Groundhog Day: ‘Russia Developing 5th Generation Sub’
Russian Yasen-class submarine Severodvinsk (K-329)
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Groundhog Day: ‘Russia Developing 5th Generation Sub’


Russia is in the process of developing its next-generation of nuclear submarines, TASS reported last week. According to Vladimir Dorofeyev, CEO of Malakhit Marine Engineering Design Bureau in St. Petersburg, his company is working on a new submarine based on a “network centric system” in accordance with the Russian military’s bold 2050 shipbuilding plan:

The work on the fifth generation of submarines is already underway. The project will be implemented after the Yasen nuclear submarine construction project is completed.

Periodic announcements by Russia’s shipbuilding industry that it is working on a next-generation submarine have been made repeatedly over the past couple of years.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

In any case, waiting for the completion of the Yasen project could take a while. The 13,800-ton, 390-foot long and highly automated Yasen-class of Russian attack submarines was supposed to replace older Soviet-era multi-purpose nuclear submarine models by 2020.

Yet, the exorbitant costs of the submarines — estimated to be twice as much as the new Borei-class SSBNs – has so far led only to the commissioning of one out of eight SSGNs, with a further three to four vessels likely to be completed by 2020.

The first of six Yasen-class multi-purpose attack nuclear submarines (SSGN) projected to enter service in the Far East over the next ten years will join the Pacific Fleet in 2017 at the earliest. Russia’s Northern Fleet currently operates one Yasen-class SSGN, the K-329 Severodvinsk, but was projected to receive six SSGNs of this class by 2020, which, given the current status of the Yasen-class program seems highly unlikely.

Due to these delays, the Russian Navy decided that it will upgrade ten project 971 SSN Akula-class and project 949A SSGN Oscar-class II nuclear-powered submarines by 2020 (see: “Russia to Upgrade 10 Nuclear Submarines by 2020”).

Very little information is available about the likely features of Russia’s fifth-generation sub. Back  in 2013, the Malakhit Design bureau announced that it will be equipped with new stealth features, new noise reduction technology, automated control systems, reactor safety, and long-range weapons.

In last week’s interview, Dorogeyev, however cautioned that not everything on the sub will be revolutionary new technology: “The reactor [of the subs] will be certainly based on new principles, but there will be no revolution, and it is not needed after all.” He is also paraphrased as saying that the “boats’ dimensions and speed, although remaining significant parameters, will cease to be of prime importance.”

Given the current financial constraints of the Russian armament industry and the general dissatisfaction with the Yasen-class, the new fifth-generation sub will in all likelihood be smaller, and carry fewer missiles, in comparison to the Yasen-class SSGNs.

As I have written before, Admiral Vladimir Chirkov, the Russian Navy’s commander-in-chief, said in March of this year that there will be no pause in the design and construction of Russia’s next generation underwater strike force.

“We have formulated the task for the defense and industrial sector to develop fifth-generation submarines. This work is ongoing. There will be no pauses in the development and designing of new submarines,” he noted.

According to Chirkov, this is due to the, “objective timeframe and the cyclical nature of the use of ships and submarines, and also the swift advance of ship-building technologies and scientific and technical progress in the field of submarine-building (…) This process is accompanied by the work to maintain the combat readiness of existing-project strategic nuclear submarines and their basic armaments.”

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief