A Russian submarine reported off the Alaskan coast on Thursday is likely to be the same one that fired a cruise missile in a naval exercise. U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) stated that the submarine surfaced and is being monitored by U.S. forces. It may have surfaced because of an emergency. And it is not the only unusual Russian Navy submarine movement that has caught analysts’ attention.
U.S. officials said the submarine was taking part in a Russian military exercise. A Russian state media report (in Russian) on the exercise said the submarine ‘Omsk’ fired a cruise missile at a target in the Bering Sea, which is between Siberia and Alaska.
The circumstances of the surfacing are unclear. It is not normal for submarines to come to the surface near another country’s coast. USNORTHCOM’s statements on Twitter raise questions as to whether something is wrong: “We have not received any requests for assistance from the Russian Navy or other mariners in the area. We always stand ready to assist those in distress.” This may imply that there is an emergency aboard which the U.S. Navy is aware of.
Omsk is a Project 949A ‘Antey’ class cruise missile submarine, more commonly known by its NATO reporting name, Oscar-II class. It is primarily armed with 24 P-700 ‘Granite’ (NATO designation SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship missiles. These have a range of nearly 400 miles and can travel at supersonic speeds. Their 1,653 lb warhead is much larger than on regular anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon and Exocet. It can also carry a 500 kiloton nuclear warhead.
Footage of the exercise published by the official Russian Ministry of Defence Twitter account (in Russian) shows a massive P-700 Granite emerging from the sea.
Defense analyst Frank Bottema, who uses open-source intelligence to track maritime movements, has also identified a likely Kilo Class submarine involved in the exercises. This is a smaller non-nuclear submarine. It was with a group of Russian Navy warships about 66 miles west of St. Lawrence Island. But while it is on the surface for a time, I consider it is less likely to be the focus of the USNORTHCOM announcement.
Frank Bottema has also brought to light an unusual contact off Norway. A large vessel, closely matching the appearance of a Russian Typhoon Class submarine, can be seen in low-resolution satellite imagery. Analysis of AIS (Automated Identification System, the broadcasts used by ships to alert others of their presence to avoid collisions) suggests that it is the Academic Pashin. This is a Russian Navy replenishment ship. However the visual picture in the satellite imagery does not match.
It looks like the very large Russian Typhoon Class submarine. This is the largest submarine in the world and has a distinctive shape. Only one Typhoon remains in service, TK-208 Dmitry Donskoy. It will have sailed close to where the U.S. Navy submarine USS Seawolf cropped up this week. So its identity will not be a mystery to NATO forces in the area.
As is often the case in the secretive world of submarine operations, we do not yet have the full picture. The circumstances surrounding the surfaced submarine off Alaska are still ambiguous. It may be in trouble of some kind. And the vessel of interest off Norway may not turn out to be a surfaced submarine. There are still verification efforts going on. But it certainly looks like one in the imagery. How, or if, they are connected is even harder to judge.
Source – Forbes