The head of US Northern Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Mar. 23, 2023 that Russia could have its most powerful and quiet nuclear attack submarines on persistent patrols off either US Coast in the next two years.
USNI News reports that NORTHCOM commander Gen. Glen VanHerck said that the deployments of the Russian Yasen-class nuclear cruise missile attack boats have been deploying more frequently. VanHerck’s released his statement in response to questions from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on the threat of Chinese and Russian cruise missile submarines operating close to the US.
“[The risk is] absolutely increasing. Within the last year, Russia has also placed their [Yasens] in the Pacific,” he said. “Now not only the Atlantic, but we also have them in the Pacific and it’s just a matter of time – probably a year or two – before that’s a persistent threat, 24 hours a day. … That impact has reduced decision space for a national senior leader in a time of crisis.”
The Yasen class, Russian designations Project 885 Yasen and Project 885M Yasen-M (Russian: Ясень, lit. ’ash tree’, NATO reporting name: Severodvinsk), also referred to as the Graney class, are a series of nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines designed by the Malakhit Marine Engineering Bureau and built by Sevmash for the Russian Navy. Design work commenced in earnest in the 1980s with the first submarine built in the 1990s–early 2010s with commissioning in 2013. Two additional boats to modified (and slightly shorter overall) Yasen-M design were commissioned in 2021 and six more are under construction. Based on the Akula class and Alfa class designs, the Yasen class is projected to replace the Russian Navy’s current Soviet-era nuclear attack submarines. The Akula class is optimised for a hunter-killer role, whereas the Yasen class concept uses the platform as a nuclear guided missile submarine (SSGN).
The three current boats in the class are capable of a special quiet operations mode that make them difficult to detect in the open ocean. In 2018, the lead boat in the class, Severodvinsk, evaded US efforts to find it for weeks, according to press reports.
Navy officials have told USNI News that the service has become increasingly concerned with the efficacy of the Russian submarine force.
The growing ability of Russian submarines to operate undetected in the Atlantic pushed the Navy to reactivate US 2nd Fleet and create a command for anti-submarine warfare across the Atlantic in 2018.
According to Russian press reports, the Russian Navy has planned to build ten Yasen-class attack boats, with the fourth to commission later this year.
The Russians have also recently delivered two new strategic nuclear submarines.
In January, the Russian Navy commissioned the 24,000-ton Borey-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine Generalissimus Suvorov. In July, the Russian Navy delivered Belgorod – a strategic weapons platform fitted with school bus sized nuclear torpedoes that can be fitted with a 100-megaton nuclear warhead.
Photo credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation
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