The Russian Navy’s build up of forces in the Black Sea as part of the invasion of Ukraine is well known. Less widely talked about is the related build up in the Mediterranean, seen as the outer defense for the Black Sea operations. Following Russian Doctrine, this may form part of a deterrence against NATO involvement in the war.
Now a nuclear submarine appears to have been added to the mix. Naval News has seen strong indications that a Russian attack submarine (SSN) or cruise missile submarine (SSGN) is operating near Italy.
It is unclear how long the submarine has been operating there. The most straightforward explanation is that it deployed there to replace the Slava class cruiser Marshal Ustinov which left the Mediterranean on August 24. While Ustinov is sailing provocatively between the United Kingdom and Ireland, the submarine may have slipped into the Med. In a sense, the cruiser is providing a distraction.
But NATO’s attention seems to have shifted to the submarine. And open source intelligence (OSINT) analysts also.
It is currently unknown what type of submarine it is. And that may never be known in public sources. We are confident that it is nuclear powered, that much can be deduced from the circumstances. Russia has deployed nuclear powered submarines to the Mediterrean before, but not frequently. In the current context, it is related to the war in Ukraine. Recent Serbia-Kosovo tensions are also nearby.
What Type Of Submarine Is It?
We can narrow it down to three general types of submarine. It may be a nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN). The main type in Russian service is the Akula class, but there are also Sierra-I/II and Victor-III classes.
Earlier in the war OSINT analysts picked up indications that a Russian SSN was operating the Mediterranean. This was unusual and, given the timeframe, that boat must have left.
Or the submarine may be an Oscar-II class cruise missile submarine (SSGN). These are armed with 24 powerful Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) supersonic anti-ship missiles. While these are older boats, they are still a formidable anti-carrier platform, more so than the Ustinov.
Lastly it may be one of the Russian Navy’s latest Severodvinsk (aka Yasen) class SSGNs. These carry much more modern cruise missiles capable of both anti-ship and land-attack missions. They are also quieter and considered more potent. In many respects the Severodvinsk class are the most capable in the Russian inventory. One of these submarines, the lead boat Severodvinsk (K-560) was in St. Petersburg in July. It left the Baltic in August, along with an Akula class submarine Vepr (K-157).These were expected to sail north however.
Russia already has two Improved-KILO class submarines in the Mediterranean. These are at the Russian Navy base in Tartus in Syria. Although capable boats, armed with Kalibr anti ship and land attack cruise missiles, they are much more limited than nuclear submarines. They have been deployed to Syria since before the invasion and now spend a lot of their time in port.
More information may come to the surface. But like so much in the submarine world, the details may remain elusive.