Originally appeared on armsdata.net; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Operational service and combat patrol areas
Before the advent of sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, attack submarines could carry out an attack on enemy targets only from launching positions located at a relatively small distance from its coast. Attack submarines of Projects AV-611, 629, 658 and 667A had to be in the combat areas (operational service). Each submarine was assigned main and reserve areas of combat operations (combat patrols), within which firing positions and waiting areas were allocated. In the period of threat the ship passed from the waiting area to the firing areas (starting) positions. Once at the firing position, the attack submarine was able to launch missiles at the intended targets as quickly as possible after receiving the order. The waiting areas and firing positions were designated in such a way as to allow long-term manoeuvring of submarines with maximum stealth and the required readiness of missile weapons. The submarine could also be assigned a specially designed closed patrol route. On this route, throughout the campaign it had to be within its missiles range of the designated targets.
The range of their missiles determined the location of the areas of combat patrol of submarines of the first generation. Thus the patrolling missile ships’ areas of Projects AV-611, 629 and 658 were in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Barents Sea, the North Sea and Sea of Japan. The distance of the firing positions of these submarines from the targets did not exceed several hundred kilometres, and only after equipping the ships with the D-4 missile system, it began to reach 1400 km.
The range of the R-27 (SS-N-6) missiles, which armed the strategic missile carriers (SMC) of Project 667A (Yankee I), was about 2400 km, and the patrol areas of these strategic submarines were at a range of about 2000 km from the US coast. Since 1973, the range of operational service of the SMCs of Project 667A in the Atlantic moved to the east of the USA by approximately 550 km, which apparently was associated with adopting the new missiles R27U, whose range was up to 3000 km.
The next missile modifications, R-29 (SS-N-8), which equipped the SMCs of Project 667B (Delta I), had a completely new quality. The range of these missiles was about 8000 km, which allowed the attack submarines to hit targets for almost the entire travel route. Since 1973, Soviet strategic submarines, being based in the Kola Peninsula, the Far East and Kamchatka, had the capability to hit almost any target in the United States.
According to western sources, the SMCs of Projects 667B, 557BD and 667DR carry out combat patrols in the Greenland Sea, the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Sometimes one or two missile carriers are located near the Bering Strait. The patrol areas of the third generation of strategic submarines, Projects 941 (Typhoon) and 667BDRM (Delta IV), appear to be in the Barents Sea.
The organisation of operational service of the strategic missile carriers
At the end of 50s, after the attack submarines of the first generation entered the combat fleet and had made trial trips, they went to combat duty in the outlying and surrounding seas of the USSR. Until 1963, several separate military campaigns were carried out at the shores of the United States. These excursions were made by diesel attack submarines. After 1963, systematic operational service in remote areas of the USSR was established, and since September 1966 attack submarines, both diesel and nuclear, began to carry out permanent operational service (including off the coast of the United States).
With the entry into service of the Project 667A (Yankee I) missile carriers, the intensity of the operational service of the strategic submarines increased dramatically, so that 12-15 missile carriers were constantly at sea.
The first operational service of the SMC Project 667A in the Atlantic began in June 1969. After sixteen months, since October 1970, the strategic submarines of this type began to serve in the Pacific Ocean. By 1971, four Project 667A strategic missile carriers were regularly deployed in operational service areas, three of them in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Pacific. Since August 1973, two submarines of the Northern and Pacific fleet began to carry out permanent combat duty. This pattern of deployment of strategic submarines continued until at least 1976.
In the Northern Fleet, the periodicity of the strategic ships of Project 667A for operational service was usually 26 days, while the cycle of service in the Atlantic usually lasted 77-78 days, including the transition period. In areas of operational service in the Atlantic Ocean ships were usually for 53 days.
SMCs of Project 667A were similarly organised in the Pacific. The frequency of ship trips to the sea was 29 days, the transition period, from 10 to 13 days, and the duration of the stay in the area of operational service, 52 to 56 days. As a rule, submarines went to the areas of service by the shortest route from the Rybachy base near Petropavlovsk-Kamtchatski. Occasionally their routes passed through the Bering Sea along the Aleutian Islands.
