Russia: Nuclear submarine paraded through the streets

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It follows complaints by her Captain that her hull is covered with barnacles, mussels and crabs which are affecting her performance. The 30,000-tonne Belgorod K-329 has been a source of consternation for Nato because of the boat’s ability to carry the Poseidon strategic weapon, dubbed the “apocalypse drone”.

Also known as the Status-6, it is an autonomous, nuclear-powered, and nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads.

It means that 80-foot nuclear torpedoes armed with 100-megaton warheads could be launched from thousands of miles away from a coastal target. But it can also carry smaller tactical nuclear warheads, and Nato can do little to stop either.

As well as boasting six of the Poseidons, the behemoth submarine serves as the mothership for smaller submersibles which can be utilised for deep-water operations such as the sabotaging of undersea cables.

But last week a routine patrol by an RAF P-8 surveillance aircraft based at RAF Lossiemouth stumbled across what sources say was an ”interesting” intercept.

The four-second message revealed that the Captain was suffering from unforeseen issues caused by sea critters, which were interfering with the boat’s operations.

The intercept was picked up as the RAF sub hunter was photographing the Russian boat near in the Kara Sea, a few hundred nautical miles from its base in Murmansk.

“The message from the submarine lasted about four seconds but that was enough for the plane’s electronic specialists to discover that something was worrying the Belgorod’s captain,” said a senior source, tonight.

“Whether this message relates to a major problem is something we don’t yet know.”

Possibilities range from problems with the boat’s experimental plating to short-cuts in maintenance, which failed to flush out the sea creatures from its cooling tubes before it set sail.

This would slow the vessel down and, if the infestations are extensive, may also interfere with its sonar capabilities.

The Belgorod – the world’s biggest submarine –  was deployed at the beginning of October and Nato officials are waiting to see whether it test-fires one of its Poseidon-launched missiles as a “show of force” message for operations in Ukraine.

“This submarine will have been operating at very slow speeds while it loitered,  and this message could suggest it is experiencing issues with a new type of plating, which is not performing as well as it should,” said military maritime expert Prof Alessio Patalano of Kings College, London.

“The plating on a submarine’s surface contains sensors and this affects their stealth and capacity to absorb pinging from other sonar systems. Getting the plates right is essential.”

The submarine, part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, is supposed to have already completed sea trials, however.

The other explanation, that mussels and crabs have been allowed to venture into its cooling tubes, may indicate that short-cuts are being taken at the boat’s home port.

Under normal circumstances, it would take much longer for a submarine to become so contaminated that its reduced airflow affects speed and performance.

The fact that this has happened in just two weeks may indicate that the usual process, where pressure systems are used to blast sea creatures out of its tubes,  simply wasn’t carried out.

This would be a significant omission for a submarine service which has been completely modernised since the sinking of the Kursk in August 2000, and is now the jewel in Vladimir Putin’s crown.

Prof Patalano added: “We have this view from what’s been happening in Ukraine that Russia’s armed forces don’t perform well, but it’s important to remember that Russia’s navy has always benefited  from more money and training than its other forces – and this applies especially to its submarines.

“From Nato’s perspective, China is the biggest challenge, but when it comes to Russia, it is Putin’s submarines that cause the real concern. There is a considerable sense of anxiety about these.

“So evidence of poor maintenance would also be significant.”

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