Exist historical a tale about how the Athenians in ancient Greece, wanting to bargain for themselves more benefits, and fewer obligations, sent an ambassador to Sparta, who was extremely sophisticated in rhetoric. He spoke to the Spartan ruler with a magnificent speech and spoke for an hour, incline him to the Athenian proposals. But the answer of the warrior king was brief:
“We forgot the beginning of your speech because it was a long time ago, and we did not understand the end because we forgot the beginning.”
So, in order not to elevate the esteemed reader to the Spartan throne, I allow myself to briefly list the conclusions of previous articles, which will form the basis of the proposed material.
1. The SSBNs, as a means of conducting a global nuclear war, are significantly inferior to the Strategic Rocket Forces by the criterion “cost-effectiveness”. However, the SSBNs are an indispensable political means of preventing such a war, since in the mass consciousness of Europe and the United States it is submarines with ICBMs on board that guarantee the inevitability of nuclear retaliation.
2. The SSBNs can serve as a means of nuclear deterrence only if their secrecy in combat services is ensured. Alas, according to open publications and the opinions of a number of naval officers, the secrecy of our strategic submarine missile carriers today is not provided at all, or, at least, is provided to a completely insufficient degree. This applies to all types of SSBNs currently in service. fleet, that is, the projects 667BDR Kalmar, 667BDRM Dolphin and 955 Borey.
3. Unfortunately, there is no certainty that the situation with the secrecy of our SSBNs will dramatically improve after the entry into operation of the most advanced nuclear submarine missiles of the Borey-A type.
If you try to translate all of the above into at least some numbers, you get something like the following.
Those entering the combat service of the Pacific Fleet’s SSBN were identified and accompanied by anti-submarine forces of our “sworn friends” in approximately 80% of cases. Moreover, this happened regardless of the route: whether the boats went into the "bastion" of the Sea of Okhotsk, or whether they tried to advance into the ocean.
The author does not have any reliable figures about such statistics of the Northern Fleet. But we can assume that the "disclosure" of strategic nuclear-powered ships at this theater was still lower. Here, in favor of our submariners, factors such as the presence of ice under which it was possible to hide, the difficulties of acoustic detection of submarines in the northern seas, as well as more modern types of SSBNs than those that were in service with the Pacific Oceanians worked. All this improved the secrecy of our "strategists", but still did not save these ships from regular "glare" by anti-submarine means of the Americans.
Let's try to figure out why this happened before, and is happening now. And also with what we do with all this.
About American PLO
I must say that in the interval between the two world wars in the United States they preferred to plan grand sea battles of battleships and aircraft carriers, but they did not seriously think about the threat from under the water. This led to enormous losses of the merchant fleet when the Americans entered the war - German submariners staged a real massacre off the coast of the United States.
The lesson taught by the dashing guys kriegsmarine, went for the American Navy for the future, and more sailors under the star-striped flag never made such a mistake. The attitude to Soviet submarines in the USA was the most serious, as evidenced by the scale of the anti-submarine defense deployed by the Americans. In fact, a long series of articles can be safely written about American means of PLO, but here we will confine ourselves to the shortest list of them.
It was a “network” of underwater hydrophones, the data of which were processed by special and computer centers. The most famous part of SOSUS is the anti-submarine line, designed to detect Soviet submarines of the Northern Fleet during their breakthrough into the Atlantic Ocean. Here hydrophones were deployed between Greenland and Iceland, as well as Iceland and Great Britain (Danish Strait and Farrero-Icelandic border).
But besides this, SOSUS was also deployed in other areas of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, including along the US coast.
In general, this system has demonstrated high efficiency against the 2nd generation nuclear submarines, and limited - against the 3rd generation nuclear submarines. Apparently, somewhat reliable identification of 4th-generation ships beyond the capabilities of SOSUS, so most of this system is mothballed today. SOSUS was a global submarine tracking system, but today it is outdated: as far as the author knows, the Americans do not plan to create a similar system at a new technical level.
