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The Yasen-M and the Future of Russian Submarine Forces

Sidharth Kaushal, James Byrne, Joseph Byrne, Gary Somerville
RUSI Defence Systems, 28 May 2021
Martial Power Programme, Military Sciences, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, Maritime Forces
The recent launch of the Kazan, the second boat of Russia’s Yasen class of nuclear submarines, provides a number of insights into the future of Russia’s submarine fleet.

The Russian Yasen-M-class nuclear cruise missile submarine (SSGN) Kazan was constructed to a shorter build time than the lead boat Severodvinsk. It also appears to be shorter in length than its predecessor by about nine metres. Nonetheless, the two boats share a number of characteristics, including a reported level of quietness comparable to the very best Western SSNs and a long-range strike capability which exceeds that seen on most Western assets.

The Kazan was constructed in eight years, less than half the time taken to construct the Severodvinsk. The slow pace of the latter project was in large part due to the financial troubles which beset Russia in the immediate post-Soviet era. However, the design of the Kazan also evinces a number of evolutionary steps that should allow Russia to cut unit construction costs and build times for future vessels in the class. As such, we might expect future submarines in this class to enter the fleet at a more rapid pace than previously envisioned.

From a planning standpoint, the most notable feature of the Kazan – one which it shares with the Severodvinsk – is its capacity to launch a range of anti-ship and land attack missiles, including the hypersonic 3M22 Zircon. The shift from SSNs like the Akula, which are primarily optimised for a hunter-killer role, towards a concept closer to nuclear guided missile submarines (SSGNs), is likely indicative of a shift in the way that Russian submarines will contribute to future campaigns. Long-range strike missions appear to be superseding sea lines of communication (SLOC) interdiction as a primary task. This will likely necessitate a change in how NATO manages the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) challenge in the High North, given that a strategy of barrier defence at the GIUK (Greenland–Iceland–UK) gap may actually do little to impact Russian submarines, which may have little need to traverse this barrier in order to achieve their operational ends.

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Author

Dr Sidharth Kaushal
Research Fellow, Sea Power

Sidharth Kaushal's research at RUSI covers the impact of technology on maritime doctrine in the 21st century and the role of sea... read more

James Byrne
Senior Research Fellow

James Byrne is a Senior Research Fellow at RUSI’s Proliferation and Nuclear Policy programme.

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Joe Byrne
Research Analyst

Joe Byrne is a Research Analyst at RUSI’s Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Team.

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Gary Somerville
Research Analyst

Gary Somerville is a Research Analyst at RUSI’s Proliferation and Nuclear Policy programme.

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