Created: 3/1/1985

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Soviet Submarine Warfare Trends

Special National Intelligence Estimate




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tu atari In the rxefariUoo ef (LU Emanate, which wu ippiWd* National ForctDi LrfdlitenCT Bomd co that date.



The following inteSgence organizations participated in tho preparation of the Estimate;

Ihe Control Intelligence Agency, tho Defense tnloSigervce Agency, the Notional Security Agency, ond the intelligence ccgonJiotlon of the Deportment of State.

Also Participating:

The Assistant Chief af Staff foreportment of tho Army The Director of Naval Intelligence, Deportment of the Navy The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Department of the ArThe Director ofenee, Hoodquorteri, Marine Corps


In its semiannual review of worldwide nuclear development. lhe DCI's Nuclear Inielligence Panel noted wiih alarm the apparent strides made in the past few years in Soviel submarine programs- The Panel recommendedommunity assessment for policymakers be undertaken to determine if Ihese strides in fact marked an acceleration of Soviet undersea warfare capabilities and wlial future (rends could be expected. The DCI approved lhc recommendation, which is fulfilled in this Estimate.

Any attempt to portray Soviet submarine trends must necessarilyumber of undersea warfare technical fields of some scientific complexity. Further, mere description of improvements made in various fields is inadequate in allowing policymakers to determine the significance of such improvements. We have, therefore, compared Soviet developments not only with the USSR's previous capabilities, but with the established performance of Western submarines, sensors, and weapons.

These comparisons should not be interpreted as netomparative net evaluation of US and Soviel submarines would require an examination of factors well beyond (he scope of thisreadiness, tactics, missions, force correlations, professional performance, variations in acoustics and bottom topography in the postulated baltle area, and numerous other considerations. These aspects are so important that no predictions aboutingle one-on-one engagement can be postulated from data in this Estimate.

Rather, we have attempted to portray Soviet undersea technology (rends in terms of the current state of the art lo determine if Sovielorts are likely to result in major changes relative to Western capabilities in the nextears.


The Soviel submarine force will remain the most important element of the Soviet Navy into. The key trends, we believe, will be:

A commitment to building substantially improved submarines at about the same pace as in the lasttheew generation of submarines will allow greater flexibility in Soviet tactics and operations.

superiority in the ability toonventional weaponsmostly to use of double hull designs and high-strength hull material. The newest submarines may make some current antisubmarine warfare (ASW) weapons obsolete, and may require apotentiallyresponse.

Maximum speeds inknot range for some of the newest SSNs,urst speed ofnotsmall number of special-purpose submarines in. We project that the tactical speed of Sovietmaximum speed at which they may still effectively use their passive sonarremain inferior to lhat of their US counterparts.

Improved submarine-launched ballisticwith thc possibility ofard-largct kill capability. The long ranges of these missiles will allow the submarines that carry them to patrol close to the USSR, thus aiding their survivability.

Introduction of long-range, land-attack cruiseSoviets are preparing for the deployment of two different types of these nuclear-armed cruiseupersonic high-altitude weaponubsonic low-allitude weapon.

The continued use of technology transfer to hasten thein thc Soviet submarine force.


reater use o( icefields for operations of nuclear-power exl ballistic missile submarinesy patrolling under the ice in wartime. Soviel SSBNs could avoid the ASW threat from enemy air and surface forces.

We project that the size of the Soviet submarine force willodest decline, but the pcrccnlane of units that are nuclear powered will grow substantially (seehc majority of the force will consist of older, less capable units until lhe. By then new. quiet nuclear-powered atiack submarines will be present in sufficient numbers to challenge Western ASW lorcesignificantlyundersea threat.

We believe these improvements do nothange in the missions of tbe Soviet submarine force, but rather that it will be more capable of performing them inn thc areas of Ibe ocean thc Soviets would attempt to controlonflict, their submarine force wouldormidable adversary. If. as we project, they initially station some three-quarters of their available attack submarines in tJiese "sea control and sea denial" areasonflict, they can hope to provide

Figure 1

The Projected Soviet Submarine Force Nambrr oC Mbmartao


t<lrtt|>iiii.n (idUUI opuiitoml oDiMilf In It'll iM

Inn fltllfl.

a major improvement to tlie survivability of thirir SSBNs. Their efforts to counter US ASW defenses will make the undersea protection of carrier battle groups increasingly difficult. Sovietrogram to counter Western sensor systems, including the sound surveillance systemn the other hand, we believe that Soviet submarines will not be capable of attacking any moreew US SSBNs. and possibly none, because of continued inability to reliably detect and track these units in the open ocean.^

With their newest units thc Soviets will potentially be able to operate on even ierms with all but fhe most capable US submarines. These newest units will also pose much greater problems for other current US ASW systems; we cannot evaluate thc effects on programed US improvements.

