The Belgorod was delivered to the Russian Navy earlier this month at the port of Severodvinsk, according to the country’s largest shipyard, Sevmash Shipyard.
Experts say its design is a modified version of Russia’s Oscar II-class guided-missile submarine, built longer, with the ultimate purpose of arming stealthy nuclear-armed torpedoes. World’s first human and intelligence gathering device.
If the Belgorod can successfully add those new capabilities to the Russian fleet, over the next decade it could set the stage for a return to the scenes of the Cold War under the ocean, with submarines America’s and Russia’s track and hunt each other in tense-off faces.
At more than 184 meters (608 feet), Belgorod is the longest submarine in the ocean today – even longer than the US Navy’s Ohio-class guided and ballistic missile submarine, at 171 feet. meters (569 feet).
Russia’s TASS news agency reported that the Belgorod was commissioned in 2019 and was expected to be delivered to the Russian Navy in 2020 after trials and tests, but they were delayed by coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s state news agency TASS reported. There’s no timeline for the sub’s first rollout.
What sets Belgorod apart from any nuclear-powered submarine in the Russian fleet – or indeed from any nuclear submarine operating anywhere in the world – is its mission. .
TASS has reported that the submarine will carry the Poseidon nuclear-capable torpedo under development, which is being designed to launch from hundreds of miles away and bypass coastal defenses by traveling along the coast. along the seabed.
“Poseidon is a completely new weapon. It will reshape naval planning in both Russia and the West, leading to new requirements and new countermeasures,” Sutton wrote.
Both US and Russian officials say the torpedo can carry multi-megaton warheads, sending radioactive waves that make the target coastline uninhabitable for decades.
In November 2020, Christopher A. Ford, then assistant secretary of state for international security and nuclear nonproliferation, said the Poseidons were being designed to “flood the coastal cities of America with a radioactive tsunami.”
A report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) in April said the Poseidon was designed as a retaliatory weapon, designed to strike back at an enemy following a nuclear attack on Russia.
According to the CRS report, the Belgorod is capable of carrying up to 8 Poseidon, although some weapons experts suggest its payload is more likely to be 6 torpedoes.
It was “thirty times the size of a conventional ‘heavy’ torpedo,” writes Sutton.
According to CRS, Russian President Vladimir Putin touted Poseidon in a 2018 speech, saying, “They are quiet, highly mobile, and hardly have any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit.”
If armed with conventional warheads, the Poseidon can be used against targets “including carrier battle groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure”, Putin said.
But there are still doubts about this weapon and whether it will eventually be added to Russia’s arsenal.
“This is still a technology in development, both torpedo and platform,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
Poseidon is not expected to be ready for deployment until the second half of this decade, he said. CRS said it does not expect the Poseidon torpedo to be deployed until 2027.
And Kristensen points out that the Belgorod itself is actually a test vessel for the upcoming Khabarovsk class of nuclear-powered submarines, the first of which could be launched this year.
“Ukraine is a reminder that Russia’s advanced weapons are not silver bullets, but reliability issues,” Kristensen said.
But other experts warn against any assumption that the auxiliary torpedo or the Poseidon torpedo may not be what is advertised.
“The impressive transfer of Russia’s tactical ground and air forces to Russia’s nuclear and submarine forces – in particular, the impression is based on witnessing the implementation of a rather impressive plan. bad in Ukraine – could lead to dangerously underestimating the capabilities of Russia’s strategic forces and capabilities,” said Thomas Shugart, a former US Navy submarine captain and now an analyst. at the Center for a New American Security.
‘Underwater cat and mouse game’
According to CRS, Belgorod could be the first in a fleet of four submarines that can carry Poseidon torpedoes, with two serving in Russia’s Pacific Fleet and two in the Northern Fleet.
“Other navies don’t have the ability to emulate it, but they’ll want to counter it,” Sutton said of the Khabarovsk class. He wrote: “The underwater cat and mouse game where US Navy and Royal Navy (UK) killer submarines stalk the Russians may be revived. A new Cold War in the Arctic may be revived. , North Atlantic and North Pacific” could be imminent, he wrote.
While the Belgorod could be a future Poseidon test launch pad, Sutton said the submarine could also act as an intelligence-gathering platform.
“It will be commissioned by the Russian Navy but operated under the auspices of GUGI, the secret organization of the Deep Sea Research Bureau, and will carry a range of submarines and medium submersibles to carry out,” writes Sutton. secret special missions.
In a news release earlier this month, the Russian shipbuilder highlighted Belgorod’s non-lethal capabilities, saying it opened up “new opportunities for Russia” to conduct “scientific expeditions and rescue operations”. households in the most remote areas of the world’s oceans.”