The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Knyaz Vladimir (Prince Vladimir), the Russian Navy’s first upgraded Project 955A Borei II-class (“North Wind”) or Dolgorukiy-class boomer, has reportedly begun sea trials this month, according to Russian media reports. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has so far not publicly confirmed the commencement of this crucial testing phase of what is destined to be the Russian Navy’s most advanced missile submarine ever to enter service.
The Russian Navy is expected to take delivery of the Knyaz Vladimir, laid down in July 2012, in 2019, two years later than initially planned as a result of a contract dispute between the Russian MoD and the Severodvinsk-based Sevmash Shipyards. Compared to the original Borei-class, the Knyaz Vladimir will reportedly boast improved maneuverability and stealth capabilities, next to carrying extra submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs). As I wrote elsewhere:
In comparison to the Borei-class, Borei II[A]-class submarines are fitted with four additional missile tubes, boast smaller hulls and cons, and feature improved acoustics and lower sound levels, next to a number of other technical improvements.
Both variants of Borei-class subs will be armed with Bulava (RSM-56) [SLBMs]. The Borei-class [is] capable of carrying up to 16 Bulava [SLBMs], whereas the improved Borei II-class can carry up to 20 ballistic missiles.
Bulava (NATO reporting name SS-NX-30 or SS-N-32) SLBMs are each armed with six to 10 nuclear multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads yielding 100 to 150 kilotons apiece, as well as 10 to 40 decoys. The Borei-class SSBN Yuri Dolgoruky last test fired four Bulava SLBMs from a submerged position in the White Sea off the northwest coast of Russia on May 22. The lead boat of the class primarily serves as testing platform for the Bulava and has far not conducted any deterrence patrols.
The new boomer is the first of a planned fleet of five Borei II-class SSBNs. Following the Knyaz Vladimir in 2012, two other improved Borei-class boats were laid down in 2014. Under the Russian government’s 2018-2027 state armament program, two yet to be named Borei II-class SSBNs, laid down in December 2015 and 2016 respectively, will be delivered to the service in 2026 and 2027.
“With the keel-laying of two more underwater cruisers, the number of Project 955 and Project 955A strategic submarines in the Russian Navy will rise to ten,” a Russian defense industry source told TASS news agency on November 30. “Five of them will be operational in the Northern Fleet and the other five in the Pacific Fleet.”
The Russian Navy currently operates three Borei-class SSBNs. The Borei-class SSBN Yuri Dolgoruky is in service with Russia’s Northern Fleet, while the remaining two – Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh — are deployed with the Russian Pacific Fleet. The latter two boomers have so far not test fired any Bulava SLBMs.