Russia’s New ‘Invisible’ Nuclear Submarines Will Be Undetectable to Enemy Forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

“In the whole world, Russia has only two true allies,” Russian Tsar Alexander III “The Peacemaker” loved to explain to his advisors, “her Army and her Navy.” Almost 150 years later, Russians wholeheartedly support this motto. In 2015, Vladimir Putin happily repeated it while answering a concerned citizen’s question.

Ten years ago, Russia started to ambitiously modernize her ground and air forces. The country successfully demonstrated the results in Syria and last week declared “the end of the civil war” there.

Russia is modernizing the Navy too, with heavy emphasis on a new class of noiseless nuclear submarines.

The newest Russian nuclear submarines of the Borey-A and Yasen-M classes will soon be invisible to the sonar radars of NATO submarines, anti-submarine ships and aircraft, reports Russian newspaper Izvestia. The submarines will be equipped with new, sealed pumps. The circulation of liquids in the submarine’s reactor, the cooling of its systems and equipment, the submarine’s surfacing and diving, and, most importantly, the filling of torpedo launch tubes with water before firing all depend on the pumps.

The noise from these pumps is a major risk and detection factor for any submarine.

The technical characteristics of these new noiseless sealed pumps are top secret, since they define the physical portrait of each particular submarine. If these parameters become known, the submarine can be easily detected against the background of natural noises in the ocean.

According to Izvestia, the new pumps “have a simple design, small dimensions, and improved vibro and sound insulation.” Working at full capacity, one of these pumps can hold a mid-size coin standing on its edge of its lid.

“The amount of noise that a submarine makes is influenced by a lot of factors,” Vladimir Shcherbakov, an expert on naval weaponry, told the newspaper. “First of all, it’s influenced by the main power plant—the nuclear reactor, pumps, diesel engines, shafts, propellers and water jets. In the case of propellers and water jets, noise reduction is achieved by improving their designs. Reducing the detectability of working diesel engines or of auxiliary motors can be achieved with the help of suspension systems and rubber mats onto which they are placed. It’s more complicated with the reactor, since it cannot be placed on the vibro-platform or covered with rugs. Therefore, it’s possible to achieve noise reduction by improving the operation of the reactor’s pumps. The noise of continuously circulating liquid is the loudest sound on the nuclear submarine.”

Moscow promised to build 5 Borey-A and 6 Yasen-M class nuclear submarines by 2020.

In addition to noiseless pumps, these Russian submarines will be equipped with “wet” mufflers to fire torpedoes. New torpedo launch tubes have also been designed to make Russian submarines invisible. They work the same way as silencers on small arms; they drown out the sound of the shot.

Currently, Russian submarines’ torpedo launch tubes are built based on the air-pressure method, meaning that the torpedo’s launch is achieved by highly compressed air. The system requires several minutes to prepare and limits the depth application of torpedoes to 1,000 to 1,300 feet. It also makes the submarine visible to its enemy’s sonic radars, which easily pick up on the noise that the compressed air makes while entering and leaving the torpedo launch tubes. After the torpedo is fired, air bubbles left behind reveal the submarine’s location.

Russian nuclear submarines’ new “wet” torpedo launch tubes will operate on unique impulse-turbo-pump engines that can drive 1,321 gallons of water through their systems in a single second.

“Modern Russian torpedoes will be placed into the launch tubes already in drowned state,” Roman Pykhtin, executive director of the “Vane Hydraulic Machine” company that produces the launch tubes, told Izvestia. “The crew just has to press the button, and our pump instantly creates the necessary water pressure. As a result, the torpedo will be propelled 23 feet from the submarine. It is the safe distance at which the torpedo’s engine turns on, and the missile starts pursuing its target.”

“Preparation for torpedo launch is a very noisy experience,” Viktor Karavaev, lead designer of the nuclear submarines, told Izvestia. “The process takes only minutes, but it is enough for an enemy to ‘hear’ that an attack is being prepared and take retaliatory measures. Under water, the opening of the torpedo launch tube alone is audible for miles. A new impulse-electronic trigger system provides the weapon’s instant launch, which remains completely unnoticed by the enemy since no preliminary steps, no ‘impulse’ of the launch, and no subsequent perturbations of the environment occur.”

Vadim Kozyulin, professor of the Academy of Military Science in Russia, said that the deployment of the “wet” torpedo launch tubes excludes the use of compressed air, which means that firing missiles will be entirely noiseless and hidden. He explains, “The maximum depth of torpedo weapons’ ‘air’ launch is 1,000 feet. Deeper, it gets impossible to produce the necessary air pressure inside the torpedo launch tube. Modern submarines descend up to 1,650 feet. Currently, a unique deep sea submarine is being created in Russia. It’s the underwater robot carrier ‘Khabarovsk.’ According to available information, the depth of her immersion is 3,280 feet. The use of the impulse-turbo-pump systems for launching torpedo weapons will allow it to shoot them without regard to the fact that the compressed air cylinders simply do not have enough power to push the robot to a safe distance from the submarine. ‘Drones,’ launched at such a depth, are completely invisible to the enemy.”

Torpedo launch tubes are used not only to launch torpedoes, cruise missiles and drones; they set mines and serve as exits for marine saboteurs.

Additionally, Russia is developing another new device to deceive the enemy that can be released from the torpedo launch tube. The device is called a “small-size hydroacoustic countermeasure device Vist-2.” It is 2.6 feet long and weighs 30 pounds. Vist creates a powerful acoustic hindrance that silences the homing heads of torpedoes and submarines’ sonar. It emits a special signal that simulates the sound of a ship or submarine. According to experts, the device, whose operation life is more than five minutes (enough to evade a torpedo or hide from the enemy’s hydroacoustic complex) seriously increases the Russian submarine fleet’s combat capabilities.

Russia’s new generation of noiseless submarines, which can be hidden anywhere around the world in the depths of the oceans—the “black holes” that carry cruise missiles or drones armed with nuclear warheads—is part of Vladimir Putin’s plan to show Washington that no Missile Defense Shield in Europe and no great ocean will protect American soil in case of military conflict.