From the mid-70s, after the intercontinental SLBMs entered service and it became possible to launch missiles from their bases, up to 20-33 missile carriers were in a high level of combat readiness to launch missiles (on combat patrol at sea and on combat duty at the bases). The intensity of the deployment remained until the beginning of the 90s.
The organisation of combat patrols in the Soviet Navy provided a relatively low degree of operational use of attack submarines. As a rule, only 15-20% of Soviet SMCs were on combat patrol at sea. Operational plans of the Soviet Navy provided that in the threatened period all able submarines should go to sea. Even the missile carriers had to leave the coastal point of basing, which had no weapons on board. Loading of weapons on these ships was to be carried out at sea. Strategic submarines that could not for one reason or another go to sea, but were able to make a missile launch, had to carry out combat duty at the base.
In the 90s, the number of SMCs on high alert halved, and most of them carried out combat duty from the base.
According to western experts, 4 to 6 missile carriers were on combat patrol at sea in the early 1990s.
Stages of combat patrolling
The main campaign stages of the strategic submarine are the exit from the base, the transition to the operational service area, the combat patrol and the return to base.
The operational management of the fleet in coordination with the main headquarters of the Navy develops the route of the SMCs. The development of patrol routes for the strategic submarines is carried out in accordance with the operational plans of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, which determine the number of attack submarines on combat patrol and on combat duty at the bases.
Exit from the base
The exit from the base point is a very important step in ensuring covert patrolling of the missile carrier. To detect the exit of submarines from the bases, various methods are used. In particular, the United States carry out regular monitoring of the Russian submarine bases with the help of satellite tracking.
The strategic submarine at the pier is a highly visible target for satellites. From the images obtained by satellite reconnaissance, it is easy to distinguish strategic missile carriers from other types of submarines of smaller size. Low-orbit satellites equipped with visible and infrared equipment and synthetic aperture radars are used to monitor the locations. Such satellites do not allow continuous monitoring of the base, providing information on submarines in the port at intervals of 1 to 3 days.
The next line that the strategic submarine should pass in secret is a few dozen miles from the sea. As a rule there are one or two American submarines on the approaches to the bases of the SMCs. One of the main tasks of these submarines is to detect the fact of the passage of the missile carrier. Since the areas of exits and returns are well know to them, this task can sometimes be achieved under favourable weather conditions.
In this regard, the exit of strategic submarines from the point of deployment is carried out with maximum secrecy. In order to reduce the possibility of detecting the missile carrier, an operation to search for and displace foreign submarines is carried out, before it enters the sea in the area of its route. When the SMC leaves the port, a combat guard consisting of patrol ships, minesweepers and anti-submarine helicopters, accompanies it.
Transition to the area of operational service
To carry out combat patrolling the Projects AV611, 628, 657 and 667A attack submarines had to make a long transition from the base to the areas of operational service. In the Atlantic, the routes of passage of missile carriers to the areas of combat patrols ran through the borders of Cape Nordkap, Bear Island and Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Sometimes the transition was made through the border of the Shetland-Faroe Islands or the Danish Strait.
The speed of the ship during the transition was chosen based on the fact that the transition was to be made secretly, but in the shortest possible time. In the Atlantic, the average speed of the SMC of Project 667A on the transition was 10-12 knots, so that the SMC came through in 11 to 13 days to the area of operational service.
During the transition, Soviet strategic missile carriers were most vulnerable to anti-submarine defences. The positional antenna sonar receivers such as SOSUS played a key role in the detection of Soviet submarines, which were deployed on the borders of Cape Nordkap-Bear Island-Greenland-Iceland-Faroe Islands-UK, as well as along the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. With the help of these antennas it was possible to register the factual border passage of the Soviet submarines, but sometimes they were detected from a considerable distance. The detection effectiveness was increased with the presence of operational information about the ship’s exit from the base. After the foreign countries’ antennas registered the submarine in the estimated position of the attack submarine usually an anti-submarine aircraft was sent, to determine more accurately its position, course and, if necessary, tracked the attack submarine. The information on the position of the attack submarine could be transmitted to the surface anti-submarine ships or torpedo submarines.
