of the 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 a factor of operational voltage equal to 0,2, we get an 11-12 SSBN in combat service at any given time. And even if up to 70-80% of this amount was controlled by US multipurpose nuclear submarines, it should still be assumed that the Soviet 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 achieved only in the 80s of the last century, with the introduction of the 941 project into the SSBN. But only six such ships were built, and they did not last long. At the same time, the bulk of the Soviet and Russian SSBNs were ships of the 2 (and "2 +") generation, which could be relatively easily tracked and accompanied by multi-purpose US nuclear submarines. The latter, apparently, gave rise to many negative reviews about the inability of the Navy of the USSR and the Russian Federation to ensure the secrecy of its SSBNs.

Nevertheless, the experience in operating the “Sharks” of the 941 project shows that the SSBN, even slightly inferior in the overall technological level to the ships of the likely enemy, can still successfully fulfill the tasks of nuclear deterrence. The thing is that regardless of the noise ratio of our SSBNs and American nuclear submarines, if our strategic submarine cruiser is quiet enough that it is “easier to find than to hear,” it will be extremely difficult to find it even for the ultra-modern Virginia. In some cases, such SSBNs will, of course, be detected, but in some cases not.

In other words, even assuming that until now the Americans have managed to control 80-90% of all our SSBNs on combat duty (the author came across such estimates, which, however, are extremely doubtful), this does not mean at all that we should refuse 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 patrol.

But we will discuss this in the next article.

To be continued ...
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