Ballistic boats seen as peacekeepers

The paper Future of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces: Discussions and Arguments by Eugene Miasnikov was noticed by U.S. naval experts after its publication in English in the summer of 1996. Here is one of the press remarks.
Navy News & Undersea Technology Oct 7, 1996, p. N/A
ISSN: 8756-1700

Ballistic submarines are the most efficient nuclear deterrent force, particularly given the state of the Russian defense budget, a study from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology says.

The study, written by E.V. Miasnikov, analyzes Russia's ability to maintain a strategic nuclear deterrent and the needed industrial base under projected outlays to support thee strategic forces.

He concludes Moscow is unable to fund START II agreement levels for strategic weapons due to the lack of funds. Thus, Miasnikov suggests, the optimum deterrence will be achieved not by attempting to deploy as many weapons as possible, but by ensuring a smaller, yet functioning nuclear force while pursuing further disarmament agreements.

Miasnikov tackles the problem of a Russian equivalent of the U.S. roles and missions debate, with proponents of a strategic ballistic missile sub force battling supporters of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

By 2003, Russia will have only 12 to 17 ballistic missile subs, Miasnikov says, due to financial constraints. These subs will carry between 1,250 and 1,600 warheads. START would allow 1,750 warheads.

But are submarines the best vehicle to deliver nuclear weapons to the enemy? Would U.S. attack submarines be able to destroy the Russian missile boats before they can launch?

Miasnikov argues the danger for the missile boats is vastly exaggerated.

Finding a submarine at short notice is possible only if it is tracked from the time it leaves port. Since Russian subs are deployed in Russian waters, the Barents, Kara and Okhotsk seas or in the Arctic, they do not need to travel long distances at high-speed. At transit, discovery and tracking are relatively easy.

American SSNs must operate in hostile waters, where the advantage of ASW forces lies with the enemy. So how real is the threat that American SSNs can track all Russian boats and destroy them without exception? Not high, Miasnikov concludes.

One surviving Russian missile sub could attack 48 targets in the United States.

From studying weather conditions of the Russian operating areas, he finds that optimal tracking conditions are rare Q a few days of the year. 14 American SSNs on constant patrol

To track every ballistic missile submarine that leaves port, 14 U.S. attack subs must patrol the area around those ports without interruption. Miasnikov argues it is not possible to deploy such a force covertly in Russian-dominated waters.

And even if it were, Russian attack subs would require American attention as well. Thus the U.S. sub force would hardly be able to concentrate on Russian ports alone.

"The facts are implacable," Miasnikov writes. "Even if one suggests that the enemy's submarines were able to carry out secret tracking of (all) Russian SSBNs, he will not be in the position to provide a sufficient number for this."

Miasnikov also suggests a tracked ballistic sub can evade its follower.

The explosion of a depth charge will disturb the ocean environment to the extend that the sensors of the follower will be scrambled for hours. And a small nuclear device set off in the water would also disturb the ocean's physical properties for several days.

"Therefore," he says, "it seems unrealistic to neutralize all strategic submarines, even if they are located at sea and they are being continuously tracked."

Miasnikov also responds to submarine communications critics, who claim that a submarine's communications can be cutoff more easily than for other platforms.

A sub, Miasnikov claims, is the only platform that would survive a nuclear strike. Consequently, it could retaliate days after the first strike, and disturbing communications with the boat temporarily would not be a great reduction in deterrence. Noise, detection computations

Although Miasnikov depends on open, mostly Russian but occasionally Western sources, the most interesting part of his 50-plus page paper is in the three annexes. Here the author computes vital data on Russian subs, such as noise and speed, estimates of detection ranges and models of sound propagation losses.

In one piece of analysis, Miasnikov implies that the better quieting levels actually increase the risk of submarine collisions.

At what minimum detection range can a submarine carry out continuous tracking without risking a collision?

During the maneuvers, ocean conditions and external noise levels will change. A tracked sub may also move into another water layer, thus, itself changing the strategic situation. As a result, the algorithm for the signal filtration will be less than optimal for a while, and the tracking sub maylose its target.

Given that close proximity is required for very quiet subs, collisions occur frequently in such situations.

Even if the tracking and tracked submarines move at a low speed of five knots, the tracking boat will travel 250 meters before it can classify the opponent's new position and movement after a loss of optimum conditions, Miasnikov says.