Russia to Arm Attack Submarines With New Long-Range Missile

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Russia plans to upgrade its fleet of Project 971 Akula-class multi-role nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) with 3M-54 Kalibr (NATO designation: SS-N-27A “Sizzler”) missiles, the head of the Russian Navy Training Department, Rear Admiral Viktor Kochemazov, told a Russian radio station in Moscow this week, Sputnik News reports.

“The Kalibr cruise missile is a highly efficient weapon as was amply proved by the recent launches from the Rostov-on-Don submarine. Kalibr missiles will be installed on the modernized Project 971 submarines,” Kochemazov said. The missile is “facing bright vistas in terms of further development,” he added.

The Rostov-on-Don submarine the admiral is referring to is an improved Project 636.3 Kilo-class (aka Vashavyanka-class) diesel-electric submarine purportedly one of the quietest diesel subs in the world. It is primarily designed for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface-ship warfare (ASuW).

On December 9 2015, the Rostov-on-Don launched four 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles from an underwater position in the Mediterranean against targets around near Raqqah in Syria. It is likely that the admiral was referencing the December 9 cruise missile strikes in his remarks.

The 3M-54 Kalibr is a supersonic cruise missile available in land-attack, anti-ship, and anti-submarine variants. It is specifically designed to evade active air defenses and electronic countermeasures.

The Russian Navy currently operates five Akula-class SSN’s in the Pacific and six in the Northern Fleet. These include Akula I, improved Akula, and Akula II variants of the class. How many of the vessels are in fact operational is uncertain. Some analysts estimate operational readiness of the Akula-class boats at somewhere between 40 to 70 percent.

Russia already announced last year that it intends to modernize and overhaul 12 multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarines by 2020 with six vessels currently undergoing refitting at the Zvezda shipyard at Bolshoy Kamen on Russia’s Pacific coast (See: “Russia to Upgrade 12 Nuclear Powered Subs”). Two Akula-class submarines, the Kuzbass and Magadan, are presently upgraded at Bolshoy Kamen that will extend the boats’ service life by 20 years. As I explained in March 2015:

One of the reasons for the modernization of the Akula, Sierra, and Oscar-class submarines are delays in the project 885 Yasen-class SSGN program. This 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 Russian Navy is also already working on the next generation of submarines.

The technical capabilities of the Russian submarine fleet appear to have already improved. Russian submarine combat patrols nearly doubled in 2015 on top of a 50 percent increase from January 2014 through March 2015.

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