More nukes on Kola

President Vladimir Putin is in Severomorsk today as the Northern fleet receives its first new strategic submarine since 1992. The number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed from the Kola Peninsula is on rise for the first time since the collapse of the USSR. This comprehensive overview made by BarentsObserver shows how the transition of Russia’s submarine fleet will increase the strategic importance of the Barents Sea.


When the Northern fleet officers today hoist the flag on “Yury Dolgoruky” it marks a shift in Russia’s nuclear forces. The number of nuclear warheads based on submarines will no longer go down, it starts to rise again. The re-armament of the Barents Region has started.

President Vladimir Putin follows the hoist of the flag via a video-link from the Northern fleet’s main base in Severomorsk, north of Murmansk, while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is in Severodvinsk, west of Arkhangelsk, where “Yury Dolgoruky” is built.

Kremlin press service says Shoigu will be in the central command post of the 170m long submarine and report live to the President that “Yury Dolgoruky” is now ready for mission!

“Shiver, bourgeois!”
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Vice Premier and former ambassador to NATO, posted a short message on Twitter Thursday evening commenting that «Yury Dolgoruky» now is ready for mission: “Дрожите, буржуи! Кирдык вам).” English translation would be something like: “Shiver, bourgeois! You’re done with!).” The word “буржуи» is Soviet slang for capitalists or foreigners. 

The huge ballistic missile carrier is the first new strategic nuclear powered submarine to enter service since 1992. She is loaded with 16 new Bulava missiles, each capable of carrying six to ten warheads.

“Yury Dolgoruky” with the crew of 107 has for the last three and a half years been test-sailing in the White Sea. She is the first of the new Borey-class 4th-generation nuclear powered submarines. In Severodvinsk is her two sisters “Aleksandr Nevsky” and “Vladimir Monomakh” currently at pier awaiting further sea trails.

Highest priority

The construction of the fourth sub of the class, to be named “Knyaz Vladimir” started last summer in a ceremony also attended by President Vladimir Putin. For Putin, modernization of Russia’s sea-based nuclear deterrent is of highest priority.

In total, eight Borey-class submarines will enter service over the next ten years. Starting from the fourth submarine, the number of missiles is believed to be 20 instead of 16. In other words, similar to the fearful Typhoon-class submarines famous from the Cold War 1980ies.


Up to 200 warheads on each submarine
If loaded with six warheads on each missile, the 20-missiles large Borey-class subs will then carry up to 120 nuclear warheads. If loaded with ten warheads on each missile, the submarine will carry a total of 200 warheads and will be a rather scaring piece of weapon sailing under the surface across the Barents- and Arctic Seas. The submarines has a diving depth down to 450 meters.

It takes about 20 minutes from a possible launch to the missile hits its target on the other side of the northern hemisphere. The Bulava missile is said to be resistant to any missile defense systems. Tests so far have, however, been far away from what can be named a success story. 

Homeport near Norway
Homeport for the Borey-submarines sailing with the Northern Fleet’s flag will be Gadzhiyevo on the Kola Peninsula, less than 100 kilometers from Russia’s border to Norway. Others will later sail for the Pacific Fleet based in the Far East.

The two first Borey-class subs were originally supposed to sail directly to the Pacific fleet after commissioning, but can’t do so because the infrastructure at the base on Kamchatka Peninsula is not yet ready. Itar-Tass reported on Wednesday that the first stage of infrastructure at Gadzhiyevo northwest of Murmansk will be completed now in January, the rest later this year. For how long time the first Borey-class subs will have Gadzhiyevo as homeport is not yet clear.

In the longer run, four of the eight Borey-class subs will likely be based in the Pacific and the four others will stay with the Northern fleet.

In the Pacific, the Borey-class will replace the older Delta-III class, while in the north the two classes; Delta-IV and Borey, will be operative together. At least for the first decade.

Upgraded old submarines
Five of the six Delta-IV class submarines sailing for the Northern Fleet have been upgraded in recent years, some of them to carry the newer Sineva missiles and its successor, the Layner.  The latest to be re-launched after upgrading in Severodvinsk was “Verkhoturye” on December 30 last year. Next and final one in line for upgrading is “Yekaterinburg” supposed to be sailing again in 2014 after also being repaired following the serious fire that stroked the sub while in dry-dock north of Murmansk in late December 2011.

