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How the US Nuclear Submarine Fleet Compares to Russia

Russia’s investment in its nuclear submarines is causing concern among Western allies after the country’s subs were deployed off the coast of the United States and close to European NATO nations.

Putin has looked to expand Russia’s underwater capabilities, which has prompted growing fears among NATO countries and allies. Some have likened undersea military investment to activities seen during the Cold War.

“We have indications that nuclear-powered submarines have been deploying off the coast of the United States and into the Mediterranean and elsewhere along Europe periphery, in ways that mirror Soviet-style submarine deployments in the Cold War,” Michael Peterson, the director of the Russia Maritime Studies Institute, previously told Newsweek.

The US Defense Department calls submarines “vital” for national defense. The US arsenal currently consists of fleet ballistic missile submarines, guided missile submarines and attack submarines. Nuclear-powered subs, after they were launched in 1954, proved to be a “game changer,” the department said.

Overall, the US has 64 submarines in its fleet, whereas Russia has an estimated 58, according to the non-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The US Navy owns 14 ballistic missile submarines, or Ohio-class submarines, according to the NTI data. They can operate for upwards of 15 years between overhauls, and are often deployed on extended deterrent patrols.

There are three classes of US Navy attack submarines, known as Virginia, Seawolf and Los Angeles.

Under the New START Treaty, Ohio-class subs can carry 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). But Putin announced in a speech to Russian lawmakers last month that he was suspending the country’s participation in the START strategic arms agreement.

The Russian Navy “commands one of the largest submarine fleets in the world,” according to the NTI. Moscow has “significantly modernized its submarine force in recent years,” with 11 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and 17 nuclear-powered attack submarines.

By this data count, Russia also has nine nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines and 21 diesel-electric attack submarines.

Last month, the head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation told state media that the Russian Navy would receive two new nuclear submarines by the end of the year.

Alexei Rakhmanov, the general director of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, told the Russian state-run RIA Novosti agency that Sevmash, which produces Russia’s nuclear submarines, “has picked up a rhythm, thanks to which it is now again handing over to the customer one or two nuclear submarines a year.”

“So it was in 2021, in 2022, we hope that it will be so in 2023,” Rakhmanov added. He said the “Alexander III” and the “Krasnoyarsk” vessels will join the fleet by the end of the year, followed by the “Arkhangelsk” in 2024.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the ceremony to set the “Alexander III” afloat on December 29, state media agency TASS reported. It is the Russian Navy’s seventh Borei-A missile-carrying strategic nuclear-powered submarine, TASS said, adding it can carry 16 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Last month, the Russian Navy decommissioned its “Dmitry Donskoy” nuclear-powered strategic submarine, which could also hold Bulava missiles.

The sixth submarine, known as the Generalissimo Suvorov, was moved to Russia’s Northern Fleet in the Arctic in mid-January after being officially made part of the Russian Navy in December 2022.

However, referencing Russia’s nuclear submarine production, the Institute for the Study of War think tank said on March 1 that the Ukraine war had impacted Russia’s future ability to plan for long-term strategic goals, including new nuclear-powered vessels.

Russia’s investment in its nuclear submarines is causing concern among Western allies after the country’s subs were deployed off the coast of the United States and close to European NATO nations.

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