This assessment has by definition focused on thc latest and most capable Soviet submarines We estimate that5 quiet submarines will compose somewhat more than half of the active nuclear-powered submarine force. Thus, nearly half of the force will continue to contend at marked operational disadvantage against even lhe oldest Western SSNs.



Soviet Submarine Missions and Submarine Types

Soviet submarine force is the most important elementSoviet Navy; it consumes someerceni of the Navy'sbudget In wartime. Soviet submarines wouldthe Navy's primary initial tasks:

Deploying and providing protection for nuclear-powered b. ilis-tic missile submarines (SSBNs) in preparation for andin intercontinental and theater nuclear strikes.

Helping to defend the USSR by engaging Western aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines, as well as surface units and submarines armed with land-attack cruise missiles.

Other important submarine wartime tasks would include support of ground forces, and some attacks on Western sea lines of communication (SLOCs).

Since tbehe Soviets have begun to compensate for longstanding deficiencies in their submarine force. In areas critical to submarinequieting, signal processing, andsubmarines have shown substantial improvement in recent years. Research and development in related fields in the USSR, along with the acquisition of Western technology, have been mainly responsible for this success. New classes of submarines (see figurepparently combine thc above improvements with traditional Soviet strengths in hull design, powcr-to-weight ratios, and propulsionWith their newest units the Soviets will potentially be able to operate on even terms with all but the most capable US subrriarines. These newest units will also pose much greater problems for other current US antisubmarine warfare (ASW) systems- We cannot evaluate' the effects on programed US improvements.

We are particularly concerned aboul lhe potential capacity of the USSR toarge force of these newer submarineselatively short time.l-cIass. which incorporated substantial quieting and more sophisticated combat systems, was built at about the same rate as earlier, less capable units. The newest unitsnd Typhoon-classes)omplclely new generation of submarines, incorporating new propulsion plants, and. in some cases, titanium hull material that is more difficult to fabricate. If these units are to be built as fast as the previous generationhallenging accomplishment that may be beyond the reach of Soviethen the submarine force wouldignificantly improved threat by the.

c Iiave substantial evidence concerning tlie technical tiends and improved cltaracteristicsSoviets are incorporating into their new submarines and the general missions of the submarine force. The uncertainties, however, are alsoabout thc purposes and missions of many of tbe different individual submarine classes as well as the numbers of submarines of each class llie Soviets will be .iblc to build.

Advances in Submarine Technology

5 Submarine Deoth and Hull Design. Sincehe Soviets have led the West in high-strength materials technology for submarine hulls. They manufacture submarine pressure hulls from high-strength steel and titanium.hows the diving depths

known or estimated to have been achieved. We estimate the newTyphoon-class submarines are constructed of tbe most advanced high-tensile-strength steel. This will allow limiting depths ol Q"

^ because steel hulls are easier and faster than titanium hulls to construct, wc believe the Soviets will retain themignificant portion of their submarine force in the foreseeable future.

e estimate that the Soviet titanium submarine construction program will continue toigh priority. Wc believe thatlass nuclear-powered attack submarinesoth launchedrobably are made of titanium (seen nexthe USSR leads the world In this technology, and wc expect some Sovietsubmarines lo achieve operating depths off"

emphasize hull weight-saving trade-offs lo achieve, among other things, high speeds.

Speed and Power. Historically, submarine designers in thc USSR also havetrong commitment to building fast submarines. This has been doneombination of high power density (building powerful propulsion plants into smaller volumes) and more efficient hull forms. Two earlier classes, the P-lasses, have achieved maximum speeds ofndnots, respectively. We expect at least some of the new types will achieve speeds In the range ofonots. Two types of reactors are now inressurized water-cooled and liquid-metal-cooled. The majority of units have the former, which is more reliable and easier to maintain and is also used in all Western nuclear warships. More advanced typos oftemperature gas-cooled, forunder investigation in the USSR, and wc expect the Soviets will seek to maintain superiority in speed and power density.

