Russia’s Yasen-class submarines, long perceived as a threat by the US military, are set to acquire hypersonic missiles.

Russia's Yasen-class submarines, long perceived as a threat by the US military, are set to acquire hypersonic missiles.

Russia Upgrades Its Troubling Submarines with Hypersonic Missiles

Russian shipbuilders are currently working on equipping their Yasen-class submarines with Zircon hypersonic missiles, according to the head of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, Alexei Rakhmanov. This move confirms longstanding expectations and further solidifies the submarines’ reputation as a formidable threat to the US Navy.

The Yasen-class nuclear-powered cruise-missile submarines are known for their quietness, difficult trackability, and heavy armament. The first submarine of the class, the Severodvinsk, was commissioned in 2013, and subsequent submarines built under the Yasen-M sub-class have been equipped with more advanced features, including new quieting technology, sensors, and a quieter nuclear reactor.

US defense officials have long recognized the challenge posed by these submarines. Rear Admiral Dave Johnson, in 2014, admitted that the US would be facing tough potential opponents, specifically mentioning the Severodvinsk submarine. US Air Force General Glen VanHerck also acknowledged in 2021 that Russia was fielding very quiet submarines, such as the Yasen-class, capable of holding the US homeland at risk.

At present, three Yasen-class submarines are already active, one is undergoing trials, and the fifth is set to be launched later this year. With their current armament of ten torpedo tubes and eight vertical launch system cells capable of firing both the P-800 Oniks and 3M-14 Kalibr missiles, the addition of the Zircon hypersonic missile is expected to further increase the submarines’ threat level.

The development of the Zircon hypersonic missile was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019. The missile boasts speeds of Mach 9 and a range of over 600 miles, although its actual capabilities remain unclear. In 2021, a Zircon missile was test-fired from the Severodvinsk submarine, and this year, the frigate Admiral Gorshkov sailed with Zircon hypersonic missiles in the Atlantic Ocean.

Hypersonic missiles, like the Zircon, have become a focal point of competition between the US, Russia, and China. These weapons are highly sought-after due to their high speeds and maneuverability, making them difficult to counter with existing air and missile defenses. The US Navy is also developing its own hypersonic weapon, the Conventional Prompt Strike, and plans to deploy hypersonic weapons aboard Zumwalt-class destroyers by 2025 and Virginia-class attack submarines by the end of this decade.

As Russia continues to enhance its submarines with advanced weaponry, the competition for hypersonic missile technology intensifies. The implications of these developments in naval warfare are significant, and both Russia and the US strive to stay ahead in this race.