Therapeutic “Analysis”.

H.I. Sutton passes in the US for naval and submarine expert but his biography is sketchy at best, at worst–he is more informed iteration of Bellingcat’s very own Elliott Higgins with naval slant. I don’t really read his “analysis” related to Soviet and Russian navies, because it is primarily same ol’ narrative one can find anywhere in the US “professional” military “analysis” sphere in all kinds of blogs and YouTube channels and which is primarily an instrument for regurgitation of the same points about US military which brought it to the state in which it resides today and it is not a very good state. So, even against the background of one of very few truly world class forces remaining in the US, its magnificent submarine forces, the need for mental therapy increases exponentially with every passing day in the US OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) community. Here is Sutton doing just that–“comparing” the latest project 885M (Yasen M) Russian Navy’s SSGN (such as Kazan) and Virginia Block V SSNs which are not in existence yet. OK. 

How Russia’s Yasen-M Submarine Compares To The U.S. Navy’s Block-V Virgini. Russia is rapidly modernizing its cruise-missile submarine fleet. At the same time, the U.S. Navy is building larger and more capable versions of the Virginia Class which carry more missiles. How do the latessubmarine classes compare in terms of weapons load?

For starters, Russian Navy’s Yasen-class program is in full swing and has three active subs, one fitting out, and five others being under construction. USS Oklahoma (SSN-802) of Virginia Block V class was ordered in December of 2019 and is under construction and is panned to be delivered to fleet in 2025, if all goes as planned. By the time, ball park, fourth and fifth hulls of Block V Virginias will be getting ready to join the fleet, the comparison should be made not with Yasen-class, but with brand-new Russian SSN Laika (Husky)-class whose first hull should get floated out in 2027. But that is just me being anal about proper framework for comparison. Sutton’s next statement betrays a serious need for controlling therapeutically a lot of issues related to actual combat power and its comparison, which in layman’s lingo is known as butt-hurt. 

 

Krasnoyarsk is a Project 885M ‘Yasen-M’ class boat (aka Severodvinsk-II class), the 3rd of 8 planned. These represent the most modern and powerful attack submarines in the Russian inventory. And they are often described as being on a par with the latest western types. But how do they stack up? Particularly in weapons terms? Other aspects such as sonar, sensors and stealth are harder to compare given the sensitive nature of these topics. Both submarines are believed to be extremely difficult to counter. The stand-off weapons however are a major component of the submarine’s punch.

The parity in terms of submarine platforms’ performances between Russia and US occurred sometime in the late 1990s and since then it is absolutely legitimate to NOT compare Russian and US nuclear subs in terms of quieting, other physical fields, signal processing, combat control and mechanical qualities–they will be plus-minus the same. This is not a theorem, this is an axiom. So, for any comparison in terms of platforms (and submarines, ships and planes are platforms first and foremost) between Russia and US, those platforms should be compared ONLY in terms of weapon systems they carry. In the end, the role of a platform is to get a weapon installed on it, deliver this weapon to the point of launch and launch it, hopefully, achieving a desired effect. Period. But these are weapons where the United States is having huge issues in the last decades. But Sutton, describing Block V’s weapons loses last bits of objectivity and states:

 

The Yasen-M’s 32 vertical tubes can accommodate three missile types. On paper this versatility could convey an advantage although the performance of the US Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missiles is hard to dispute.    

The immediate question which arises here is this: if Sutton compares Yasen and Virginia’s loads of stand-off weapons, this dyadic connection suggests that these subs should be used against their respective operators in the war, that is the war between Russia and US. This is the ONLY framework which justifies such comparisons, because, frankly, platforms and weapons they carry are built always with some combat tasks in mind. Come on, we are not kids here trying to compare whose bike is better. This is the war we are talking about, FFS. And that makes Sutton’s statement about venerable Tomahawk grossly inaccurate. Not only Tomahawk never performed against even second-world air defense system, but when it encountered, such as was the case in Syria in April of 2018, a moderately competent Syrian AD, 70% of those TLAMs (and “rumor” has it JASSMs too) were shot down which created a shock in Pentagon, with its officials, including SecDef Jim Mattis himself, forced to lie to mitigate an obvious PR disaster. 

I don’t know what performance of Tomahawks Sutton is talking about, but there is little problem with uploading a flight task to cruise missile and launching it at some shithole, Russians do it too. So, what “performance” from the subsonic stand-off weapon is he talking about? Yes, 3M14 was used both from subs and ships and its new iteration with the range of 4500 kilometers has been launched already at Kavkas-2020 maneuvers. Until those TLAMs face a competent Air Defense, there is nothing to talk about. The problem, of course, is that the United States doesn’t have any, unlike it is the case with Russia and this teeny-weeny fact throws all this “comparison” business into a complete disarray. In fact, Russian military professionals have a term for it–I bet Sutton never heard of it–“A Spherical Horse in Vacuum”. 

Sutton’s emphasis on this, however, is a pure therapy–an attempt to mitigate what I am writing about for years: US loss of the arms race. Here is Sutton:

 

The Yasen-M Class boats are larger and carry more weapons than their western equivalents. They will also be quicker to field hypersonic weapons (although service introduction is going slower than previously reported). But they carry fewer cruise missiles than the enlarged Block V Virginia Class. This will significantly narrow the gap even before the US Navy adds hypersonic weapons and the anti-ship capable Tomahawks. 

Immediately: 

1. The only hypersonic missiles which may appear on any US ship are many years away and those will NOT be dedicated anti-shipping missiles but rather land-attack variants. The United States lost the anti-shipping missiles race long time ago, namely in 1970s. 

2. Anti-ship capable Tomahawk is the same as regular TLAM–a subsonic, slow, easy target for modern air-defense systems, especially over surface, and is in no way competitor to a current and future arsenal of Russia’s anti-shipping missiles, in which even nominally subsonic 3M54 Kalibr (now with the launch range of 1,500 kilometers)  accelerates to M=3 at the terminal.

The United States will continue to build wonderful, plus ridiculously expensive, submarines with all bells and whistles, but those mean absolutely nothing if they are armed with obsolete weapons which lost their tactical advantages long time ago. And no amount of therapeutic analysis and contrived criteria will be able to address a present (in historic terms) Indiana Jones moment:

You either have weapon system which works, or you don’t, and that is the only thing which matters. Anti-shipping capable Tomahawk, my God, what’s next? The return of cannon-balls and sails?