Submarine “Belgorod”: a massive submarine of the Russian Navy can set the stage for the “new cold war” in the oceans

The Belgorod was handed over to the Russian Navy earlier this month at the port of Severodvinsk, the country’s largest shipyard, Sevmash, said.

Experts say its design is a modified version of Russian Oscar II-class missile submarines, enlarged to accommodate the world’s first stealth nuclear-armed torpedoes and intelligence-gathering equipment.

If Belgorod can successfully add these new capabilities to the Russian navy, it could pave the way for a return to Cold War scenes under the ocean in the next decade, with U.S. and Russian submarines stalking and hunting each other in tense confrontation. off.

At over 184 meters (608 ft) long, the Belgorod is today the longest submarine in the ocean – longer than even the U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, which are 171 meters (569 ft) long.

Belgorod was launched in 2019 and was due to be handed over to the Russian Navy in 2020 after tests and trials, but they were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Russian state news agency TASS. The timing of the first deployment of the submarine is not specified.

“mega torpedo”

What distinguishes Belgorod from any of the nuclear submarines of the Russian fleet, and indeed from any nuclear submarine operated anywhere in the world, is its purpose.

Tass said the submarine will carry nuclear-capable Poseidon torpedoes under development, which are designed to be launched from hundreds of miles away and overcome coastal defenses by traveling across the seabed.

“This nuclear “megatorpedo” is unique in world history,” said an American submarine expert. H.I. Sutton wrote on his website Covert Shores. in March.

“Poseidon is a completely new category of weapon. It will change naval planning in both Russia and the West, leading to new requirements and new counter-weapons,” Sutton wrote.

Both US and Russian officials say the torpedoes could deliver warheads of several megatons, generating radioactive waves that would render stretches of the coast uninhabitable for decades.

In November 2020, Christopher A. Ford, then Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, stated that the Poseidons are designed to “flood U.S. coastal cities with radioactive tsunamis.”

An April report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) states that the Poseidons are intended as a retaliatory weapon designed to strike back at the enemy after a nuclear strike on Russia.

Belgorod will be able to carry up to eight Poseidons, according to the CRS report, although some weapons experts say its payload is likely to be six torpedoes.

Sutton wrote in 2019, Poseidon, expected to be 2 meters (6.5 ft) in diameter and over 20 meters (65 ft) long, “is the largest torpedo ever developed by any country”.

This is “thirty times more than a conventional “heavyweight” torpedo,” Sutton wrote.

Torpedo doubts

CRS reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin touted the Poseidons in a 2018 speech, stating, “They are quiet, highly maneuverable, and have virtually no vulnerabilities that an enemy could exploit.”

If they are armed with conventional warheads, Putin says, the Poseidons could be used against targets “including aircraft carrier groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.”

But there are doubts about these weapons and whether they will eventually be added to Russia’s arsenal.

“This technology is still in development, both torpedo and platform,” said Hans Christensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists Nuclear Information Project.

The Poseidon will not be ready for deployment until the second half of this decade, he said. CRS has stated that it does not expect Poseidon torpedoes to be deployed until 2027.

And Christensen points out that Belgorod itself is indeed a test vessel for future Khabarovsk-class nuclear submarines, the first of which could be launched this year.

“Ukraine is a reminder that advanced Russian weapons are not a silver bullet, but a reliability issue. There is every reason to believe that an intercontinental-range nuclear torpedo will have a lot of problems, ”said Christensen.

But other experts warn against any suggestion that the Poseidon submarine or torpedoes may not be as advertised.

Transferring impressions from the Russian ground and tactical air forces to Russian submarine and nuclear forces – in particular, impressions based on observing the execution of a rather bad plan in Ukraine – can lead to a dangerous underestimation of the capabilities of these Russian strategic forces. and opportunities,” said Thomas Shughart, a former US Navy submarine captain and now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security.

“It would be like watching Chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistanand then, as a result, to question the ability of its ballistic missile submarines to carry out their nuclear mission – a conclusion that US adversaries can only draw at their own peril.”

“Underwater game of cat and mouse”

The Belgorod may only be the first of four submarines that can carry Poseidon torpedoes, two of which are designed to serve in the Russian Pacific Fleet and two in the Northern Fleet.

Sutton or Secret Shores written in 2020 that the next three Poseidon-armed submarines, the aforementioned Khabarovsk class, “are likely to be the defining submarines of the 2020s because they represent a new and difficult adversary.”
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“Other navies are unlikely to emulate this, but they will want to counter it,” Sutton said of the Khabarovsk class. “The underwater game of cat and mouse, with US Navy and (British) Royal Navy hunter submarines chasing the Russians, could resume. Perhaps a new cold war is coming in the Arctic, North Atlantic and North Pacific,” he wrote.

While the Belgorod could be a future Poseidon test launcher, Sutton said the submarine would likely also be used as an intelligence-gathering platform.

“It will be manned by the Russian Navy, but operated by the GUGI, a secret organization of the Main Directorate of Deep Sea Research,” and will carry a number of midget submarines and submersibles “for secret special missions,” Sutton wrote.

In a press release earlier this month, the Russian shipbuilder highlighted Belgorod’s non-lethal capabilities, saying it opens up “new opportunities for Russia” to conduct “scientific expeditions and rescue operations in the most remote areas of the world’s oceans.”