Russia Bolsters Its Submarine Fleet, and Tensions With U.S. Rise

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NAPLES, Italy — Russian attack submarines, the most in two decades, are prowling the coastlines of Scandinavia and Scotland, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic in what Western military officials say is a significantly increased presence aimed at contesting American and NATO undersea dominance.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, the United States Navy’s top commander in Europe, said last fall that the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 percent over the past year, citing public remarks by the Russian Navy chief, Adm. Viktor Chirkov. Analysts say that tempo has not changed since then.

The patrols are the most visible sign of a renewed interest in submarine warfare by President Vladimir V. Putin, whose government has spent billions of dollars for new classes of diesel and nuclear-powered attack submarines that are quieter, better armed and operated by more proficient crews than in the past.

The tensions are part of an expanding rivalry and military buildup, with echoes of the Cold War, between the United States and Russia. Moscow is projecting force not only in the North Atlantic but also in Syria and Ukraine and building up its nuclear arsenal and cyberwarfare capacities in what American military officials say is an attempt to prove its relevance after years of economic decline and retrenchment.

Independent American military analysts see the increased Russian submarine patrols as a legitimate challenge to the United States and NATO. Even short of tensions, there is the possibility of accidents and miscalculations. But whatever the threat, the Pentagon is also using the stepped-up Russian patrols as another argument for bigger budgets for submarines and anti-submarine warfare.

Mr. Putin’s military modernization program also includes new intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as aircraft, tanks and air defense systems.

Russian submarines and spy ships now operate near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians could attack those lines in times of tension or conflict. Russia is also building an undersea unmanned drone capable of carrying a small, tactical nuclear weapon to use against harbors or coastal areas, American military and intelligence analysts said.

And, like the United States, Russia operates larger nuclear-powered submarines that carry long-range nuclear missiles and spend months at a time hiding in the depths of the ocean. Those submarines, although lethal, do not patrol like the attack submarines do, and do not pose the same degree of concern to American Naval officials.

Analysts say that Moscow’s continued investment in attack submarines is in contrast to the quality of many of Russia’s land and air forces that frayed in the post-Cold War era.

“In the Russian naval structure, submarines are the crown jewels for naval combat power,” said Magnus Nordenman, director of the Atlantic Council’s trans-Atlantic security initiative in Washington. “The U.S. and NATO haven’t focused on anti-submarine operations lately, and they’ve let that skill deteriorate.”

That has allowed for a rapid c, Western and American officials say, partly in response to what they say is Russia’s fear of being hemmed in.

Full article: Russia Bolsters Its Submarine Fleet, and Tensions With U.S. Rise (The NY Times)

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