The Russian Navy is reporting progress with its second 955A Borei-class nuclear armed ballistic missile submarine, an upgraded boat reported by Russian media outlet to incorporate some of the most advanced “quieting” technologies to ever exist.
Just last year, Russia deployed its first in series of at least seven upgraded Borei-A nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, called the 955As. The second one, called the Knyaz Oleg, is slated to enter service in July of this year, TASS reports. At least five more are on the way as well, according to TASS, which reports that three additional 955As are under construction and two more have been ordered. The first of the Borei class, the 955s, were fielded as far back as 2013, however the 955As are reported to incorporate a number of technical upgrades intended to lower the submarine's acoustic signature. While details of these kinds of innovations are likely not available for obvious reasons, several reports point to the nature of the new quieting technologies incorporated in the 955A design.
An interesting 2017 analysis written in navyrecognition.com highlights a few of the innovations informing Russian efforts to upgrade the 955 submarines to the 955As.
The sound-adsorbing coating together with specifically located onboard equipment provides for practically noiseless combat patrol. The sound-absorbing insulation composition changes with the emergence of each submarine, as well as the method to fix it to the hull. Unique technologies for the creation of high-density substances decreased the noisiness of modern submarines over 100 times against Cold War era U-boats,” the Navy Recognition report states.
The 955As also incorporated hydraulic jets for “covert movement” and a technology called “high-duty low magnetic hull” to lower noise even further and subvert acoustic sensors seeking to track them. One TASS report even claimed the 955As were even “quieter” than U.S. Virginia-class attack submarines, something which is of course completely unverified.
The boats carry up to 16 missiles with a significant range of 9,300km, roughly equivalent to reported ranges of the China’s new nuclear armed JL-3 missiles. Both of these nuclear weapons can, depending upon strategic positioning, introduce the possibility of placing the continental U.S. at risk from considerable distances.
What the Russian report does not incorporate is any comparisons with or details of the U.S. Navy’s emerging Columbia-class nuclear armed ballistic missile submarines, new boats built with innovations which may make it the stealthiest submarine ever to exist. Of course many of the most impactful technologies intended to lower the boats’ acoustic signature are likely not available for security reasons, the Columbia’s are built with electric-drive propulsion, a technology which is of course much quieter than legacy hydraulic system. mobile electrical power to the submarine, systems of great relevance given the large number of advanced electronics built into the submarine. Newer kinds of command and control, computerized or automated navigational systems, and electrically-powered weapons and sensor interfaces.
Yet another way to remain less detectable is through the use of missile-tube launched undersea reconnaissance drones. Many of these drones are now being built by the Navy to bring new launch and recover surveillance systems to undersea warfare through the use of missile tubes. The technical ability to dispatch and track unmanned sonar and underwater reconnaissance systems, increasingly able to share data in real-time with larger host submarine platforms, can enable a large Columbia-class boat to linger more safely in “impossible to detect” locations, allowing forward-operating undersea drones to enter higher-risk areas to patrol for threats such as enemy subs.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.