It has two fundamental differences from the previous one. The first is that SOSUS is stationary, while SURTASS is mobile, since it is based on sonar reconnaissance ships (KGAR). The second difference from SOSUS is that SURTASS uses the active search mode. That is, at the very beginning of its development, the KGAR were equipped with a long (up to 2 km) antenna, consisting of hydrophones, and working in a passive mode. But in the future, the equipment of the KGAR was supplemented by an active, radiating antenna. As a result, SURTASS ships got the opportunity to work on the principle of “underwater radar”, when the active antenna emits low-frequency pulses, and a giant passive antenna picks up echo pulses reflected from underwater objects.
The KGARs themselves were relatively small (from 1,6 to 5,4 thousand tons) and low-speed (11-16 knots) ships that did not have weapons, except for hydroacoustic. The form of their combat use was military services, lasting up to 60-90 days.
To date, the SURTASS system, we can say, is minimized by the Americans. So, in the period 1984-90. It was built 18 KGAR type "Stalworth", in 1991-93. - 4 more types of “Victories”, and then, in 2000, the most modern “Impeccle” was put into operation. But since then, not a single KGAR has been laid in the United States, and most of the available ones have been withdrawn from the fleet. Only 4 ships of this class remained in service, three Victories and Impeccles. All of them are concentrated in the Pacific Ocean and appear only occasionally near our shores. But this does not mean that the idea of a sonar reconnaissance ship using sonar is outdated or vicious.
The fact is that the main reason for the reduction of the KGAR in the US Navy was the total reduction in the submarine fleet of the Russian Navy in comparison with the times of the USSR and an even greater decrease in the activity of our submarines in the late XX - early XXI centuries. That is, even those submarines that still remained in the fleet began to go into the ocean much less frequently. This, plus the improvement of other methods of detecting and tracking our submarines, has led to the fact that they refused to continue building ships of the Impekble type.
However, today in the United States, an unmanned sonar reconnaissance ship is being developed, and the Americans consider this an important direction in the development of their Navy.
Underwater and surface hunters
The American multipurpose nuclear submarines pose a huge danger to our submarine forces, both strategic and general. Throughout almost the entire 20th century, US submariners had a significant advantage both in the quality of their sonar systems and in the low noise of submarines. Accordingly, ceteris paribus, the Americans beat us in the distance of detecting Soviet nuclear submarines, both SSBNs and multipurpose ones.
In the 80s of the last century, the development of Soviet science and technology (as well as the successful operation to acquire Japanese high-precision machine tools) allowed us to significantly narrow the gap with the Americans. In fact, the third generation of domestic submarines (project 971 Schuka-B, project 941 Shark) were comparable in their capabilities with the American ones. In other words, if the Americans were still better, then this difference was not a death sentence for our submariners.
But then the United States created the 4th generation of atomarines, which began with the famous Sivulf, and the USSR collapsed.
For obvious reasons, work on improving submarines in the Russian Federation was slowed down. For the period 1997-2019, that is, for 22 years, the Americans put into operation 20 multipurpose nuclear submarines of the 4th generation: 3 Sivulfa and 17 Virginia. At the same time, the Russian Navy did not replenish with any ship of this generation: the Severodvinsk Project 885 and the three strategic Boreas of Project 955 are, so to speak, submarines of the 3+ generation, since hulls were used to create them backlogs and equipment of ships of previous series.
Most likely, the nuclear submarines of the 4th generation will become nuclear submarines of projects 885M (Yasen-M) and 955A (Borey-A). We can hope that they will be quite competitive with the American ones - at least in terms of noise and other physical fields, and perhaps in the capabilities of the hydroacoustic complex. However, the problem of confronting the American multi-purpose nuclear submarines persists: even if we manage to achieve quality parity with the Americans (which is not a fact), we are corrupted by the quantity. At present, it is planned to hand over to the fleet 8 MAPLs of project 885M in the period until 2027 inclusive. Seeing the existing pace of nuclear submarine construction, it can be argued that this is still a very optimistic scenario, the deadlines can easily go “to the right”. And even if a decision is made to lay some more Ashen-M, they will go into operation after 2027.
