Russia is developing a new and more economical class of nuclear-powered attack submarine that is designed to complement their existing more expensive subs. The Russian state press TASS has announced that the first Husky-class submarine will enter service in 2027. The news agency further stated that the submarines of the class will be the first deploy the new Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile.
The news of the Husky class subs was first reported in 2014 and was originally a company-funded design project by the St. Petersburg-based Malakhit Design Bureau. TASS, citing a source in Russia’s defense industry, claims construction is set to begin in 2023 with the first sub becoming operational in 2027 and the vessels likely to be built by the Severnoye Machine-Building Enterprise in Severodvinsk the second-largest city located in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. Its main industry remains defense-related including the construction and repair of submarines. Husky is alleged to be a cheaper alternative to the current top-end Yasen Class boats which recently entered service. And, since the Yasen boats are likened to the US Navy's Seawolf Class, then the Husky will be comparable to the current Virginia Class Attack subs.
The Husky class draws its inspiration from the older Cold War era Alfa-class attack submarines built by the former Soviet Union having the same teardrop-style double pressure hull. However, the Husky class design has an x-shaped rudder configuration instead of the Alfa type cross-shaped arrangement and replaces the spherical sonar array and towed arrays by substituting them with chin-mounted and flank arrays instead. The hull will be fitted with vertical launch system modules for cruise missiles and will carry land attack cruise missiles in vertical launch tubes too. The cruise missile system is the same type Russia has been launching against targets in Syria recently.
Although, little is known about Zircon, it will supposedly achieve speeds of Mach 6 around 6138 MPH or 1,7 miles per second, three times the speed of any prior missile generation, and have a range of 270 nautical miles. The supersonic speeds render it extremely difficult to track and intercept as the missile will travel very rapidly from a target ships radar horizon to its position. U.S. government officials have indicated that the Russians have proved the missile is capable of attaining sustained flight, a difficult goal in hypersonic flight research. And, that the missile design is being expanded from a strictly anti-ship weapon application to also having land strike capability. Zircon is intended to be launched from vertical launch tubes from several types of Russian navy ships including their Corvettes and frigates. As well, two of their current Battlecruisers will be refitted with Zircon capability and be able to launch ten of the missiles each. But the greater threat is that Russia’s current Yassen class submarines that will be able to carry forty of the missiles and launch them from a concealed sub-surface platform.
The faster the missile is the less time enemy defenses have to react and shoot the it down.
So, If the Russians realize their vision for the Husky then the new subs should provide Moscow with a design the Kremlin can build in large quantities to replace the aging Soviet-era vessels that still comprise the bulk of their fleet. But even with the addition of the advanced Husky-class, the Russian undersea force armed with potent new missiles will not be the menace that the massive Cold War era Soviet fleet once was.
The Russian Navy is taking a page out of the United States Navy’s playbook as it develops its family of next generation nuclear submarines because the new subs will be built in three variants; a basic attack submarine configuration, an expanded guided-missile submarine (SSGN) version, and an enlarged ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) variant. The new vessels are expected to start construction in the 2020-2021 timeframe.
The Russians are planning to ensure that all three versions of the Husky retain the maximum amount of commonality. And in many respects, the new submarines are similar in concept to the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class SSNs that were developed after the end of the Cold War to replace the extremely potent Seawolf-class boats that were rendered too expensive in that shifting geo-political atmosphere.
The Virginia-class began as a basic SSN concept but has evolved into an SSGN with the addition of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) in future boats of the class. Moreover, in many ways, the U.S. Navy’s forthcoming Columbia-class SSBNs are also a direct evolution of the Virginia-class design leveraging most of the older SSN design’s technology and systems onboard into a larger hull. And, the Husky will follow a similar path as the Virginia-class design has.
The Russians expect to begin with a basic SSN Attack boat design that would displace between 8,000 and 9,000 tons and have speeds of between 32 to 33 knots. The vessel would be armed with torpedoes and sea-mines, but could launch cruise missiles via its torpedo tubes as well. The Russians also want the vessel to be capable of delivering and recovering special operations forces and their equipment as does the Virginia-class.
The SSGN version and the SSBN variant would be built by stretching the submarine by adding an extra hull section similar to how the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) adds four payload tubes each capable of launching seven cruise missiles from a Multiple all-up-round Canister (MAC) by means of a hull-plug. The Russians, too, are looking into developing a MAC canister that would rapidly enable the SSBN version to switch their payloads over to carrying cruise missiles in packs of five to seven weapons per tube. That’s similar in concept to America’s four Ohio-class SSGNs that were originally armed with Trident II submarine launched ballistic missiles but are now armed with Cruise missiles.
Presumably, the Husky SSBN variant would be scaled-up from the SSN and SSGN versions in a manner similar to how the Columbia-class is essentially a larger derivative of the Virginia in terms of its sensors and most of its machinery. Indeed, all of the Husky-class variants would have the same sensors and propulsion systems, including the same life-of-the boat pressurized water reactor all of which are advanced derivatives of systems currently onboard their Project 995A Borei-class SSBN and Project 885M Yasen-class SSGNs.
The Russians hope that the Husky will be significantly more affordable than the Project 885M SSGNs, which are excellent submarines, but are extremely expensive. Indeed, given the economies of scale in terms of common parts and systems, the Russians hope to bring the cost of the Husky down to a level where they can build a minimum of 16 to 20 of the attack and SSGN versions of the boat, and possibly more. They would ideally like to be able to order one new boat at two-year intervals with deliveries taking no more than four and a half years from the start of construction. If all goes as projected, the first Husky would be delivered in 2025 while the last would be delivered in the 2030s.
The SSBN version would be built after the last of the currently under construction Project 995A Borei-class ballistic missile submarines are delivered with the next generation boomer allowing Russia to continue upgrading its nuclear forces in the 2020s if Moscow can’t reach further nuclear arms control agreements with the United States.
If the Russians realize their vision for the Husky, the new boat should provide Moscow with a design the Kremlin can build in large quantities to replace the Soviet-era vessels that still comprise the bulk of their fleet. But even with the addition of the advanced Husky-class armed with potent new missiles the Russian undersea force, though armed will not be the threat to the United States that the massive Soviet fleet once was.