The Soviets are using designs that reduce the drag of their submarines, incorporating improvements to the hull shape andor eliminating drag-producing appendages. They are alsoother methods of drag reduction, including thc ejection of synthetic polymers from the bow to reduce hull turbulence. We estimate that, by, the Soviets couldubmarine using current power densities and an active drag teduction method that would achieve burst speeds of up tonols. This speed, however, probably could Initially be achieved onuntied number of special-purpose submarines.

9 Acoustic Advantage. The Soviets have instituted aprogram to improve the Quality of their submarine sonars and reduce the noise levels of iheir units. This program has been based on the acquisition of Western equipment, investment in quality control for Soviel-manufactured components, and development of an elaborate system lo monitor the ongoing quieting efforts of their operational submarine



Weapons Improvements. We estimate that most new classes of Soviet submarines have increased weapons capacity and have improved weapon systems accuracy, range, andew weaponewlong-range, nuclear-armed, land-attack cruisehas been created. Over the next few years several classes of Soviet submarines are expected to carry new long- range, land-attack cruise missiles. Two missiles are currently in flight-testing for limited deployment, beginning5dvances have beensignificant for new submarine-launched ballistic missiles that carry more warheads and have much greater throw weight and better accuracy than theirecade ago. Soviet torpedo designers have developed laree-volume weapons with wake-homing guidance. These torpedoes probably would be fired at ranges up tom astern of the target ship. These will greatly improve the Soviets" antisurfaoe warfare capabilities, particularly against large targets.

The Sovietsariety of options for further advancement of submarine armaments technology. Thentiship cruiseto now tested and deployed only on surfacewill be adapted for submarine launch. Athis weapon would upgrade substantially the threat from Soviet submarines operating against Western carrier battle groups. For ASW the Soviets probably have adapted the largem)designed for use against surfacea high-endurance antisubmarine torpedo.eapon will improve their ability to engage an evasive enemy submarine.

Other Improvements. We expect that the Sovieis willadvances in all aspects of submarine warfare over the coming decade. Some of the other important areas will be:

Submarine-launched surface-to-air missiles lo defend Soviet submarines against low-altitude slow-flying aircraft. One system may already be deployed on Typhoon-lass submarines.



sophisticated decoy* ond counlcrmcasurcs to make Soviel submarines more survivubli-.

communications procedures and equipment, primarily to provide more centralized control of SSBNs. These advances also will improve the ability of Soviet submarines to react to Western ASW. to operate at more secure depths, and to coordinate their activity with other Soviet forces-Production Bose

During the last few years shipyards in the USSR have launched an unprecedented variety of nuclear-powered submarines. Submarine production has averaged aboutnits per year for the last five years, and aboutercent of these units were nuclear. SSBN production has leveled off in recent years as the size of the force has stabilized within limitations of the SALT agreements, Thc most notable development has been the rapid growth in the diversity of nuclear-powered general purpose units (SSNs andn thenly three classes were known to be in series production.ive new classes of nuclear-powered general purpose submarines have been launched, and as many as two more new classes may be under construction.

Over thc next decade, the size of the submarine force is projected to decline modestly, but the proportion of nuclear units is estimated to grow significantly. Construction yard capacity isThe single yard at Severodvinsk Is the largest in the world and has more building positions than both US submarine yards combined. Furthermore, we estimate that thc major Soviet shipyards involved in the construction of submarines are not operating at their full capacity. It appears that future overhaul requirements for nuclear submarines, normally done at dedicated repair yards and operating bases, will have .elatively little impact upon the use of these facilities. Two majorandbeen expanded in recent years and may contribute even more to general purpose submarine construction. Large-scale series production of new SSNs from these shipyards willorce of al leastigh-quality units as earlyomeoercent of lhe SSN force.

Operations and Strategy

he Strategic Framework. Thc key elements of Soviel naval planning are support for strategic strike operations and strategicroleciing Sovid SSBNs is thc primary focus of much of the

Seeoael Nam! Stroleey ar*/Throve*ere completenion ol ihe Soviet No-r'i overall Urates r.


Navy's efforts. Strategic defense will also include plans to attack US sea-launched cruise missile platforms and aircraft carriers before they could attack the USSR. It will, in addition, involve attempts to counter Western SSBNs at sea. although meaningful success in this task is beyond the current reach of thc Soviet Navy. The Soviet submarine fleel ofould be more capable of SLOC interdiction, but only at thc cost of other missions. We believe lhat through at least thehc Soviets will continue to initially employ most of iheir SSNs for the more important missions of SSBN protection and homeland defense.