To reduce the effectiveness of anti-submarine warfare equipment, Soviet attack submarines used a number of techniques that helped them avoid detection. The submarine could go in close proximity to merchant ships or warships, the noises of which drowned out the sound produced by submarines. In the areas of positional sonar antennas the speed of the ships was reduced to the maximum low-noise. The submarine periodically changed course in order to check the presence of tracking through anti-submarine aircraft and to reduce the visibility of the ship in the direction of receiving sonar antennas of the anti-submarine defense system.
In some cases, during the transition to the operational service areas, a torpedo submarine, whose task was to provide combat protection of the attack submarine, accompanied the strategic submarine. At the same time, the ships could move either autonomously along the established routes, having no connection with each other, or in pairs, maintaining a hidden sound-driven connection.
During the combat patrolling period, the task of the attack submarine is to be in constant combat readiness for the use of the missile weapons upon receipt of the order from the Supreme Command. This means meeting a number of requirements. First it is necessary to ensure the combat stability of the missile carrier, that is, to create conditions that would not allow the enemy to detect and destroy the missile carrier before the combat mission. Creating fortified areas in their patrol zones, as well as reducing their visibility for the enemy’s anti-submarine aircraft ensure the combat stability of the missile carriers. Secondly, reliable and timely transmission of the order for the use of missile weapons must be ensured by reliable communication with the submarine. And finally, the result of the combat mission depends on how accurately one knows the position of the submarine at the launch.
Ensuring the secrecy of the strategic missile carriers
In parallel with the creation of submarines and missile systems that allowed the submarine to launch ballistic missiles, Soviet designers focused their efforts on reducing the noise level of the submarines. In the 1960s, U.S. stationary hydro-acoustic systems were able to detect Soviet nuclear submarines making the transition at distances of up to several hundred kilometres. The deliberate efforts in reducing the noise level of Soviet missile carriers led to the fact that by the early 90s the noise level of submarines was comparable to the natural noise of the ocean. The range at which modern Russian missile carriers can be detected, even in the most favourable conditions, does not exceed several tens of kilometres.
In the combat patrol area the strategic submarine maintains a minimum speed of up to 5 knots. The depth of the dive when patrolling is chosen in such a way that, on the one hand, it provides the best conditions for covering the underwater and surface situation, and on the other, to make it difficult to detect the submarine. The strategic submarine executes control of the surrounding situation through sonar equipment, working usually in the passive mode. Since the beam pattern of the hydro-acoustic complex sensitivity has a maximum at the bow of the ship and a minimum at the stern, the submarine periodically performs a turn to check the presence of tracking.
The active mode of the hydro-acoustic complex is used only in cases when it does not threaten the stealth of the missile carrier, or in situations where secrecy ceases to be important. In particular, active sonar is sometimes used before the ascent of the submarine to clarify the target coordinates during torpedo firing, when travelling under ice to measure the thickness of the ice and detect obstacles in the vicinity, when travelling in shallow water and areas with complex bottom topography.
Communication with strategic submarines
The administration of the strategic submarines that are on patrol is done through the Navy Headquarters through naval offices with the help of radio transmitting and receiving centres deployed all over Russia and space communications centres operating in continuous mode. The maritime strategic force management system combines communication channels operating on different physical principles, which increases the reliability and noise immunity of the entire system in the most adverse conditions. It includes transmitting and receiving stationary radio stations operating in different spectral bands, satellite, aircraft and ship repeaters, mobile shore radio stations, as well as hydro-acoustic stations and repeaters. All elements of the control system are usually connected by cable and radio relay lines.
