Rise of the Undersea Terminators – Russia’s Submarine Construction Thrives with Breakthroughs in Conventional and Nuclear Fronts in 2023

Submarine construction in Russia is moving forward on both the conventional and nuclear fronts.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The “Emperor Alexander III” (Ser. No. 207) nuclear submarine strategic missile cruiser, part of project 09552 (codenamed “Borei-A”), is now undergoing sea trials. It shines a light on Russia’s submarine initiatives for the current year. Submarine construction in Russia is moving forward on both the conventional and nuclear sectors.

Special Purpose Submarines


AS-31 of Project 10831, unofficially known as “Losharik,” is currently undergoing maintenance at the Zvezdochka facility in Severodvinsk. A fire broke out on the submarine AS-31 on 1 July 2019, claiming the lives of fourteen crew members. The robust hull of the deep-sea special-purpose submarine comprises titanium spheres, hence the nickname “Losharik.” As a result of this calamity, repairs are being performed, likely accompanied by a modernisation of the vessel. The submarine will be restored and conduct special missions for the Russian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate for Deep-Sea Research (Glavnoye Upravlenie Glubokovodnikh Issledovanii or GUGI).


Under the auspices of the GUGI, the Project 09852 special-purpose submarine “Belgorod,” the first experimental carrier of the future unique nuclear deterrence complex of the next generation – the “Poseidon” maritime system – is undergoing experimental operations.

Marine drone Poseidon
Marine drone Poseidon. Image: Russian MoD

Submarines from Projects 09851/09853 will be the standard carriers for this new weapon. Since 2014, Sevmash in Severodvinsk has been constructing the “Khabarovsk” lead submarine of Project 09851, and it will probably be launched this year. If the development of the new weapon system is effective, “Khabarovsk” could become the first carrier of the nuclear-powered underwater drone 2M39 “Poseidon” by 2025 or shortly after that, based possibly in Vilyuchinsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The fleet will receive three additional Project 09853 carriers following the initial submarine. There will be two carriers, one for the Northern and Pacific Fleets.

Nuclear Submarines


Submarines of Project 885M “Yasen-M” are the most recent nuclear-powered attack submarines being constructed for the Russian Navy. Nine nuclear-powered Project 885M vessels are currently under construction, including the main ship of Project 885. This year, it is anticipated that the fleet, which has been testing for two years, will receive the third submarine of Project 885M and the fourth ship of the Yasen family, the B-571 “Krasnoyarsk.” The project’s submarines are distributed equitably between the Northern and Pacific Fleets. The “Yasen-M” is one of the world’s most sophisticated submarines, featuring a combination of low noise, modern means of detecting other submarines, and powerful weapon systems.

The submarine is equipped with torpedo tubes and a universal missile complex launch system. The “Yasen-M” submarines will become the first underwater carriers of these hypersonic missiles after testing the modification of the “Zircon” missile complex with underwater launch capabilities. By the end of the decade, each Russian ocean fleet will have four submarines of the “Yasen” class equipped with “Zircon” missiles. It will be exceedingly difficult for modern air defence systems to intercept these missiles, as they can be used against surface ships and land targets.

In support of the state-of-the-art “Yasen” submarines, the nuclear-powered attack submarines of Project 971 “Shchuka-B” that were constructed in the 1990s are currently undergoing modernisation. In the Russian fleet, ten nuclear-powered submarines from this initiative are in various stages of completion. These submarines have undergone or are undergoing moderate repairs and enhancements to their equipment and weapon systems. They have been outfitted with the “Kalibr-PL” missile complex using torpedo tubes, and their technical readiness is being restored. The Project 971 submarines are the workhorses of the fleet’s anti-submarine and anti-ship forces and are present in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Project 885 nuclear submarine
Project 885 nuclear submarine. Russia’s 4th Yasen-class submarine.


In service alongside the submarines of Project 971 are two titanic submarines of Project 945A Kondor. Plans for modernising the Project 945A submarines are under consideration, including installing “Kalibr” missiles and a comprehensive enhancement of all radio-electronic weapon systems. Even though they entered service in the early 1990s, they could serve for at least another ten years after undergoing such modernisation.


The fleet presently has seven anti-aircraft carrier submarines of Project 949A “Antey”. All of them are either awaiting or undergoing modernisation under the advanced Project 949AM, which entails an extensive upgrade of equipment and weapon systems. In its previous configuration, the 949A series submarine carried 24 powerful supersonic “Granit” missiles, and it was believed that a single salvo could guarantee the devastation of any aircraft carrier, regardless of the accompanying forces’ capabilities. In their new guise, the submarines of the 949AM project will likely be even more powerful and capable of carrying up to 72 missiles of the “Kalibr,” “Oniks,” and eventually “Zircon” varieties. These are unique capabilities that no other country’s submarines currently possess. Modernisation under Project 949AM is in full swing.


The nuclear-powered strategic missile submarines of Project 955M Borei-A are cutting-edge platforms for launching “Bulava” ballistic missiles and form the basis of Russia’s naval nuclear deterrent. They can engage in combat with modern submarines and ships on an equal footing. Submarines of the “Borei-A” class are outfitted with contemporary torpedoes. The “Borei-A” class submarines have a distinct hull, modified contours, and upgraded equipment compared to the earlier “Borei” class submarines. These subs will serve until the middle of the 21st century and continue to serve as the backbone of Russia’s maritime missile shield for many years.

Conventional Submarines


This week the new diesel-electric submarine “Mozhaisk” of the 06363 project will undergo testing in the Baltic Sea in August 2023. The submarine is being completed at the St. Petersburg Admiralty Shipyards. The transfer of the “Mozhaisk” to the fleet is scheduled for the end of 2023, and the vessel will begin its duty in the Pacific Ocean in 2024.

Mozhaisk is the fifth submarine constructed for the Pacific Fleet under the 06363 programme. The project is slated to deliver six submarines to the Far East. Before 2016, six ships of the same concept were constructed for the Black Sea Fleet between 2010 and 2016. Today, they are the backbone of all Black Sea submarine forces, with the ability to operate in the Mediterranean. After the Pacific Fleet series is completed, a similar one will be constructed for the Northern Fleet. By the decade’s end, the fleet will likely have more than 20 non-nuclear submarines from the 06363 initiative.

Submarines from the 877 “Varshavyanka” project, which were built in large numbers in the 1980s and 1990s, are the ancestors of these vessels. The project includes state-of-the-art hydroacoustic equipment, communication systems, modern periscopes with digital equipment, and, of course, the “Kalibr-PL” missile complex, which permits the launch of cruise missiles and torpedoes from torpedo tubes.

The lead submarine of the Lada project - St. Petersburg
The lead submarine of the Lada project – St. Petersburg


In addition, the 677 “Lada” project is constructing more advanced but more expensive non-nuclear submarines. It is currently the 677M modernisation project. The latest semi-hulled “Lada” submarines with a revolutionary unified low-noise electric motor and a unique hydroacoustic complex were developed by the maritime design bureau, “Rubin,” which created the “Varshavyanka” submarines. In 2023, the fleet anticipates receiving the B-586 “Kronstadt” project’s first serial submarine undergoing state trials. After that, three additional submarines will be constructed for the Northern Fleet.

It is believed that “Lada” submarines can compete on an equal footing with nuclear-powered attack submarines, except for their reduced continuous underwater endurance. Due to their acoustic characteristics, hydroacoustic capabilities, and armament systems, “Lada” submarines can combat any contemporary foe. Additionally, the submarines can launch “Kalibr” missiles from their torpedo tubes. This is a form of unification of Russia’s contemporary nuclear and non-nuclear submarines.


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