The Russian Navy’s submarine force has been more active this year against the backdrop of soured relationships with the West over the ongoing internal conflicts in Ukraine and the forced annexation of Crimea by Russia, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert said on Tuesday.
“I’d say they’re very busy in the undersea domain, I’ll leave it with that,” he said at The Brookings Institution.
“They’re not as busy in the surface domain.”
Russia’s surface fleet is largely antiquated and in poor repair and its submarine fleet is by far the most capable component of its naval forces and has been operating further afield than its surface fleet in the last several years.
The Pentagon seldom discusses submarine operations — of either allied or potential rivals — but there has been an obvious increase in Russian submarine operation over the last few years.
“Although Moscow has made no attempt to conceal the fact that it plans to accelerate submarine operations, the audacity of some recent patrols exemplifies a troubling trend,” wrote Lt. Cmdr. Tom Spahn, USNR in a June 2013 article on Russian submarine forces in Naval Institute Proceedings.
“In late 2012, an Akula allegedly remained undetected for several weeks while conducting operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Later that same year, a Sierra-2-class guided-missile submarine crept within a mere 200 miles of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. In the Mediterranean, Russian submarines have similarly increased operations, likely including participation in a massive naval exercise off the coast of Syria in January 2013.”
More recently, Norwegian scientists spotted and photographed what looked to be a 13,700-ton Delta-III Project-667 nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) peeking out from an icepack in the Arctic Circle. Last week, the Latvian military spotted a Russian Kashtan-class submarine support ship 18 nautical miles off their coast in the Baltic, according to press reports.