What is the largest submarine ever built

"Belgorod" - Russia's new submarine with nuclear torpedoes

On April 23, the submarine K-139 of the Oscar II class was christened "Belgorod" in the Sevmash shipyard in the Nikolskoye estuary near Severodvinsk, Russia. "Belgorod" is the longest submarine in the world at 184 m, the displacement is 30,000 tons (submerged), which means that the nuclear submarines (SSBN / SSGN) of the Russian Typhoon class and the Ohio class of the US Marine outperforms. Already laid down in 1992, it took a total of 27 years to complete. In 2000, after the disaster with the previous boat K-141 “Kursk”, construction was interrupted for more than a decade.

K-139 belongs to Project 949A or "Antey", the 3rd generation of Russian nuclear submarines. Of these eleven ships built between 1982 and 1996, eight are still in use, two were scrapped, and the K-141 “Kursk” sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000. As the twelfth ship of this submarine type (SSGN) designed for the use of cruise missiles, the K-139 was revived for a new purpose with a modified design, continued in December 2012 as project 09852 and converted into a "special research and rescue submarine Boot "or converted to multifunction submarine.

The hull was expanded to include a dock for small and unmanned submersible vehicles (e.g. UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) and submarine rescue vehicles). The former attack submarine is now a nuclear-powered mother ship for up to eight underwater drones. She is supposed to expose underwater equipment and conduct cable laying and inspections. To do this, it can piggyback or even take in smaller (autonomous) underwater vehicles. The autonomous underwater vehicle HARPSICHORD 2P-PM can be docked to the hull of the ship. There is also a station for carrying submarines up to 70 m in length (relevant circles mention projects 18511 and 10831 (LOSHARIK), both of which are nuclear-powered deep-sea diving devices that can be used up to 1000 m depth and are equipped with several robotic arms, which in appearance match the Russian KILO class remember).

According to the latest knowledge, one of the main tasks will be the transport and use of POSEIDON. This new weapon was announced by Vladimir Putin in his State of the Union address on March 1, 2018. At that time he still asked to participate in the naming.

With an “intercontinental” range of almost 10,000 km at a top speed of approx. 100 km / h (54 knots), POSEIDON, as the weapon is now called, is able to bring its load to the target over a very long distance. Based on technical drawings that were presumably leaked on purpose and the evaluation of some test images published by the Russian Defense Ministry, POSEIDON measures around 24 m in length and 1.6 m in diameter. The sketches show a warhead about 4 m long and 1.5 m in diameter, the details of the explosive power range from 2 to 100 megatons. The "Belgorod" is said to have six such POSEIDON. The extent to which reloading is possible (which would require further charging (s)) is currently not known.

In addition to the use of POSEIDON, education will be an essential part of his tasks. The circulating sketches show the device for a towed array sonar. In addition, HARMONY will probably be used, a sensor network for submarine detection that the Russian military wants to station in the Arctic - similar to the SOSUS sonar network of the U.S. Navy.

"Belgorod" can deploy sensors under ice and use its UUV or device to place sensors powered by underwater atomic generators. Pictures also show a type of towing equipment, presumably to lay underwater cables. In addition, spots can be seen that suggest the use of jet propellers, which allow the boat to maneuver even in tight spaces, or to hold it in position for precision work. The diving depth is said to be approximately 520 m (1,700 feet).

As with the other reconnaissance ships, the command and operational tasks are to be carried out by Glavnoye Upravlenie Glubokovodsk Issledovanii (GUGI), the largely secret operating department for underwater research within the naval command staff in the Ministry of Defense. Because of its strategic importance, it is conceivable that operational command over "Belgorod" lies directly in the Kremlin, that is, with the President.

With POSEIDON, Russia expects to strengthen its second strike capacity. Possible targets are carrier groups and infrastructure close to the coast. In March 2018, Vladimir Putin informed the Russian and international public about his plans to strengthen Russian military response capabilities in response to American plans to deploy in Poland and Romania. He had several videos shown about innovative weapon systems - including the torpedo now known as POSEIDON. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed to journalists in March 2019 that the tests with POSEIDON had been successfully completed. The training of the personnel of the carrier vehicle has been completed (note: the crew strength should amount to 25). According to Russian media, the testing phase should be completed in 2019, so that it can be expected to be commissioned by the Navy in late 2020.

Analysts speculate whether another OSCAR II class ship should also be converted, or whether the "Belgorod" will remain the only boat of its kind. There are also still ambiguities with regard to the names and categorization. POSEIDON is also known under the code name KANYON or as STATUS-6 - sometimes as a torpedo and sometimes as an underwater drone. The situation is similar for deep-sea UUV. Both LOSHARIK and PALTUS and both options are listed here, with PALTUS also being referred to as HALIBUT. Relevant western expert groups differ in part from those from other regions of the world.

There remains a certain amount of skepticism about both the overall project and the super torpedo. One of the significant challenges will be evacuation from enemy reconnaissance with such a large weapon system. The requirements for command skills are also of elementary importance, especially in the case of such a far-reaching torpedo with nuclear potential, because one might want to break off the attack or change target.

Its devastating effect when deployed near the coast is worrying. In addition to the direct hit effects, secondary effects from tsunamis are conceivable - here we think of Fukushima.

Ultimately, such a weapon also opens a new chapter in the nuclear weapons control regime.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the construction of strategic submarines suffered a slump for budgetary reasons. As a result of the "Kursk" incident, development and construction stagnated again. With the projects 955 (BOREI class) and 885 (GRANEY class), nuclear-powered SSBN (BOREI) and SSGN (GRANEY) have been running again since 2008, with construction number 1, the "Severodvinsk", from the keel-laying in 1993 to the launch in 2010 had to serve some time. It was put into service in the summer of 2014.

Russia is opening a new chapter in naval warfare with such a submarine mothership. Technological advantages no longer speak in favor of submarines to the same extent as before. Added to this are the advances in the techniques and methods of fighting submarines. The use of big data, the combination of a variety of sensors that, to take just one example, are able to record the radiation released by submarine reactors, require new approaches. At the same time, it becomes more expensive to make the submarines quieter or to camouflage them better. Submarines that can linger in the depths or even close to the seabed and operate there can evade detection. If the use of weapons succeeds, for example via POSEIDON, traditional maritime warfare underwater would experience a paradigm shift. So is the principle of nuclear deterrence.

André Forkert and Hans Uwe Mergener