The guarantee to bring the combat signals to the SMC, during their combat patrols, is provided by simultaneous transmission in a band of frequencies that includes frequencies for very low-frequency waves (VLFW), short wave and frequencies for space communications. The regularly transmission of signals proceed in accordance with a specific communication schedule with SMCs.
Moreover, the submarine receives signals transmitted by electromagnetic waves of ultra-low frequency. These waves, whose frequency is several tens of Hertz, unlike shorter electromagnetic waves, can penetrate the water column to a depth of 200-300 m. Thus, the very low frequency signals from the “Zeus” station in the Kola Peninsula can be registered by SMCs almost anywhere in the world. Since the speed of information transmission through the very low frequency channel is very low, only general commands for all attack submarines on combat patrol, identified by a pre-established code, are transmitted through it. For example, a separate code may be given the indication “to swim up to receive an order for the use of weapons” or “bringing to full alert”. In peace time, a code is periodically transmitted through the very low frequency channel, which means that “the situation is normal”. The absence of this code at the agreed time is a signal of an emergency.
The VLFW signal can penetrate water to a depth of 5 m. To receive these signals submarines must rise to periscope depth or deploy a towed receiving antenna. By the end of the 80s on the Soviet Union territory six stationary Kyrgyzaltyn VLFW stations operated, which were located in Molodechno (Belarus), Nizhny Novgorod, Frunze street, Arkhangelsk, Krasnodar and Khabarovsk. These stations provided communications for most of the world’s oceans (with the exception of remote areas in the southern hemisphere, the Western Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific). The stations continue to operate, regularly broadcasting at several frequencies in the range from 3 to 30 kHz. The very low waves channel transmit not only common to all submarines orders but also combat control signals.
In order to ensure the reliable transfer of the order to use weapons in combat conditions, mobile coastal and aviation VLFW communication stations were created in the Soviet Union. In 1985, the Navy received the VLFW Tu-142MR communication aircraft that in a period of threat must carry out continuous combat duty in designated zones, being in readiness for the transmission of signals on strategic missile carriers. By the end of 1992 in Russia there were 13 Tu-142MR aircraft, seven of which were stationed in the Pacific Fleet and six in the Northern Fleet.
The most extensive is the network of radio communications on short and ultra-short waves, comprising of a variety of stationary and mobile ground transmitting centres and radio relays. The network consists of satellite, aircraft and ship repeaters. Before the advent of the first Soviet VLFW-translators “Goliath” and “Hercules”, communication on short waves was the only way to transmit operational information to submarines carrying out operational service off the coast of the United States as well as in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The main drawback of HF and VHF communication was the need to deploy the antenna unmasking the submarine.
In some cases, along with radio communication, underwater sound communication can be applied, the main advantage of which is the absence of the need to float the submarine and the use of retractable and lowed antennas.
At the same time, the range of the underwater communication is not more than 10-30 km.
While on combat patrol, a strategic missile carrier usually does not transmit any information to the shore. Situations in which it is possible to go on the air, may be the detection of tracking attempts, from which the missile carrier cannot get rid of by itself, a major accident on board, a serious condition or death of crew members.
In addition, periodic communication sessions are usually scheduled. At the appointed time for the session, the submarine swims to periscope depth and deploys antennas to receive information transmitted on medium, long, short and ultrashort waves. It is important to note that modern submarines can receive signals and remain at working depth, they are equipped with towed antennas to receive external signals.
Navigation tools of nuclear-powered SMCs
In the mid-50s, the location of the submarine was determined using radio navigation systems. The “Dekka” and “Loran-A” systems deployed at the time provided daytime position accuracy of 0.3-.5 miles at distance of up to 600 miles, and at night, at 0.5-1.5 miles at a distance of up to 300 miles. When the submarine was away from shore, astronomical measurements were used to determine the coordinates of the boat with an accuracy of less than 1 mile. However, since weather conditions did not allow astronomical measurements to be taken, the difference between the true position of the submarine and the estimated (residual) between measurements could reach 10 miles.