At the same time, withstanding the current pace of construction, the US Navy will have at least 2027-30 Virginia by 32. Given the three Sivulfs, the advantage of the US Navy in the 4th generation multipurpose nuclear submarines will exceed the 4: 1 ratio. Not in our favor, of course.
The situation could be corrected to some extent by non-nuclear submarines, but, unfortunately, we did not proceed with the large-scale construction of the Lada diesel-electric submarines, and the improved Varshavyanka project 636.3 are, although improved, but only ships of the previous generation.
In general, it can be said that this component of the US Navy anti-aircraft defense (although, of course, multi-purpose nuclear submarines are capable of performing many other functions) is actively developing and improving. It is not necessary to think that the Americans are “stuck” on one type of nuclear submarines - their “Virginia” are built in separate sub-series (Вloc IV), each of which has very significant changes in comparison with the ships of the previous “blocks”.
As for surface warships, today the US Navy and NATO have masses of corvettes, frigates, and destroyers that perform two important functions. First of all, it is the provision of PLO aircraft carrier, amphibious ship groups and transport convoys. In addition, surface ships can be used to maintain contact and destroy enemy submarines detected by other components of the PLO. However, in this capacity they have significant limitations, since they can act effectively either where the enemy is completely absent aviation (and other means of air attack, including land-based anti-ship missiles), or in the area of domination of their aircraft.
Air and space tools
It is well known that the main trump card of any submarine warship is stealth, and for many readers it is associated with low noise. But this, alas, is not so, because in addition to noise, the submarine “leaves” other “traces” that can be detected and decrypted using the appropriate equipment.
Like any other ship, the submarine leaves a wake mark. When it moves, waves form, the so-called Kelvin wedge, which under certain conditions can be detected on the surface of the sea, even when the submarine itself goes under water. Any submarine is a large metal object that forms anomalies in the magnetic field of our planet. Nuclear submarines use water as a cooler, which they are then forced to dump overboard, leaving thermal traces visible in the infrared spectrum. In addition, as far as the author knows, in the USSR they learned to detect traces of cesium radionuclides in seawater that arise where the atomarine passed. Finally, the submarine cannot exist in the information vacuum, it periodically receives (in some cases, and transmits) radio messages, so that in certain situations it can be detected by electronic reconnaissance.
According to the generally accepted opinion, to date, none of these methods does not guarantee the detection of a submarine and maintaining contact with it. But their complex application, with automatic processing of data and bringing them into a single picture, makes it possible to identify atomic and non-nuclear submarines with a high degree of probability. This is how the aerospace component of the US PLO is built: reconnaissance satellites monitor the expanses of the oceans, revealing what can be seen in optical and thermal imaging cameras. The data obtained can be updated by the latest Poseidon R-8A airplanes equipped with powerful radars, which are likely to be able to find "wave traces" of submarines, optoelectronic cameras for detecting a thermal trace, RTR systems, etc. Of course, the Poseidons also have hydroacoustic equipment, including discharged buoys, but, apparently, today all this is not so much a means of search as a means of additional exploration of underwater targets and keeping contact with them.
There are suggestions that in the USA they were able to develop and put into industrial production some new equipment, possibly using other physical principles to search for an underwater enemy than what was listed above. These assumptions are based on cases where US Navy aircraft “saw” the Soviet and Russian submarines, even in cases where the “classic non-acoustic” methods for detecting such did not seem to work.
Of course, the satellites and planes involved in the US anti-aircraft defense are supplemented by helicopters: the latter, of course, do not have such capabilities as the Poseidons R-8, but are cheaper and can be based on warships. On the whole, the effectiveness of the aerospace component of the US Navy anti-aircraft defense should be evaluated as extremely high.
