US Missile Threat From Russia Has Changed

US Missile Threat From Russia Has Changed

( – A defense analyst is warning that the threat from Russian nuclear missiles has evolved. The Russian army is struggling in Ukraine, but Vladimir Putin still controls a navy with dozens of nuclear submarines — and many of them can attack the US. Our own defenses need to evolve to match the Russian threat.

Michael Petersen talked to Newsweek recently and warned that Russia has changed its submarine tactics since the Cold War. Petersen, who teaches at the US Naval War College as well as running the Russia Maritime Studies Institute, said that for part of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy used to send nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to patrol off the coasts of the US. In the 1980s, that began to change.

As the USSR developed submarine-launched missiles with better accuracy and longer ranges, it began to deploy them in “bastions” in partly enclosed seas. The main bastions were in the Barents Sea, Norwegian Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk; these locations placed the missile submarines within range of their US targets, but instead of being exposed in the open ocean, they could be protected by defenses made up of minefields, anti-submarine aircraft and Russian attack submarines. Since the fall of the USSR, the Russian navy has continued the bastion strategy — but, Petersen warns, they have a new plan too.

As well as its ballistic missile subs, Russia also has ten Oscar II and Yasen-class cruise missile submarines. The Oscar IIs were originally designed to attack US carrier groups with heavy anti-ship missiles, but they can also carry land attack cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads in their 24 missile tubes. The Yasen-class boats were designed as multi-purpose submarines, with an arsenal of up to 32 cruise missiles, able to hunt enemy ships and subs as well as land attack — and they’re due to be upgraded to carry the new hypersonic 3M22 Zircon missile.

Russia also has 14 nuclear attack submarines, which are mainly hunter-killers, but 12 of them — two Sierra II-class boats and the 10 newer Akula-class — can also carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles. All of these cruise missile and attack submarines, except the Sierras, are much quieter than older Russian subs and could potentially sneak in close enough to the US coast to launch a missile attack.

As the cruise missiles they carry have a range of up to 2,000 miles, they could hit most of the continental US without needing to come right up to the coast. With this new threat, it’s no longer enough for the US Navy to send attack submarines to patrol near the bastions; we also need to be able to control the oceans hundreds of miles out from our coasts.

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