Will the Kazan nuclear missile submarine be the nightmare of Western navies?

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the new nuclear missile submarine Kazan, second unit of the Iassen class but first unit of the variant project 885-M Iassen-M, would have been admitted to active service this Friday, May 7, and would have joined the Russian Navy for be deployed in the Northern Fleet. Despite the construction delays and a delivery postponed for 2 years, the arrival of this new submarine seems to worry Western HQs, concerned about the offensive capacities of the new submarine, but also about its great discretion. And indeed, Kazan, as well as the other 7 submarines of the Iassen-M variant at different stages of construction in Russian arsenals and shipyards, represent an unprecedented challenge for Western navies.

Smaller by nearly 12 meters than the first unit of the Iassen class, the Severodvinsk, which entered service in December 2013 after 20 years of construction, the Kazan is above all more economical than its big brother, while retaining its own attributes. to this class, like what the Virgins were initially vis-à-vis the SeaWolf of the US Navy. And in fact, the published estimates give a unit cost for the Iassen-M of the order of $ 800 million, where the Severodvinsk would have cost nearly double. It is true that between 2013 and 2021, the value of the Russian ruble was also divided by 2. However, the Kazan and the ships that follow it have the same firepower as their eldest, namely 8 systems of fire. vertical launchers capable of accommodating 4 Onix P800 long-range anti-ship missiles or as many 3M22 Tzirkon hypersonic anti-ship missiles, or 5 cruise / anti-ship / anti-submarine missiles from the Kalibr family, i.e. between 32 and 40 missiles. Added to this are the 10 torpedo tubes armed with heavy anti-submarine or anti-ship torpedoes.

With a range that can exceed 300 km and a speed of up to Mach 2.5, the P800 Oniks is an anti-ship weapon against which very few modern anti-missile systems can defend themselves.

The firepower is not the only strong point of Kazan, since its discretion has several times been put forward, as well by the Russian authorities who consider that the ship to an acoustic footprint comparable to that of American Virginia, even at high speed, as by the United States, which admitted having been unable to detect the ship during its long test missions in waters of the Arctic Ocean. This is undoubtedly a big step forward for the Russian navy, since so far, the SNAs (nuclear attack submarines) class Victor III, Alpha and Akula, like the SSGN (launch-missile submarines) of the Oscar class (NATO designation), if they could be very discreet at reduced speed below 12 knots, quickly became much noisier beyond. However, the main advantage of nuclear propulsion over conventional propulsion, in addition to the diving autonomy, is precisely to be able to dive great distances at high speed, to deploy quickly and if possible discreetly, in theaters where they are are waiting.

In fact, a Russian submersible so heavily armed and capable of following at 18 or 20 knots while remaining discreet a naval group, whether amphibious or airborne, or a logistics fleet, is a profound game-changer in terms of applicable naval tactics, and poses serious problems to the Western HQs which will have to face them. The problem is all the more important given that a single Iassen-M has sufficient firepower to overcome one end of an entire carrier strike group, especially when the 3M22 Tzirkhon hypersonic missile has entered service, and against which no current on-board anti-missile system does not prove to be effective. The best response to this type of threat would be to significantly increase anti-submarine protection around potential targets, by increasing the number of vectors, whether they are frigates, submarines, patrol planes. maritime and drones, in order not only to protect the target upstream and downstream, but also its flanks, and in a very dynamic way. In other words, it would be necessary to double the number of anti-submarine units escorting major ships, if only to deal with all the tactical alternatives available to Russian submarine commanders.

Apart from aviation maneuvers, the carrier battle group generally operates between 15 and 20 knots, in order to prevent submarines from pursuing it without being too noisy. The Kazan, like all the Iassen-M, will be able to sail up to 18 knots while remaining very discreet, allowing it to follow a GAN with complete discretion.

But even so, countering an Iassen-M will be anything but easy. Indeed, the ship acts as well as a missile submarine as a nuclear attack submarine, and an anti-submarine warfare frigate, even supported by a maritime patrol aircraft and one or two ASM helicopters, would be far from being in a strong position facing these buildings, whose anti-ship missiles have a range exceeding 500 km. In fact, as long as the submarine has a precise and current position of the enemy units, during a satellite overflight for example, it could engage its targets without even entering the detection perimeter of the defense. his opponent's anti-submarine force, to escape before any response can reach his firing zone.

In fact, with the Iassen-M, the Russian fleet is equipped with a submarine offering the same advantages as the best modern Western attack nuclear submarines, such as the American Virginia, the British Astutes and the French Suffren. If the Western submersibles are a little more discreet, and better equipped in terms of detection systems, communication and anti-submarine torpedoes, they do not, however, have access to weapons for the time being. anti-ships comparable to P800 Onix and 3M22 Tzirkhon. There is nothing to indicate that they will actually be equipped with them before the end of the decade. It is true, however, that the risk of having to counter a large opposing war fleet is much less for NATO navies than for Russia.

Kazan is at the crossroads between an attack submarine and a missile submarine. At first glance, it seems as efficient in one as in the other of its missions.

In fact, if the arrival of Kazan, and that announced of Novosibirsk, her sister-ship which is completing its tests and must enter service within the Pacific fleet by the end of the year, if they will not reverse the naval balance of power between the Russian and Western fleets, will all the same singularly reduce the technological and operational advantage that the latter have enjoyed in recent decades, especially as other high-performance units, such as the Admiral Gorshkov frigates and the Gremyashchiy corvettes also enter service with the Russian Navy. This fear had emerged a few years ago when Russia announced certain programs such as Lider destroyers or Laika submarines, both of which will have been postponed beyond 2025. But in the end, it is the simultaneous entry into service of new well-designed ships with performances close to those of their Western counterparts, as well as new missiles this time outclassing everything. what exists to this day in the American or European arsenal, that it materializes today.

Of course, two submarines, as efficient as they were, do not profoundly change such an asymmetrical balance of power between the Western navies and the Russian navy. But it is essential to keep in mind that, like in the field of anti-aircraft defense, the primary objective of the Russian Navy is not so much to take naval supremacy as to prevent its adversary. , in this case NATO, to do so. Indeed, Russia does not need to guarantee the free movement of its ships to support its strategic effort, unlike Europe. In fact, a strategic Pat, in the naval field as in the air field, would more than satisfy the Russian General Staff in the event of a European conflict, while it would prove to be the most dramatic for Europeans. themselves. With this in mind, we understand the potential represented by the Kazan, and the 8 other sister ships that will constitute the Iassen-M variant in the years to come.

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