It was reported early in October that Russia’s first fourth-generation nuclear-powered multipurpose attack submarine, the Severodvinsk, successfully conducted its first sea trials. In naval terms, a fourth-generation submarine belongs to the latest and most modern generation of submarines. The Severodvinsk is a Project 885 submarine of the Yásen’ (ash tree) class that has been described as “an undersea nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser.” Plans are for six or seven Yásen’ class submarines to be built, with the second vessel, Kazan, currently under construction.

The Severodvinsk has significant characteristics and capabilities. It has a fully loaded submerged displacement of 13,800 tons, a hull length of 120 meters and a beam 15 meters wide, a maximum diving depth of 600 meters, and a top underwater speed of 35 knots or between 35 and 40 knots. In addition to its eight 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, it carries eight large missile launch tubes abaft the submarine’s sail, probably angled and apparently capable of launching a total of 24 sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM). The reported arsenal that these missile launchers may carry is formidable and includes the supersonic 3M55 Oniks/Yashma (NATO designation: SS-N-26) anti-ship/land-attack SLCM, the supersonic 3M51 Alfa anti-ship/land-attack SLCM, the subsonic land-attack RK-55 Granat (NATO designation: SS-N-21 “Sampson”) SLCM, and the SS-N-27 “Sizzler” SLCM.

Each launch tube may carry three SS-N-26 missiles. The SS-N-26 has a cruise speed of Mach 2.6 at altitude, a range of 300 km, and a conventional 250 kg warhead. Although essentially an anti-ship missile, the SS-N-26 can attack land targets through satellite navigation and a planned imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. The missile could potentially be fitted with a tactical nuclear warhead. Each missile tube could carry instead three Alfa ramjet-powered SLCM. The Alfa missile has a cruise speed of Mach 3, a range of 300 km, and a 300 kg conventional warhead, and could probably be armed with a nuclear warhead.

The Severodvinsk may be able to carry a total of 32 SS-N-21 in its missile tubes. Each launch tube could hold up to four of these SLCM, which could also be launched from the submarine’s torpedo tubes. The “Sampson” missile could have a 100/200 kiloton nuclear warhead or a 410 kg conventional warhead. It has a maximum range of 3,000 km.

Moreover, each missile launcher may fire three of a new generation of long-range cruise missiles (LRCM). It has been widely reported that the Severodvinsk will carry SLCM with a range of 5,000 km or about 3,100 miles. The reported sea-launched LRCM could be a submarine-launched version of the new stealthy land-attack Kh-101 and Kh-102 subsonic air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM). According to an unconfirmed report, these missiles may have a range of 5,500 km. The Kh-101 has a 400 kg conventional warhead and the Kh-102 a 250 kiloton nuclear warhead.

Another possibility is that the design concept of the Meteorit LRCM project of the late-Soviet period—which reportedly was cancelled—has been pursued secretly as another missile. There may be a new missile replacing the cancelled supersonic Meteorit-M (NATO designation: SS-NX-24 “Scorpion”) submarine-launched LRCM. In the 1990s, research continued with Kh-90, a successor to the air-launched equivalent of SS-NX-24. The ALCM version of the Meteorit had a speed of Mach 2.5to Mach 3 and a maximum range of 5,000 km. More ominously, the Meteorit missile could carry two independently targeted 90 kiloton nuclear warheads, capable of attacking targets up to 100 km apart. Each missile tube could carry one of these large missiles.

A LRCM with a range of 5,500 km launched from the Norwegian Sea could potentially hit the northeastern seaboard of the U.S. Even though the likelihood of war with Russia is slim, the new long-range cruise missiles could be one of Moscow’s answers to NATO’s European missile defense system and the U.S. National Missile Defense. These LRCM could be used as second strike weapons, although formally they may be regarded as tactical nuclear weapons. As such they could be used to target air and naval bases in coastal areas. The U.S. and NATO must have robust missile defenses to meet the threat posed by a new generation of cruise missiles and must maintain strong submarine and anti-submarine forces.