The whereabouts of a new Russian submarine, the Belgorod, has captured headlines around the world. With a degree of hysteria, there have been reports that it has been deployed with its nuclear ‘apocalypse’ and ‘doomsday’ weapons. Even that it has ‘disappeared’ (submarines do that).
Naval News has been keeping an eye on the topic since before these stories broke. We can offer fresh information about her activities.
Images obtained by Naval News show the submarine operating in the Barents Sea, north of Russia’s Kola Peninsular.
The Belgorod (K-329) is a unique submarine. She is around 178 meters (583 ft) long, 15 meters (50 ft) wide and in the region of 30,000 tons. This makes it by far the largest built anywhere in the world since the famous Typhoon class. She is armed with the Poseidon strategic weapon which itself is unique.
Described by the U.S. Navy as an ‘Intercontinental Nuclear-Powered Nuclear-Armed Autonomous Torpedo’, it combines incredible range with hard-to-kill performance. There is a concern that, with current weapons, it is effectively unstoppable once launched.
Launched in 2019, Belgorod was formally commissioned on July 8 2022, so this is one of her first longer-range trips. But she is still very close to home, in the Russian Navy’s back yard.
We noted the submarine leaving Severodvinsk in the White Sea a few weeks ago, and she was in the Barents Sea by September 22. She was still there on September 27. On both dates she was observed on the surface. This is not unusual for new submarines like this.
Prospect Of A Poseidon Launch
Predictions are dangerous in this game. However, we view a test launch of Poseidon as not out of the question. This could be routine, to test a new weapon system. Or it could principally be political, as a demonstration. Testing nuclear weapons, even without warheads, may be part of Russia’s chosen nuclear escalation ladder.
We will leave it to nuclear weapon wonks to better asses the nuclear ladder. But we cannot rule out a test.
However, her movements are also broadly in line with what we would expect of a new submarine. Russian political leaders may value the ambiguity of her being at sea, but they have not been doing very much to fully hide her movements.
Nord Stream Attack
Another topic which needs addressing is the leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipes under the Baltic on September 26. These are believed to have been a deliberate act of sabotage, and Russia is a candidate.
Belgorod has another important capability as well as carrying Poseidon. She can act as a mother submarine (‘host platform’) for special deep-diving midget submarines which operate on the sea floor. Russia has a fleet of these mother submarines for seabed warfare.
Technically Belgorod would be suited to carry out such an attack, even in relatively shallow water. And media did turn to her as the best known example of this type of ‘special mission’ submarine.
However, it is highly unlikely that she was involved. She is known to have been observed in the Barents Sea on September 22 and again on September 27. This makes it impossible for her to have been in the Baltic at the time of the attacks. And, looking at her past sailing plans, it is equally unlikely that sailed to the Baltic beforehand.
This does not rule Russia out as being behind the attacks. But it does eliminate Belgorod as a suspect.