While the Russian Navy continues to rely heavily on Soviet era warship designs for the higher end of its surface fleet, from the Kuznetsov Class carrier to Kirov and Slava Class cruisers and Udaloy and Sovremenny Class destroyers, the service has invested heavily in modernizing both its fleet of lighter surface vessels such as frigates and, to a much greater extent, in modernizing its submarine fleet.
While the Soviet Union’s leading shipyards were lost to Russia after the state’s collapse, with the Black Sea shipyard which had laid down the state’s heaviest vessels located in the newly formed state of Ukraine, production facilities for submarines were mostly located on Russian territory and would continue to operate at a relatively high rate throughout the 1990’s and since.
Submarines are seen to provide a more cost effective asset than surface combatants, and due to the difficulty of detecting them and the considerable firepower they can bring to bear they are often capable of neutralizing surface fleets several times their size and cost when properly armed and operated.
As part of its continued emphasis on the submarine fleet, which has come largely at the expense of investment in heavyweight surface vessels, Russia has recently moved to expand undersea warfare capabilities with deployment of more cost effective unmanned ships.
The first of these was unveiled in 2018 and has a strategic role similar to that of Russian ballistic missile submarines. Known as the Poseidon, it is capable of carrying over 100 megatons worth of nuclear weapons.
The Poseidon program has progressed considerably since its unveiling and the ships are today active in front-line service supporting the Russian strategic deterrent.
The strategic program has largely overshadowed a potentially more significant tactical weapons system which Russia is currently working to deploy, which is also an unmanned submarine, the Cephalopod killer underwater drone, and has reportedly been under development since 2015.
The Cephalopod is armed with MTT 324mm lightweight torpedoes, a caliber which are typically used for anti submarine warfare, indicating that the ships could be assigned a submarine hunting role.
The U.S. Navy currently fields the second largest submarine fleet in the world in numbers, surpassed only by that of North Korea, and has the largest fleet in the world when counted by displacement with its ships all being heavyweight nuclear powered vessels.
The Cephalopod could provide an asymmetric threat to American nuclear submarines, complementing other Russian programs such as the Improved Kilo Class ‘Black Hole’ submarine which is a light and extremely quiet platform capable of posing a very serious threat to larger ships.
Undersea warfare expert HI Sutton stated regarding the Cephalopod program: It is very large for an unmanned undersea vehicle, larger probably than the U.S. Navy’s Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV).
It has a single curving propeller, called a screw, which is very similar to those used on full sized submarines. This suggests that Cephalopod is designed for long endurance and stealth rather than maneuverability.
But it does have thrusters that may allow it to hover. Other Russian undersea drones use several small thrusters arranged to give excellent maneuverability.
It remains to be seen when the Cephalopod will be deployed or in what numbers, Russia could lead the country to invest more heavily in such low cost but potentially lethal assets at the expense of other more costly manned naval vessels.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2023.