"It reminds me of the heady days of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin when the world trembled at the sound of our rockets. Now they will tremble again - at the sound of our silence. The order is: engage the silent drive."- Captain Ramius from The Hunt for Red October -
No news media, not one prominent analyst, no group or think tank has revealed in truth the real reasons behind this new Cold War. The unreason and hysterics we read, hear, and watch on TV of late are bewildering to most people. What if the answer was elementary, though? What if high powered economics, great games of business, and corporate new world order theories rested on something other than FOREX futures? What if something like the hull of an attack submarine was central to the foreign relations enigma?
In the film The Hunt for Red October you may remember Captain Ramius, played by the actor Sean Connery. Cast as a noble figure whose love of country and humanity led him to defect with a weapon of incalculable destructive capability, fictional character Captain Marko Alexandrovich Ramius, was ironically a Lithuanian who became a Soviet naval legend. For those unfamiliar with the movie, the Soviets created a silent monster NATO and United States naval forces could not detect, a ballistic missile submarine capable of a "first strike" that would effectively annihilate US war-making capability. Set in the era of so-called mutually assured self destruction (MAD) theorists, Red October really was (and is) a symbol of revolutionary paradigm shift. That is, if such a weapon exists.
With the concept of a "Cold War" that never really ended concretely in place today, my original question could be answered in part by just such a fearsome weapon's existence. Or should I say, near future existence. If mass media and politicians foaming at the mouth over Crimea, Ukraine, and personally attacking the Russian president seem strange, desperate, unreal, then the idea of a doomsday scenario starring a fourth generation weapon named the Lada Class is provocative, at the least.
For a naval historian such as me, rubber coated U-Boats stealthily attacking anything that floats were a reality as early as 1943. U-480 was an experimental Kriegsmarine Type VIIC U-boat of World War II. Considered the first "stealth" submarine, the U-480 was part of the so-called "Alberich" project, named for the invisible creature of German lore. For the sake of brevity, the Alberich subs were coated in a 4-millimetre (0.16 in) thick sheet of synthetic rubber to dampen sonar waves. Fast forward 72 years and Russia's Project 677 Lada class is already underway with the first subs having been laid out in St. Petersburg's Admiralty Shipyards.
Rumors of this new more compact and powerful class of "silent subs" was prevalent in the late 1990's, but as international tensions subsided owing to the "War on Terror," emphasis on the first subs, the Sankt Petersburg wained. Supposedly construction of the first of the type 677 boats was terminated. All was well, if you were a fan of world peace and the spread of a loving world democracy. But Russians have never been known for their naivety, the Sankt Petersburg is now under sea trials with a new and improved variant of the class nearing completion.
The new "invisible subs" driven by air-independent propulsion plants can stay submerged for 45 days, are more compact and stealthy than any ballistic missile sub ever designed, and are armed with the most technologically advanced weapons systems ever installed on an undersea vessel. And if the vessels live up to their reported design specs, no naval force on Earth has a deterrent in place. And I'll terrify you further here, as an expert in naval systems, by observing that vessels like this always exceed released design specs, always.
The Global Security Organization reveals some of these "listed" specifications, as well as a little history of this class of sub here. For those not familiar with the impact of such weapons systems, the balance of naval power and the overall world balance could easily be turned asunder here. Being able to negate US naval superiority, even the US carrier based threat, would undermine American hegemony utterly. A super silent, high tech weapons laden submarine like the Kronshtadt and her sister boats can only spell trouble for the western allies should Russia's re-emergence as a super power go forward. And here is where a "hysteria theory" might be inserted. It's abundantly clear that somebody does not want Russia to reach this potential. More on the weapon...
— 7FBTK (@7FBTK)March 21, 2015
The Rubin Design Bureau, the main developer of submarines in Russia, reportedly designed the Lada to deliver salvo torpedo-missile strikes on marine and stationary ground targets both from torpedo tubes and specialized vertical missile silos. The subs are also equipped with a unique sonar system enabling significantly increased distance for target detection. The new Lada can remain submerged at the depth of 300 meters, develop underwater speed of up to 21 knots and is covered with "Molniya" ("Lightning") material that absorbs sonar signals. While the sea trials of Sankt Petersburg revealed some design problems, what was learned is being incorporated in sister ships including the B-587 "Velikiye Luki" due to be completed early next year. The tweet above shows the progress at one point on this vessel.
To conclude briefly, while these new Lada boats have been officially declared "experimental prototypes" owing to published declarations, the potential of such designs really negates this possibility. One has to think forward of the last few decades of strategic deterrent developments to see the true danger of fourth and fifth generation Russian sub development. In a way, the same theories that propelled drone development for US strategic missions, holds true for Russian naval deterrents. You may remember when the Ohio Class Trident subs were first developed. This was America's big ticket monstrous strike capable chip in the game. Those massive subs effectively ended the Cold War with the sheer throw weight of ICBMs that could be leveled onto the Soviet Union then. Today though, it's not hard to imagine wolf packs of smaller, more stealthy and better close-in armed attack craft, negating Trident might. This is what I believe Russian naval programs are aimed at. For those unwilling to examine my theory, here is an Armed Services Committee meeting just the other day to further illustrate the paranoia of American strategists.
Whether or not the United States and NATO neocons and arms industry key players are using normative Russian military advancements as an excuse or not, it seems crystal clear something intense is going on at the US State Department and in other foreign policy circles. If we imagine the cost of replacement for the United States' mainline deterrent (strike) sub, the Ohio Class, $4 billion would suffice to build 8 Lada or other advanced "mini-deterrents" in less time. This says nothing about the operational differences, such as reduced crew (38 for Lada versus 155 for Ohio Class) and later cruise missile/torpedo capabilities. Add to this the potential for Russian stealth subs as hunter killers of Ohio Class Trident subs, and the anxiety of the Pentagon makes more sense.
Recent Russian cruise missile developments have the Pentagon screaming for funds. If the newest of the Lada craft are operational with the long range Kh-102 (nuclear variant) in "aerial torpedo" configuration, the operational range or Russian naval power is geometrically enhanced. Imagine a silent and invisible attack sub firing a nuclear tipped cruise missile with a 5,000 kilometer range, with swept wings and using radar absorbing materials, conformal antennas, and other stealth technologies.
The theoretical result of such developments seem clear to me. At the least we are looking at a total rethink/retargeting of western alliance plans and a strategic reboot. Maybe now the military frenzy becomes rational? At least, that is, if you are paranoid Washington think tank dinosaurs. Somehow it seems a reality, the arms race never really did end altogether, but with trust shattered because of Syria and Kiev how are we to understand? Maybe now we can more clearly discern the difference between a weak Russian military presence and a Russia simply led by a reasonable and tolerant president?
Watch for The Hunt for Mini Me Red October in theaters near you.