Russia Building More Lada Submarines: Potemkin Class?
Russia is good at building impressive and powerfully armed submarines. Now, amidst the Ukraine War and continued efforts to modernize its navy, the keels of two new Pr.677 Lada (NATO: St. Petersburg) class submarines have been laid. The new submarines, the fourth and fifth of the class, will be named Vologda and Yaroslavl.
Something it’s not good at though, is building them as fast as it says it will.
The first of the new boats is reported to be launched by 2024. This seems unrealistic. According to Russian reports, the Russian Navy is supposed to receive 46 vessels this year.
The Lada class are a general improvement on the legacy KILO class, which still forms the backbone of Russia’s conventional submarine fleet. The Pr.636.3 Improved-KILO Class submarine is still in production. The keel of two more, Mozhaisk and Yakutsk were laid in August last year. Lada is an entirely new design, featuring single hull construction and modern features such as towed array sonar.
It’s main strength is likely to be the sonar. The bow of the submarine is wrapped in a conformal array, likely the biggest of any non-nuclear submarine. How effective it’s computers will be at analysing the mass of data such a large array should generate is open to question. But it does all the same imply an impressive anti-submarine capability. To hear others before it is heard.
The Lada class has had a slow and painful development however. The lead boat has been in the water nearly 18 years and is still regarded as troubled (at best). We should jot overstate this, it doesn’t doom the class to be ineffective. But it has not been the Russian submarine building industry’s finest hour (years//decades).
Hole in the Ocean
One of the biggest holes in the program has been the AIP (air independent power). Or rather, lack thereof. The Lada class was always expected to have AIP and much was made of it early in its life. It was widely marketed with the export version, the Amur class family of designs. But it didn’t materialize.
Today, Russia, a country which once led in AIP submarine research and fielded production AIP boats in the 1950s, is no longer a serious competitor in this space.
This is likely to be one contributory factor making the Lada class less capable than many of the NATO submarines it may face, especially in the Baltic. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a threat.
Lada Class Submarine
Something the Lada class has that NATO non-nuclear submarines don’t is land attack cruise missiles. Like the Improved-KILO class, which are involved in the Ukraine invasion, it can launch Kalibr. These come in both anti-ship and land attack versions.
It will be interesting to see whether reports will emerge suggesting that the two new boats will be built with AIP. Or possibly a vertical launch system (VLS) for cruise missiles. At this stage, I wouldn't put too much weight on Russian media speculation.
They give the submarine a potentially strategic weapon, especially in the opening rounds of a conventional war. A ‘first night’ capability.
Back to the latest two now under construction, the industrial tide seems against them. Russia’s economic situation is worsening and access to key parts is closing off. The war in Ukraine may cast a long shadow over the Russian defense industry. With so many submarines currently under construction, and important next generation designs waiting in the wings, we will see how it pans out. We can only speculate how many imported computer chips are required for these new boats.
But their construction will booster morale at home and create genuine concern among NATO members. These boats need to be taken seriously even if doubts about Russias ability to deliver submarines feels justified. 2024 or 2034?
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