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Progress: There's no stopping it!
Level 1: 5/24/2001
First C!: 6/2/2001 - Cool Man Eddie says The Custodian just cooled your writeup on Tu-22M Backfire, baby
Level 2: 6/18/2001
First Editor Cool: 7/15/2001 - Cool Man Eddie says Yo, the entire node MiG-25 Foxbat was editor cooled. You have a writeup in there; your reward is knowing you're cooler than liquid nitrogen.

From the end of World War II to the present, the USSR's naval strategies have heavily emphasized the use of the submarine in preference to surface ships and/or aircraft carriers. Accordingly, in the last fifty years, the USSR has introduced about 30 different types of submarine.

NATO's original codename scheme for submarines used the letters of the radio phonetic alphabet, in no particular order. All 26 letters of the phonetic alphabet were exhausted in 1985, and so in that year, a new alphabetical naming scheme was formulated, using Russian fish-related terms in alphabetical order; the next two submarine types were designated Akula and Beluga. After the collapse of the USSR, this new system seemed to fall into disuse (much like the rest of the NATO reporting scheme) as the real names of vessels became known. Thus, the lead ship of the new class of attack submarine under construction is known by her real Russian Navy name, "Severodvinsk". It remains to be seen if she will be assigned a NATO reporting name (which would logically start with a 'C') if and when she enters the fleet.

Note that in the modern United States Navy, there are basically two types of combatant submarines: the nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN, for sub-surface, nuclear-powered), which can cruise for extended periods underwater and which are primarily intended to hunt other submarines (though they also have a secondary cruise missile capability for land attack and anti-ship work) and the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN, for sub-surface, ballistic missile, nuclear-powered), which are intended to hide very very quietly in the open ocean until it's time to nuke the commies. In the Russian Navy, these types are also used, but two additional types are important: the cruise missile submarines (SSGN, for sub-surface, guided, nuclear-powered), intended to attack high-value surface ships, and the diesel-electric attack/patrol submarines (SS), which, while shorter-ranged and far slower than nuke subs, can operate for limited periods of time on battery power, more quietly than a nuclear sub; this makes them very well suited to defense of shallow coastal waters, where they can operate as a "mobile, intelligent minefield".

The history of post-WWII Soviet submarine development can be divided into a few major periods. In the early post-war period (1946-1958), the USSR considered the Army to be their major offensive force; the Navy was a defensive force designed to stop amphibious assaults. Accordingly, the Zulu and Whiskey class diesel-electric patrol submarines were medium-range types, not intended to go far out to sea.

Khrushchev's anti-carrier construction program (1956-1965) was a response to the nuclear strike capability of American aircraft carriers. A carrier force a few hundred miles from the USSR was now a credible strategic threat. The USSR's answer to this threat was guided missiles carried on surface ships and on submarines. The Zulu class were modified to test submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SS-N-4 Sark); the Whiskey class were modified to test sub-launched cruise missiles (SS-N-3 Shaddock). Over the following decade, 7 other submarine classes were introduced, covering every combination of major submarine roles (ballistic missile, cruise missile, and attack) with nuclear and diesel-electric propulsion systems. The missile submarines of this era had to fire their missiles from the surface, a critical point of vulnerability.

The introduction of the Polaris ballistic missile submarines into the United States Navy in 1960 and 1961 increased the threat of nuclear attack against the USSR. The 2500+ km range of the early Polaris missiles required the Soviet Navy to go much further to sea to hunt submarines than they previously had done. During the extensive ASW construction program of 1962-1978, the USSR constructed about 50 dedicated ASW surface ships, including two new classes of helicopter carrier; of all these ships, only the Kiev class helicopter carriers had any significant anti-ship capability. In the same timeframe, the USSR built 115 nuclear- powered (read: long-range) submarines (half boomers, the rest mainly attack subs) and only 15 diesel attack subs.

In the 1970s, it became clear that the offensive ASW program was largely a failure. American SSBNs rapidly evolved to be too quiet to track easily, and improvements in the Polaris missile series yielded a range of over 4500 km, more than tripling the area which had to be covered to find them. Meanwhile, NATO constructed the SOSUS network of passive sonar systems across the choke points in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, making it likely that Soviet submarines would be detected if they tried to reach open ocean.

The result was the balanced fleed construction program carried out from 1975 until the fall of the USSR. The development of longer-ranged SLBMs allowed the later versions of the Delta-class and the enormous Typhoon class SSBNs to threaten the United States from Soviet territorial waters, allowing the ASW ships to operate over a much smaller area in a defensive role, guarding the SSBNs against NATO submarines. In the event of war, newer and quieter attack submarines would try to break through the SOSUS lines into open oceans to attack convoys, while third-generation cruise missile submarines would attempt to launch saturation missile attacks on high-value surface targets in conjunction with new classes of missile ships such as the very powerful Kirov class battlecruiser and with airborne missile launchers such as the Tu-22 Backfire.

In the post-Cold War period, Russian submarine development has all but stopped due to lack of funding. In 1985, the USSR operated about 360 submarines of over 20 types. In 2000, only 75 submarines and half as many types were operational. Operating nuclear submarines is a horrifically expensive undertaking, and while about a dozen such subs (including one new attack submarine type and one new ballistic missile type) are at least partially constructed, they may never enter service.

See also:

  • Modern Soviet Weapons, Ray Bonds (ironically, "modern" for this edition means "as of 1986").
  • http://www.ais.org/~schnars/aero/nato-shp.htm , Andreas Gehrs-Pahl and Robin J. Lee (with permission)