Russia launched the world’s longest submarine today, the special mission submarine Belgorod. Designed to support a variety of military missions, including the Poseidon long-range strategic nuclear torpedo, the sub is far larger than anything operated by any other naval force, including the U.S. Navy. The six hundred foot long submarine displaces more water than a World War I battleship and can dive to a depth of 1,700 feet.
The submarine was launched today, April 23rd, at the Sevmash shipyards in Russia, with Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly watching via satellite.
Officially known as Project-09852, the submarine was originally an Oscar II-class cruise missile submarine that the Russian government ran of funds to complete. The submarine hull sat unfinished until Moscow decided to complete it as a special mission submarine.
The hull was lengthened to approximately 184 meters (604 feet) and the ship’s displacement ballooned to 30,000 tons submerged--more than fifty percent greater than the U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. The result of an unfinished hull the Belgorod is a one-off, and there will not be another one like it.
The nuclear-powered Belgorod is neither an attack submarine nor a ballistic missile sub. A special mission submarine, Belgorod will be a mothership to other undersea vessels. The sub can carry a payload on its back, behind the sail, or a Losharik class mini-submarine that attaches and detaches to the bottom of the hull.
According to HI Sutton, noted authority on undersea warfare, Belgorod will be crewed by the Russian Navy but operated by GUGI, the secretive Main Directorate Deep Sea Research organization. Sutton, who has been watching Belgorod’s development from afar, tells Popular Mechanics, “Belgorod was originally laid down as an Oscar-II class cruise missile submarine, but work stopped when the Russian economy caught up with the submarine building program. Work restarted years later in her modified form. So she is already older than many of her crew.”
“The modifications are likely to be extensive, and may include some latest technology, but underneath she is still an earlier generation of submarine, and likely to be less stealthy than the latest generation.”
Sutton’s observations from afar have largely been correct but he also warns some details will be wrong. “Russia has generally been more successful than the US at protecting her latest submarines from unwanted cameras,” Sutton explained. “Just this week documents allegedly leaked of a nuclear triad briefing for President Trump included a cutaway of the as-yet unbuilt Colombia class ballistic missile submarine. For Russia's latest boats we are still guessing many details.
“Defense observers can piece together a few sources and rumors with traditional analytical techniques to second guess what Belgorod is like. The cutaway (above) represents a best guess before any photos of Belgorod post-modifications emerged.”
One major mission Sutton believes Belgorod is meant for is the covert placement of the Harmony submarine detection network. A nuclear-powered underwater detection system, Harmony could help alert Russian forces of enemy submarines transiting through key areas. The key to their working however is their covert deployment, something Belgorod was practically built to do. Another mission is conducting covert operations with the Losharikmidget submarines. The 230 foot long, nuclear-powered Losharik is equipped with robotic arms and capable of diving to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). The massive submarine will also be able to carry the Harpsichord-2P-PM autonomous underwater vehicle, transporting it to an operating area and then use its sonar to map the ocean floor or find man-made objects.
Although built to conduct underwater espionage, by far the most sinister mission for Belgorod is as launch vehicle for the Poseidon nuclear torpedo system. Poseidon is a very large torpedo, 65 feet long and 6.5 feet in diameter, with a range of thousands of miles and a top speed of 60 knots. Poseidon is believed to carry a 2 megaton thermonuclear warhead and is designed to go around U.S. missile defenses to strike coastal targets, including ports and cities. According to HI Sutton Belgorod will carry up to six Poseidon torpedoes.
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