Submarinemprovements to the Soviel SSBN force over the next several years will enhance the force's survivability. Soviet SSBNs will share in thc trends toward quieter, more survivable submarines armed with improved defensive weapons. Thc proportion of lhc force configured to cany longer range missiles will grow, allowing more Soviet SSBNs to operate in more secure waters near thelass and Typhoon SSBNs routinely patrol under thc ice. Those submarines operating under ice in wartime would be safe from enemy surface and air ASWremain potentially vulnerable to attack submarines

General purpose submarines wouldariety of roles in the defense of SSBNs. There has been increased use of SSNs as escorts for SSBNs deployed near the Sovietin the vicinity of the patrolling SSBN in peacetime to detect foreign ships or submarines attempting to trail the

in the eventonflict, both SSNs and diesel submarines would be arrayed in barriers along the approaches to Soviet home waters, forming an echeloned defense, not only against Western ASW forces that would threaten Sovicl SSBNs, but also against US cruise missile pUtforras, aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces. In waters near the USSR. Soviet submarines would work closely with surface and air elements. They would also receive important contact information from the improved fixed acoustic monitoring systems in the Barents Sea and the northwestern Pacific Ocean Wc believe these defensive operations will continue lo receive lhe highest priority in the Soviet submarine force. The new, more capable classes of general purpose submarines would join in these oi>crations at leastcontribute substantially lo the effectiveness of the defense.

ea Denial Operations.

general purpose submarines probably would also lorm barriers in waters more distant from tbe USSR, such as in tbe vicinity of the Creenland-Iceland-UK gap. These submarines probably would be supported by

Soviet aircraft, bul not by surface ships or fixed acoustic systems. Without the synergistic effects of multiple sensors and platforms, even thc newest Soviel submarines are expected lo have limited success in an ASW role.

hese new Soviet submarines, however, probably would be more effective than current platforms against Western surface forces in the open ocean. To intercept Western task forces the Soviets practice barrier operations in key choke points and use of multiple submarinegroups. They have also trained to conduct indcpendenl attacks. Because of their improved quieting, more accurate longer range weapons, and upgraded communications systems, newer Sovielwould assist efforts to extend the scope and improve theof sea denial operations, especially against Western carrier battle groups and other platforms armed with sea-launched cruise missiles


utanf Operations. In the open ocean, beyond thelo the USSR, the Soviet Navy would be expected toelatively small portion of its attack submarine force to search for Western SSBNs and to counter Western SLOCs in thc initial stagesar. In thedecade, tbe Soviets would have to contend with SSBNs inpatrol areas. To Snd SSBNs, Soviet submarines, most likely some of the newest units, would attempt to trail the Western units leaving porl or transiting choke points. More modern Soviet SSNs might have some fleeting success in covert trail operations against older SSBNs. On the whole we believe that, because of continued inability to reliably detect and Hack these units in thc open ocean, predicted improvements in Soviet submarine warfare will not allow thc Soviet Navy toeaningful percentage of the US SSBN force.


thc possibility of more protracted general warfare. At the same time, thc Soviets are clearly improving the capability of their forces to operateider variety of potential wartime scenarios. We do not believe, however, that this portends any significant change in the Soviets' plans for employing iheir naval forces in the initial stages of general .war, regardless of their expectations of its likely course. Initial conventional operations would be conducted with an eye toward escalation; and readiness to conduct SLCM strikes or strikes byballistic missiles (SLBMs) and to attack enemy sea-based nuclear forces is likely to remain Moscow's msior concern under any foreseeable circumstances. The importance of thc anti-SLOC mission

would increase in the eventrolonged prehostilities mobili7ation period or if conventional conflict with NATO became protracted. These situations could lead thc Soviets to mountmajor open-ocean anti-SLOC naval operation. They would almost certainly want to defer any such operation, however, until after they had successfully completed their critical sea control/sea denial tasks and had weakened NATO's capability to defend its sea lanes. Also, through, we believe the Soviets will still have insufficient assets toajor open-ocean anti-SLOC operation in thc early stagesATO-Warsaw Pact war simultaneously with their strategic offensive and defensive tasks, even if such were operationally feasible. Hence, tbe relatively low priority of open-ocean SLOC interdiction as an initial wartime task probably will not change substantially in this century.


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