And what do we do with all this?
First of all, we should understand and accept the real balance of power in the underwater confrontation between Russia and the USA. In other words, we need a detailed understanding of whether Russian 4th generation submarines can fulfill their inherent tasks in the context of counteracting the US Navy anti-aircraft defense or its individual components.
The exact answer to such a question cannot be obtained through reflection or mathematical modeling. Only practice will be the criterion of truth.
How can this be done? Theoretically, this is very simple. As you know, the Americans are trying to escort our SSBNs that go on combat duty, “attaching” to them multipurpose nuclear submarines. The latter follows the domestic missile carrier, in readiness to destroy it if the SSBN begins preparations for a nuclear missile strike. It is also obvious that the "hunter boat" following our strategic missile carrier is not so difficult to detect. To do this, it is enough to put a reliable "trap" at one or several points on the SSBN route - after all, we know it in advance. The role of the "trap" may well be performed by surface or submarine ships of the Russian Navy, as well as naval anti-submarine aviation. Enemy atomarina can not know in advance what, following the SSBN, he’ll get in some place ... well, for example, in the “field of miracles” that was “seeded” with sonar buoys in advance. As a matter of fact, this is exactly how the Soviet and Russian sailors revealed the facts of regular surveillance of our submarines.
It is very important that the first ships of the 4th generation, the SSBN of project 955A “Prince Vladimir”, the SSBN of project 885M “Kazan”, and the subsequent submarines, are 120% used as such “guinea pigs”, leaving as often as possible and longer on combat services. And in the north, and in the Far East. It is necessary to try all the options: try to quietly slip into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, go under the pack ice of the Arctic, into the "bastions" of the Barents and Okhotsk seas. And look for "spies" - the American MAPL, following our SSBNs and PLO aircraft "accidentally" found themselves nearby. Then, in all cases of detection of American “escort” - to understand in detail, calculate, determine at what exact moment the Americans managed to “catch the tail” of our ships, and why. And the most important thing! Understanding where exactly we are “piercing”, to develop and take retaliatory measures, up to the most radical ones.
Today in the open press there are a lot of statements about the secrecy of our submarines, both strategic and multi-purpose. Extreme, polar points of view can be formulated as follows.
1. The latest Borey-A SSBNs and Yasen-M SSBNs are at least equal and even superior to the best foreign counterparts, and are capable of solving all their tasks (nuclear missile deterrence for the former, destruction of the enemy’s ASG and submarine forces for the latter ) even in areas of dominance of the US Navy and NATO.
2. Modern methods for detecting submarines have reached such heights that the location of even the quietest ships of the Russian Navy, such as 636.3 Varshavyanka, Borey-A, Yasen-M, is no longer a secret for the US Navy and NATO. The movement of our nuclear submarines and diesel-electric submarines is constantly monitored both in the near and in the far sea zone, including under ice.
According to the author of this article, the truth, as usual, is somewhere in between, but we need to know exactly where exactly. Because knowledge of the real capabilities of our nuclear submarines and diesel-electric submarines will not only allow us to choose the optimal tactics for their use, but will tell us the correct strategy for building and developing the fleet as a whole. The most important task of the Russian Navy is to ensure nuclear deterrence and, if necessary, launch a full-scale nuclear missile retaliation strike. Accordingly, having determined the areas and the order of carrying out combat service of the SSBNs, at which their maximum secrecy is achieved, we will understand where and with what exactly the general purpose forces of the fleet should help them.
We will analyze this with a very simplified and hypothetical example. Suppose, according to statistics existing at the Pacific Fleet, our SSBNs in combat services were detected and taken for escort in 8-9 cases out of 10. It would seem - this is a sentence to our nuclear underwater shield, but ... maybe not. Perhaps such statistics arose because before that the Pacific had been serving on obsolete 2nd generation ships, and it is possible that with the introduction of the latest SSBNs, the result would improve significantly.
