Belgorod: the new giant Russian submarine built for nuclear war

On July 8, the Russian Navy took delivery of K-329 Belgorod, the world’s longest nuclear-powered submarine, Russian submarine builder Sevmash said in a press release.

Although Belgorod’s exact specifications have not been made public, Naval News reports that Belgorod’s Oscar II-class enlarged hull is estimated to be 178 meters long and 15 meters wide, making the only Typhoon-class submarine the single largest ship.

Naval News also notes that Belgorod’s displacement most likely exceeds the 19,000 tons of the original Oscar-II class and is larger than the largest Western submarine, the American Ohio class.

According to Sevmash, the Belgorod is designed to solve scientific problems and conduct search and rescue operations. In addition, it can act as carriers for deep-sea rescue vehicles and autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles.

Naval News reports that the Belgorod is the first carrier of the Poseidon nuclear-armed underwater drone, which can carry out a second retaliatory nuclear strike on population centers, major cities and industrial centers near the coast by triggering tsunamis. devastating radioactive.

The source also shows that it is designed to carry the highly classified special mission submarine Losharik. In addition to carrying the Poseidon drone, The Warzone reports that Belgorod can serve as a mothership for various unmanned underwater spy platforms, including the Losharik.

The source notes Belgorod’s reinforced lower rudders, allowing it to sit on the seabed, and its ability to deploy unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that could be used for spy purposes by tapping or cutting underwater communication cables.

Such a capability can blind or even cripple an adversary, as 95% of global internet traffic passes through these cables, as noted by the Atlantic Council think tank.

Regarding the Belgorod mission, Russian defense analyst and military expert Alexei Leonkov explained the likely role of the submarine in an interview on Radio 1.

He said it is designed to launch the Poseidon drone and specializes in second strike missions. Leonkov described the Belgorod as a “retaliatory weapon” for full-scale nuclear war, launching his Poseidon drones in response to a nuclear first strike involving mobile missiles, land-based launchers and land- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) against Russia.

The Poseidon drone. Image: Mug

As well as being used as a second-strike weapon, he notes that Poseidon can be deployed against carrier battle groups, with the Belgorod carrying them to the launch site.

However, Poseidon may not be all Russia is touting. In an article by Boennoe Obozreniye, Roman Skomorokhov notes that the United States can perceive Poseidon in three ways.

First, the United States might view the Poseidon drone as propaganda. He notes that for all the hype it has caused in US defense circles, it may just be a mockery intended to intimidate the American public and defense planners.

Second, he notes that the United States may perceive Poseidon as an underwater research device, but not as the nuclear-armed underwater drone claimed by Russia. Third, the United States could perceive Poseidon as a real weapon and launch research efforts to develop defenses against nuclear-armed underwater drones.

For now, strategic ambiguity is probably the most important advantage Poseidon can give Russia. Skomorokhov notes that while it makes sense to build a terrifying weapon like the Poseidon, the truth about the weapon’s existence and capabilities is very difficult to verify.

He also notes that Poseidon may indeed be a doomsday weapon or that he wants to influence the world with such a narrative to prevent an attack on Russia in the first place. In each of these possibilities, he notes that the conflicting accounts at least likely confused US defense planners.

The Barents Observer reports that the Belgorod will be in experimental operation with the Russian Northern Fleet before being handed over to the Pacific Fleet. However, there is no mention of where Belgorod will be based during its experimental operation with the Northern Fleet.

The Barents Observer report suggests two possible locations: Severodvinsk, where development of the Poseidon drone is headed, or Olenya Bay on the Kola Peninsula, where the other Russian special-purpose submarines are based.

According to the US military training database ODIN, Poseidon is a family of underwater drones rather than a single type. Some units can attack coastal targets, while others can be designed as super-cavitating torpedoes to attack carrier battle groups. The nuclear variant is armed with a low-yield 2-megaton cobalt warhead that can contaminate an area of ​​1,700 by 300 kilometers, making it a weapon of last resort.

The same source indicates that Poseidon appears to be a robotic submarine 1.6 to 2 meters in diameter and 24 meters long. It has a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour (kph), a range of 10,000 kilometers and a maximum depth of 1,000 meters – although the drone can operate at 50-100 meters in low speed mode for increased stealth.

The Losharik at sea. Photo: Russian Ministry of Defense / The Barents Observer via The Moscow Times

It can travel for weeks in low speed mode to reach its target area before activating its high speed mode in the last 2-3 kilometers to its target.

Losharik is an unarmed submarine saboteur, according to GlobalSecurity.org. It can dive to 6,000 meters and is said to be the quietest and hardest to detect submarine in the Russian Navy.

It is designed to lay depth charges in inaccessible places, conduct surveillance, destroy underwater cables or tap into them. Besides these roles, it can also perform seabed surveys, submarine salvage, and special operations.

As the Losharik is a highly classified project, there are few details on its specific dimensions. However, the source gives a length estimate of 69-79 meters and a width estimate of seven meters. It has an estimated displacement of 2,000 tonnes, is nuclear powered with a top speed of 55 km/h and can hold a crew of 25 officers.