April 2, 2013: Strategy Page
Russia has decided to build 13 of its new Borei SSBNs (nuclear powered ballistic missile boats), including a slightly larger second batch. The first of these subs is to make its first long range "combat patrol" this year. The Russian Navy finally accepted its first new Borei class SSBN (Yury Dolgoruky) for service last December 30th. Thus it appears that the newly commissioned Yury Dolgoruky will be the first Russian SSBN in many years to make a long range cruise. A second Borei is undergoing sea trials and is expected to enter service this year. A third Borei class boat began sea trials earlier this year.
The Boreis are 170 meters (558 feet) long and 13meters (42 feet) in diameter. Surface displacement is 15,000 tons, and 16 Bulava SLBMs are carried. The boat also has four torpedo tubes, and twelve torpedoes or torpedo tube launched missiles. The Borei also sports a huge sonar dome in the bow. The Boreis have a crew of 107, with half of them being officers (a common Russian practice when it comes to high tech ships like nuclear subs). Each of these boats will cost at least two billion dollars. This high cost, by Russian standards, is partly because many factories that supplied parts for Russian subs were in parts of the Soviet Union that are not now within the borders of present day Russia. New factories had to be built. All components of the Boreis, and their missiles, will be built in Russia. Eight of these boats are to be built by the end of the decade. After that there are plans to build five “improved Borei” (or Borei A) with new technology added and the ability to carry 20 SLBMs.
In recent years, there have been only about ten nuclear submarine patrols a year, each lasting three months at most and usually a lot less. Most have not gone far from Russian waters and some were by recently built SSNs (nuclear attack subs) or SSGNs (SSNs equipped with cruise missiles) and not by SSBNs.
The problem here was that the Russian Navy has not only shrunk since the end of the Cold War in 1991 but it has also become much less active. Much of the time at sea consisted of short range training missions, which often lasted a few days, or just a few hours. But the true measure of a fleet is the "combat patrol" or "deployment." In the U.S. Navy most of these last from 2-6 months and in the last decade U.S. nuclear subs have carried out ten times as many patrols as their Russian counterparts.