Underwater rivalry: Russian Yasen vs US Virginia

The confrontation between the United state with the soviet union then Russia on the creation of submarine fleet never stopped. Breakthrough technologies of one of the parties were used alternately but after a while, the situation changed to the opposite.

In recent years, the Russian armed forces have significantly modernized thanks to investment and reforms. And although there are significantly fewer submarines than their Soviet predecessors, they are better equipped and are serviced by professional personnel. Today Russia has combat-ready high-tech weapons that can be used in solving any operational and tactical tasks.

modern submarine is the most complex structure created by the best scientists and engineers
modern submarine is the most complex structure created by the best scientists and engineers

According to foreign analysts, the US Navy’s submarine forces emerged from the Cold War as “masters of the underwater world.” The elite, entirely nuclear-powered submarine forces had an advantage over the Soviet ones, which were idle at the berth, and the Russian Federation could not sufficiently support them during this difficult period.

After more than twenty years of American submarine dominance, a new challenger has emerged from the depths. The surprise has been in the works for nearly two decades, and it was an unusual challenge to the superiority of the US naval forces, but nonetheless, it has a long and respectable pedigree. Analysts usually compare the Russian Yasen-class submarine with the new backbone of the US submarine force, the Virginia-class.

Ash-class submarines were conceived back in the mid-1980s by the Malakhit Central Design Bureau, one of the three main design bureaus of the Soviet Union for the creation of submarines. Construction of the first boat “Severodvinsk” began in 1993 in Russia at the shipyards of Sevmash, but due to lack of funding, the completion of the work was postponed for more than ten years. Severodvinsk was finally launched in 2010 and commissioned in 2013.

The Yasen-class submarine has a length of 120 meters and a displacement of 13,800 tons. She has only ninety crew members, which is much less than American ships of this type. This testifies to the high level of automation of the submarine systems. In shape, it resembles the earlier Shark class, but much longer than it.

Project 885 submarine infographics.
Project 885 submarine infographics.

Severodvinsk is the most efficient Russian combat submarine ever built, employing many of the technologies that the Soviet Union has built on top scientific and technological advances since the 1970s. It is much quieter than previous Russian submarines and has a maximum “silent” speed of about 20 knots. Some foreign reports suggest that the maximum speed of a vessel could be between 35 and 40 knots.

However, most Russian specifications list a maximum speed of 35 knots. As in most new designs of nuclear submarines, Severodvinsk’s two-hundred-megawatt OK-650KPM nuclear reactor is designed for the entire service life of the submarine.

According to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), although the new Russian submarine is quieter than the Improved Los Angeles-class boats, the new vessel makes slightly more noise than the Seawolf or Virginia-class boats. However, according to US Navy sources, Soviet shipbuilders have always lagged only slightly behind the United States in noise suppression technology. But today new versions of Yasen class boats with significantly better characteristics are being built.

Unlike most Soviet submarines, the Yasen-class submarines do not have a double hull, but instead, according to Russian media reports, they have a hybrid design with a lighter structure over a robust hull.

Another unique feature of Severodvinsk is the original sensory complex. It consists of the Irtysh-Amphora sonar system, a bow spherical sonar system, side sonar units and a towed group for listening in the rear sector. It has a navigation / search radar MRK-50 Albatross (Snoop Pair) and a set of electronic support / countermeasures Rim Hat (in American terminology).

The submarine’s armament consists of four torpedo tubes with a standard diameter of 533 mm and four 650 mm torpedo tubes. The torpedo tubes carry homing torpedoes and 3M-54 “Caliber” missiles, which can be used both in anti-ship and ground and anti-submarine versions. For even greater firepower, each Yasen submarine is equipped with 24 vertical launch rocket launchers mounted behind the conning tower. Each of these missiles can carry P-800 Onyx supersonic anti-ship missiles equipped with ramjet engines.

Seawolf-class submarine
Seawolf-class submarine

The Seawolf submarine was designed to provide a possible replacement for the US Navy’s Los Angeles-class submarines , but the prohibitive unit cost and changing strategic requirements have led the US Navy to request a smaller next-generation attack submarine.

Virginia class attack submarine
Virginia class attack submarine

The new Virginia-class attack submarine is an advanced, unobtrusive, multipurpose nuclear submarine for deep-sea anti-submarine warfare and coastal (shallow water) operations.

The Virginia-class submarines were conceived as an affordable extension of the short-lived Seawolf class, which, while extremely powerful, was also extremely expensive. In this sense, they proved to be very successful, and Virginia is gradually becoming the mainstay of the US Navy’s submarine forces.

Although the length of the “Virginia” is 115 meters, its displacement is two times less than that of the “Ash”. The crew consists of 113 people. The power plant is a General Electric SG9 nuclear reactor, which drives the original propeller instead of the classic propeller. The speed is 25 knots on the surface and 35 knots underwater, and they are quite quiet even at 25 knots.

Like its Russian counterpart, Virginia’s main sonar has a spherical bow mount. However, starting with the Block III submarine series, the BQQ-10 sonar is being replaced by the Bow large aperture U-shaped sonar. They are complemented by port and starboard groups of two units of three fiber optic acoustic sensors (LWWAA). These sensors are especially suited to the detection of diesel-electric submarines. Detection of objects from behind is provided by a towed passive antenna array TB-29 (A). Finally, high-frequency sonar allows Virginia to detect and avoid sea mines.

The Virginia class has only four 533mm torpedo tubes capable of firing the Mk / 48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) heavy homing torpedo for use against surface ships and submarines, as well as the UGM-84 Sub-Harpoon anti-ship missile . Early versions of this class carried twelve Tomahawk missiles in vertical launch tubes to engage ground targets. The latest Virginia model increases the number of launchers to forty Tomahawks per submarine.

Virginia class submarine infographics
Virginia class submarine infographics

Thus, comparing both submarines, it should be noted that they are both the pinnacle of their countries’ underwater technology.

Severodvinsk can dive deeper than Virginia, since according to Combat Ships of the World, the hull was tested only at a depth of 488 meters. Perhaps Virginia has the advantage of detection thanks to its new large aperture sonar.

In terms of armament, both sides are equipped about the same, although Severodvinsk has an anti-submarine version of the Kalibr missile, which allows the Russian ship to quickly hit enemy submarines with a missile torpedo.

The Virginia class is quieter and has a better sonar setup than its Russian rival. In the world of submarine warfare, this is an unbeatable combination. It can move and detect signals that Severodvinsk can send. However, Severodvinsk can quickly react to the sudden appearance of a target and its destruction with the help of its Kalibr supersonic anti-submarine missiles. In the near term, Virginia’s sonar usability is regularly being improved with software updates. It will be difficult for Severodvinsk to update its hydroacoustic complex, and it will not be easy to make Russian submarines quieter. On the whole, there is a parity in the capabilities of submarines.

In the long term, the rivalry between the two submarines is likely to lead to the emergence of unmanned underwater vehicles and a host of other new technologies. As the United States turns its full attention to warfare involving major states and, in particular, to submarine warfare, American submarines are likely to want to surpass their Russian rivals again.

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