Russia’s most advanced attack submarine, the Severodvinsk class. (Navy graphic)
Print 91 Comments
Intel & Cyber, Sea, Strategy & Policy
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
on July 25, 2016 at 11:26 AM
WASHINGTON: The balance of power underwater is shifting against the West, warns a new report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Both Russian and NATO capabilities cratered after the Cold War, but the Russian submarine fleet is clawing its way back — and we’re not ready to face it, CSIS says. The US, its allies, and the Nordics need to invest in new technology, intense training, and, above all, closer cooperation to counter the resurgent threat.
Russian Kilo-class diesel attack submarine
How bad is it? Russia is still a shadow of its Soviet self. Its economy has plunged under sanctions and with the drop in oil and gas prices since 2014, its shipyards remain a rusty mess, and its submarine fleet is one fifth its Cold War size: CSIS counts just 56 operational subs today compared to 240 in 1991. Nevertheless, Moscow has rebuilt a small but capable cadre of professional sailors and modern submarines. A handful, such as the new Severodvinsk attack subs, are reportedly comparable to the US Virginia class in armament, stealth, and sonar.
This restored Russia sub force is also more active than it has been in decades. Patrols remain below Cold War levels, but suspected Russian subs have made politically pointed incursions into Swedish and Finnish waters, and approaches to the British sub base at Faslane, Scotland — incidents to which the Western countries struggled to respond.
“The organizations, relationships, intelligence, and capabilities that once supported a robust ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) network in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea no longer exist,” the CSIS study said bluntly.
“Two things have happened,” naval historian Norman Polmar told me. “One, their submarines are quieter, and, two, we have dismantled a large portion of our ASW capabilities.”
“Bottom line is yes, NATO ASW declined,” said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain now with Center for a New American Security, who wasn’t involved with the report but agreed with its primary premise. “We’re in a bad place as an alliance with regard to Russia’s underwater resurgence.”
So what does CSIS recommend, besides more spending? The primary points:
Institutional readiness: Strengthen NATO cooperation with Sweden and Finland, especially through the Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO) forum.
Intellectual readiness: Rewrite the 2011 Alliance Maritime Strategy to reflect the Russian threat and create a ASW “Center of Excellence” that can bring nations’ navies together to create “a common NATO playbook” for anti-submarine warfare.
Training readiness: Create an international ASW “Command, Weapons, and Tactics” course modeled on Britain’s famously tough “Perisher” school. Increase the number of intensive ASW exercises like the annual BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) wargames and 2015’s beautifully named “Dynamic Mongoose.”
Technological readiness: Develop an alliance standard for secure, encrypted transmission of ASW sensor data and set up a NATO data fusion center to share and integrate each countries’ sightings of submarines.