Russian nuclear submarines will once again patrol the oceans of the southern hemisphere, after a two-decades long break caused by the collapse and breakup of the Soviet Union. The national Itar-Tass news agency made the announcement on Saturday, and it’s widely regarded as part of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s plan to rebuild the faltering navy.
According to Reuters, an unnamed official said: “The revival of nuclear submarine patrols will allow us to fulfill the tasks of strategic deterrence not only across the North Pole but also the South Pole.”
It isn’t entirely clear who or what the Russian nuclear submarines are meant to deter. A cynical soul might point out that most people haven’t much noticed their absence. Nuclear tensions have noticeably relaxed between Russia and its former Cold War enemy, the United States.
In 2010, the two former antagonists signed the New START treaty which limits the amounts of nuclear weapons the nations can develop and carry, but it still provides a generous scope for Russia to rebuild its neglected arsenal. According to the US State Department, each nation has a “combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.”
Russia’s plan is to launch eight Borei-class nuclear submarines by 2020. However, the program has gotten off to a rocky start, with several botched launches or other problems reported about the submarine program in recent years. Here’s a video about one Russian nuclear submarine that caught fire:
They’ll be the first Russian nuclear submarines with Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capability known to have entered the southern hemisphere for about 20 years. Each sub will be able to carry up to 16 of the long-range nuclear missiles.
There are already nine Russian nuclear submarines operating in its Northern and Pacific fleets.
[Russian nuclear submarine photo courtesy US Dept. of Navy and US Dept. of Defense]