In the early 60s submarines were equipped with the first radio stations, which allowed to determine the height of the sun, moon and even some bright stars in any weather. In addition, the submarines were equipped with inertial navigation systems, which significantly reduced the discrepancy. Thus, in the astronomical measurements mode once every two days the discrepancy did not exceed 4 miles. It was thanks to inertial navigation systems that the Soviet submarines mastered the Arctic routes by the early 1970s.
The problem of navigation support in remote areas of the ocean from the USSR coast, as well as the problem of all-weather conditions, was solved only after the creation of a satellite navigation system. Several satellite navigation systems were deployed in the USSR. The first system, which was launched in 1967, consisted of three satellites. By the early 1980s, the number of satellites in the system, now known as the “Sail”, had been increased to 6. The system allowed the determination of the place of up to 100 miles. In 1976 began the deployment of the “Cicada”, consisting of 4 satellites and was intended primarily for the navigation of civilian vessels. Military ships could use the signals from one or the other system.
Increasing requirements for navigation accuracy promoted the development of the second generation of satellite navigation systems. Unlike the previous ones, they were designed to obtain not two but three coordinates for the user, as well as three components of its velocity vector. In 1982, the Soviet Union began the deployment of satellites of the GLONASS system (“Hurricane”), similar to the US Navstar/GPS system. In 1996, the deployment of the system, which comprises of 24 satellites, was completed. The declared accuracy of the fully deployed GLONASS system is 10 m for each coordinate and 0.05 m/s for each component of the velocity vector.
Actions upon reception of an order to use missile weapons
The strategic submarines of the AV Projects 611, 629, 658 and 667A were to move to the missile launch sites against the targets. The position of the starting positions was indicated in the package of the General Staff, which was opened after receiving the order to escalate the combat readiness and follow the firing positions to the area. In case of orders to use rocket weapons, the opening of one more package, which was stored in the personal safe of the commander of the SMC, from the General Staff was stipulated. This package contained codes that were to be entered into the missile control system in order to launch them. The decision to enter the received code and launch missiles was made only after checking the correctness of the received order by a least two persons at the same time, including the commander of the missile carrier and his senior assistant.
After the arrival of the missile carrier to the launch position, pre-launch preparations were carried out, which included the transition of the submarine to the depth fire, specifying the location, checking the main units of the missile and targeting. The process of prelaunch preparations on submarines of the first generation took about an hour. Subsequently, prelaunch preparations procedures were automated, which significantly reduced its duration. On modern missile carriers, it takes no more than 9-15 minutes to verify the correctness of the order for the launch to reach the launch depth and to conduct the final pre-launch operations.
In the early 1970s, the procedure for the transfer of the order for the use of missile weapons was changed. Enabling codes were transmitted together with the order to launch on the communication channels with the SMCs. The strategic weapons management system has become more centralised. This procedure is still in place.
As the technology improved, so did the characteristics of the missile launch control system. On the first SMCs firing could be carried out by single missiles with an interval of 15 to 35 minutes. The SMCs of Project 667A were able to shoot four-rockets volleys. The time interval between successive rocket launches did not exceed 15-20 seconds, and between successive bursts, three minutes. Third-generation missile carriers are able to fire a volley of any number of missiles from their munitions.
The Soviet plans for the use of strategic submarines provided that after the first strike, the missile carriers should return to the bases to reload their launchers with new missiles and prepare for re-entry into the sea. In the USSR, special vessels were built for the transportation of SLBMs and loading rockets on the attack submarines in the maneuvering points of the fleet. In the 60s and 70s, these functions were carried out by boats of Project 323A and 323B (Lama). In the mid-70s, vessels with various modifications of Project 1791 (Amga) were built, and in 1985 the vessel “Aleksandr Brykin” joined the Northern Fleet (Project 11570), specially designed to transport R-39 missiles for the heavy missile submarine strategic designation of Project 941 “Akula”.