The Russian navy is building new nuclear-powered submarines and deploying them more aggressively, seemingly reviving a Cold War approach to naval warfare.
But in attempting to counter the Russian subs, the United States and NATO should avoid slipping back into its own Cold War ways, warned Andrew Metrick, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Specifically, the Western alliance should not reinforce the geographic chokepoint between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, Metrick advised. A response centered on the so-called “GIUK Gap” “risks misprioritizing future investments.”
“In the past few years, Russian submarine activities have become a focal point for U.S. and NATO planners, part of the larger discourse on Russia’s revanchist role in the wake of its illegal annexation of Crimea,” Metrick wrote.
“Several military leaders have observed that Russian activities in the undersea domain have reached the highest levels seen in 20 years, and this heightened pace of operations has set off alarm bells from the United Kingdom to Finland and spurred comparisons to the Cold War.”
During the Cold War, Soviet submarines needed to pass the GIUK Gap in order to reach the open ocean and close within striking range of NATO ports and ships. That’s not the case with newer Russian subs with their longer-range weapons.
“Russian submarines no longer have to transit the gap to have a dramatic impact on the European military balance,” Metrick wrote. “Rather, they can operate from the relative safety of bastions in the Norwegian and Barents seas and strike targets across Northern and Central Europe.”
Assuming budgets remain at their current level, in the 2020s the Russian submarine fleet could include up to 10 Yasen-class guided-missile submarines plus upgraded Kilo, Akula, Oscar and Sierra attack submarines, for a grand total of probably around 50 vessels.