Russian Northern fleet Delta-IV submarine in surface position in the Barents Sea. This photo was taken back in 2003.

Steadily increase of nuclear warheads
Not since the upgrade of the Delta-IV class started in 2006 have so many strategic nuclear warheads been deployed on submarines sailing the Barents Sea as now in January 2013. And this is just the beginning. With the new Borey-class entering service, the numbers of nuclear warheads will steadily increase until the six Delta-IV vessels will be removed from service, presumably around 2020.

A recent report published by the Federation of American Scientists estimates a total of 144 missiles with 350 warheads deployed on Russian submarines today. Between 30 and 40 of the missiles are on the 2-3 operative Delta-III class vessels based in the Pacific, the rest on submarines based in Gadzhiyevo near the border to Norway. The total number for both fleets will increase to 172 missiles with a total of 624 warheads by 2022, nearly twice as much as today, according to the American estimates.

The numbers of naval strategic warheads could be even higher. If each Bulava missile is tipped with ten warheads, like RIA Novosti claims, and if four of the Borey-submarines are based with the Northern fleet, the total number to be based on the Kola Peninsula will be some 100 more.

Each warhead on the Bulava missile is 150 kilotons, ten times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

In addition to the deployed warheads onboard submarines are the missiles and warheads in reserve at naval storages on the coast of the Barents Sea.

Nukes on the water
The big shift over the next ten years is more missiles and warheads deployed on submarines and less land-based, either in silos or on vehicles.

This will make the Barents Region and Arctic waters more strategic important in Russia’s nuclear triad.

Kola main base area
The future importance of submarine bases on Kola Peninsula and the use of the Barents Sea as a testing area is discussed in a report published last year by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. The report reads:

“Regarding the naval part of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, everything indicates that Kola Peninsula will remain the main base area. This means that the Northern Fleet will continue to use the Barents Sea for exercises, operation and transit area, and that there will be regular tests of new aircraft and weapons - including ballistic missiles - in the Barents Sea, White Sea and other parts of the northern seas. In other words, nothing indicates that the Barents Sea region will be relatively less important for the sea-based nuclear deterrence than it is today.”

New START treaty
Strategic nuclear warheads are limited by the New START agreement to 1,550 warheads. What is not limited by any arms reduction treaties are non-strategic nuclear warheads. Russia, like the United States, provides no – whatsoever – information about its non-strategic nuclear warheads. During the Cold War, thousands of tactical nuclear warheads were stored and deployed with the Soviet navy, including the Northern Fleet.

The nearest to Norway were at the naval bases in the Litsa fjord, some 50 short kilometers east of the border. One submarine that had Litsa as homeport was “Komsomolets.” The submarine had two plutonium warheads in torpedoes when she sank south of the Bear Island in April 1989.

330 to 700 non-strategic warheads with the navy
By the end of the Cold War in 1991, Mikael Gorbachev declared all tactical nuclear warheads to be removed from naval vessels, including submarines. In 2006, however, then-Minister of Defense, now Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said that Russian submarines were carrying tactical nuclear weapons on patrol. In 2009, BarentsObserver again reported about a statement from the navy hinting that attack- and multi-purpose submarines could be carrying nuclear weapons.

If that happened, and if so; to what extent, is not clear.

A study published last November by the London-based think-thank Royal United Services Institute estimates the Russian navy still have some 330 operationally assigned non-strategic nuclear warheads. 187 of them assigned to submarines, like warheads on anti-ship missiles and cruise-missiles.

The December report from the Federation of American Scientists has a larger estimate, assuming that the Russian naval forces have some 700 non-strategic warheads.

22 operational nuclear submarines
What is clear is that the majority of Russia’s nuclear powered submarines still in operation are deployed in the Northern Fleet. This overview made by BarentsObserver now in January, based on years of articles about the submarine fleet, shows a current total of 22 operational nuclear powered submarines based along the coast of the Kola Peninsula.

