Russian Navy’s Spy Submarine Losharik 1 Year After Fatal Accident
A year after a fatal accident aboard the nuclear powered submarine Losharik, the submarine remains out of service. The accident cost 14 elite ‘hydronauts’ their lives, and damaged the titanium-hulled submarine. While the international submarine community is united in solemnly remembering those who perished, Western navies will be taking stock. The accident will likely have a knock-on effect on the Russian Navy’s massive modernization program. Most at risk is the submarine Belgorod.
Russia’s spy submarine ‘Losharik’ is currently undergoing repairs in Severodvinsk. In this satellite … [+]
H I Sutton. Includes material © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS all rights reserved / PLEIADES satellite imagery | Acquired through ShadowBreak Intl
On Sunday July 5 a ceremony was held at the Serafimovsky Cemetery in Saint Petersburg. At the same time that a monument was was being unveiled by Vice Admiral Igor Mukhametshin, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, the submarine was moored in Severodvinsk waiting for repairs to be completed.
The memorial is 650 miles south of where the accident happened, but close to the home of Russia’s secretive GUGI organization. GUGI stands for Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research, is seen as an espionage organization. Although the submarine is part of the Russian Navy, its mission is driven by GUGI.
The missions of these submarines is steeped in mystery and secrecy. It is the kind of thing that is only really discussed in euphemism by the defense community. They are referred to by terms like “seabed warfare” and “underwater engineering”. In layperson’s terms this means laying sensor networks on the sea floor, and possibly wire taps on internet cables. Losharik and the other ‘deep water stations’, known as AGS, have manipulator arms so that they can work on cables on the sea floor. And they can dive to incredible depths, much deeper than regular submarines.
Although GUGI has a large submarine fleet, larger in fact than many leading Navy’s and undoubtedly the largest fleet dedicated to spy missions, it is suffering from availability issues. Several of its submarines have been mothballed in the arctic city of Severodvinsk for many years. Right now, four of the deep diving midget submarines are there. These include Losharik, and that is a problem for the Russian Navy.
Losharik, which is formally known as AS-21, is the sole Project 10831 submarine. She is the most modern, and also the most capable, of the deep diving midget submarines. So she carried the greatest burden. And the newest of the special mission host submarines, Belgorod, is designed specifically to carry her.
Belgorod was launched on April 23 2019 and is currently being fitted out in Severdovinsk. She is actually just across the river from where Losharik has most recently been seen. Belgorod is slated to be commissioned into the Russian fleet later this year, although that seems highly optimistic. And without Losharik available, there will be no meaningful ‘spy mission’ to test. Launch and recovery of Losharik will logically be a major phase of the testing. And Belgorod’s second mission, as a launch platform for the Poseidon strategic weapon, is not expected until 2027. This likely translates into a delay in Belgorod’s schedule.
We do not know how much longer Losharik’s repairs will take. The fact that she is in the water, being moved around Severodvinsk, may mean one of two things. Either there are delays in starting a phase of the work and she is waiting for a slot, or it is almost finished. You can be rest assured that analysts will be watching, trying to figure out what it all means for the Russian Navy. And your internet connection.