The Project 09852 sub Belgorod, based on the 949A Oscar II-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarine, is slated to enter service with the Russian Navy in 2020. According to Russian media reports, it will be the first operationally deployed submarine capable of launching the nuclear-capable underwater drone “Poseidon,” alternatively referred to as an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), or simply an intercontinental-range, nuclear autonomous torpedo.
TASS news agency quoted Russian defense industry sources on March 6 as saying that the Project 09852 Belgorod will be the “the first carrier of Poseidon nuclear-capable underwater drones” and “is expected to assume combat duty in 2020.” Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the “first nuclear-powered submarine armed with this unmanned vehicle will be launched” in the spring of 2019. At the time, Putin did not specify the Russian nuclear-powered submarine class expected to carry the Poseidon.
Next to the Project 09852 sub, the Poseidon will also likely be carried by the Project 09851 submarine, reportedly a downsized variant of the Borei-class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, laid down in July 2014 at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, a port city on Russia’s White Sea. Refitting of the Project 09852 sub began in 2012. As the website Covert Shores reported in November 2018, the submarine, while crewed by the Russian Navy, will be operated by the Main Directorate Deep Sea Research (GUGI) organization.
There is some speculation as to the maximum number of Poseidon torpedoes carried by either submarine. “Two Poseidon-carrying submarines are expected to enter service with the Northern Fleet and the other two will join the Pacific Fleet,” a Russian defense industry source told TASS news agency on January 12. “Each of the submarines will carry a maximum of eight drones and, therefore, the total number of Poseidons on combat duty may reach 32 vehicles.” Yet, as I explained last month:
Notably, while the source cites the total number of UUVs to be carried by each of the upgraded submarines at eight, past Russian sources noted that the Project 09852 boats will only be capable of carrying up to six UUVs, while Project 09851 submarines would accommodate up to four Poseidon UUVs. Given the purported size of the Poseidon UUV — twice the size of a submarine-launched ballistic missile — the latter number appears to be somewhat more realistic.
To date, a B-90 Sarov-class Project 20120 diesel-electric submarine has reportedly served as the Poseidon’s principal launch platform. The Russian Navy is expected to receive up to 30 Poseidon nuclear-tipped torpedoes/UUVs.