Suppose that the statistics of exits to military service showed: in 10 attempts to enter the ocean, the Borey-A type SSBN was found in 6 cases. Moreover, four times the Borea was “boarded” by the nuclear submarines, guarding the SSBN’s exit in neutral waters in the immediate vicinity of the military base, and in two other cases our missile carriers were discovered and “taken to the front” after they managed to go into the ocean unnoticed.
Obviously, in this case, we should focus on the means of detecting enemy submarines operating in our near sea zone, areas adjacent to the base of the SSBNs. We are talking about stationary hydrophones, sonar reconnaissance ships and light fleet forces, coupled with anti-submarine aircraft. Indeed, if we know the location of foreign hunter boats, it will be much easier to bring the SSBNs into the ocean past them and the frequency of SSBN detection by the enemy will significantly decrease.
But, perhaps, the practice of military services will demonstrate that the Borei-A are quite capable of going unnoticed into the open ocean, having successfully missed the US sentinel submarines. But already there, in the ocean, they are regularly detected by satellite and aerial reconnaissance forces. Well, then it is worth recognizing that the oceans are not yet for us (at least for a while), and focus on strengthening the "bastion" in the Sea of Okhotsk, considering it as the main area of military service of the Pacific SSBNs.
In theory, everything is simple. But in practice?
“Author, why are you breaking through the open door? - Ask another reader. “It is obvious that the methods you described for detecting American nuclear submarines that you described were used in the USSR and continue to be used in the Russian Federation.” What else do you want? ”
Yes, in general, a little. So that all the statistics obtained are carefully analyzed at the highest level, moreover, fears for “the honor of the uniform”, without fear of making a “politically incorrect conclusion”, without fear of trampling someone’s high-ranking callus. In order to find the optimal forms and areas of combat services (the ocean, coastal "bastions", areas under the ice, etc.) based on the results of the analysis. So that on the basis of the foregoing, specific goals and tasks will be determined that the general purpose forces of the fleet will have to solve to cover the deployment of the SSBN. For experienced naval analysts to convert these tasks into performance characteristics and the number of ships, planes, helicopters and other means necessary to ensure the combat stability of the naval component of strategic nuclear forces.
And so that on the basis of all this, the areas of priority R&D are finally determined and the shipbuilding program of the Russian Navy is formed.
But maybe all this is already being done, and right now? Alas, looking at how our state weapons programs are being formed, every year you doubt it more and more.
We are pompously building a series of the latest SSBNs, but we are frankly “slipping” on the minesweepers necessary in order to put submarines into the sea. We plan to build dozens of frigates and corvettes - and we “forget” about their power plants, planning to buy them in Ukraine or Germany, without localizing production in Russia. We really need the ships of the near sea zone, but instead of creating an easy and cheap corvette based on Project 20380, we begin to sculpt the Project 20385 missile cruiser from it without five minutes. And then we refuse the Project 20385 ships, because, you see, they are too the roads. The author completely agrees that they are too expensive, but, attention, the question is - why did the responsible people figure this out only after laying two ships on project 20385? After all, the high cost of their construction was obvious even at the design stage. Well, let's assume it's better late than never. But if we already realized for ourselves that 20385 is too expensive for a corvette, why then have we started building an even more expensive ship of project 20386?
And such questions can be asked a lot more. And the only answer to them will be only the growing conviction that the term “systematic”, without which a somewhat combat-ready navy is impossible today, is not applicable today to the construction of the Russian Navy.
In other words, the author has no doubt that the fleet will necessarily “break in” the latest Borei-A and Yaseni-M, will test their capabilities in practice, as they say, in conditions close to combat. But the fact that this valuable experience will be correctly used, that on its basis plans for R&D and construction of the Russian Navy will be adjusted, there are doubts, are very big.
To be continued ...