Not all of them are assigned for combat, like the Typhoon class submarine “Dmitry Donskoy” which is used as a test-platform for Bulava-missiles. Another one is the support and research vessel “Orenburg” which was used last summer to map Russia’s Arctic continental seabed towards the North Pole together with a smaller nuclear powered deep-diving titanum hull sub, the “Losharik.” There is also three other intelligence and research subs on the list.

14 other nuclear submarines are in reserve or undergoing long-term repairs. Among them are the two Typhoon class subs “Arkhangelsk” and “Severstal” and the fire-stroked Delta-IV class sub “Yekaterinburg.”

No. Name Class (Project No.) Type of vessel
1 “Yury Dolgoruky” Borey (Project 955) Strategic
2 “Dmitri Donskoy” Typhoon (Project 941) Test-platform for Bulava-missiles
3 “Verkhoturye” Delta-IV (Project 667 BDRM) Strategic
4 “Tula” Delta-IV (Project 667 BDRM) Strategic
5 “Bryansk” Delta-IV (Project 667 BDRM) Strategic
6 “Karelia” Delta-IV (Project 667 BDRM) Strategic
7 “Novomoskovsk” Delta-IV (Project 667 BDRM) Strategic
8 “Voronezh” Oscar-II (Project 949A) Multi-purpose
9 “Orel” Oscar-II (Project 949A) Multi-purpose
10 “Pantera” Akula (Project 971) Attack
11 “Volk” Akula (Project 971) Attack
12 “Tigr” Akula (Project 971) Attack
13 “Gepard” Akula (Project 971) Attack
14 “Kostroma” Sierra (Project 945) Attack
15 “Nizhny Novgorod” Sierra-II (Project 945A) Attack
16 “Petrozavodsk” Victor-III (Project 671 RTMK) Attack
17 “Daniil Moskovsky” Victor-III (Project 671 RTMK) Attack
18 “Orenburg” Project 09786 Special purpose
19 “AS-21” Project 18511 Special purpose
20 “AS-35” Project 18511 Special purpose
21 “AS-31” Project 10830 (“Losharik”) Special purpose
22 “AS-33” Project 1910 Special purpose

At least 20 new nuclear subs 
At the peak of the Cold War in the late 1980ies, some 150 nuclear powered submarines were assigned to the Northern Fleet. The number was drastically reduced in the 90ies to 67 in 1996 and further down to yesterday’s 21. With “Yury Dolgoruky” as the 22nd, 2013 is the year when the number of operational subs again starts to increase.

The navy has announced large-scale investment plans for new submarines including eight of the Borey-class (some sources suggest ten) and ten of the Yasen class multi-purpose submarines, like the “Severodvinsk” that has been on multiple test voyages in the White Sea area over the last year. In November, she test-fired cruise-missiles for the first time. The second submarine in the class, named “Kazan” has already her hull ready and construction continues inside.

“Severodvinsk” is the Russian Navy’s first 4th generation multi-purpose nuclear powered submarine.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement last week that six multi-purpose and strategic submarines will be ready by 2016, RIA Novosti reports. The six are the three strategic submarines “Yury Dolgoruky”, “Aleksandr Nevsky” and “Vladimir Monomakh” and the three multi-purpose submarines “Severodvinsk”, “Kazan” and a third one not given any name yet.  

Additional two new nuclear powered research- and rescue submarines are under construction as reported by BarentsObserver in December. One of them will be built on an older hull supposed to be an Oscar-II class sub, similar to the “Kursk” that sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000. 

In total, 20 known new nuclear powered submarines are in pipe.

€502 billion on arms by 2020
Russia is currently in the middle of a huge rearmament program, with $659 billion (€502 billion) to be spent on arms procurement by 2020, according to the Defense Ministry. This year, the government is boosting its defense budget by 25 percent to 2,3 trillion rubles (€58 billion) and the navy is a high priority. 

“The implementation of the shipbuilding program envisages serial construction along with the introduction of new technical and modernization solutions into each subsequently built warship,” the Defense Ministry statement said, reports RIA Novosti.