Streetwise Professor

August 5, 2009

There They Go Again

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:54 pm

After a long absence, the Russian Navy has resumed nuclear attack submarine (SSN) patrols off the US coast:

A pair of nuclear-powered Russian attack submarines has been patrolling off the eastern seaboard of the United States in recent days, a rare mission that has raised concerns inside the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about a more assertive stance by the Russian military.

The episode has echoes of the cold war era, when the United States and the Soviet Union regularly parked submarines off each other’s coasts to steal military secrets, track the movements of their underwater fleets — and be poised for war.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union all but eliminated the ability of the Russian  Navy to operate far from home ports, making the current submarine patrols thousands of miles from  Russia more surprising for military officials and defense policy experts.

“I don’t think they’ve put two first-line nuclear subs off the U.S. coast in about 15 years,” said Norman Polmar, a naval historian and submarine warfare expert.

. . . .

The submarine patrols come as Moscow tries to shake off the embarrassment of the  latest failed test of the Bulava missile, a long-range weapon that was test fired from a submarine in the Arctic on July 15. The failed missile test was the sixth since 2005, and some experts see Russia’s assertiveness elsewhere as a gambit by the military to prove its continued relevance.

. . . .

“Anytime the Russian Navy does something so out of the ordinary it is cause for worry,” said a senior Defense Department official who has been monitoring reports on the submarines’ activities.

The official said the Navy was able to track the submarines as they made their way through international waters off the American coastline. This can be done from aircraft, ships, underwater sensors or other submarines.

“We’ve known where they were, and we’re not concerned about our ability to track the subs,” the official added. “We’re concerned just because they are there.”

A detected sub is a useless sub, and my initial thought was that the US Navy made a big deal out of this to embarrass the Russians, and let them know that this move was pointless and pathetic.

Then my second thought was that the Russians wanted to be detected, as a part of their continuing in-your-face-we’re-off-our-knees charm offensive that includes naval and air expeditions to Venezuela, a renewal of the Cold War practice of buzzing US carriers, and the frequent violation of Norwegian, Swedish, British, and Canadian airspace in another throwback to the Cold War.

Thinking about these things too hard gets one into the Dr. Moriarity and Sherlock Holmes and the train dilemmas, so I’m not going to spend too much time figuring which alternative–or another one–is right.  Needless to say, I hope the first is right, but wouldn’t rule out the second.  Regardless, it is evident that Russia is attempting to bring back what they viewed as the Glory Days.

Fat lot of good it did them then.  Fat lot of good it will do them now.

Will they ever learn?  That’s a question I know the answer to with metaphorical certainty: No.

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  1. I liked this, and wondered how we could ever decide between 1 and 2.
    My best guess is that we would operate as if both were live possibilities, and not decide, until it was quite clear that both could not be true. Compliments of the Howard Raiffa school of thinking about “or”.

    Comment by Michael Webster — August 5, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

  2. I think its 2.

    The Akula is a relatively old and noisy submarine and it is probably not surprising to anyone, including the Russians, that it was detected, given the narrowness of outlets into the open Atlantic and the US concentration of surveillance assets around these chokepoints and its coasts.

    I don’t see the reason for concern. They present no military threat (they are attack subs, it would be a different matter if they were SSBNs).

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 5, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

  3. S/O–old and noisy relative to what? It is Russia’s newest SSN class, certainly better than the Sierras & Victors. Certainly not older than some US LA class boats, but definitely noisier.

    It’s not a matter of concern in terms of the threat posed, really. (Russian and before that Soviet SSBNs don’t need to deploy off the US coast. They lurk in the Arctic, defended by SSNs.) It’s more of a matter of concern as to the mindset it betrays.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 6, 2009 @ 7:37 am

  4. Indeed, a mindset is betrayed by the fact that US sub patrols off Russia’s coast never ceased.

    Comment by Rkka — August 6, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  5. Correction: The Russians do not usually violate other countries’ airspace. What they usually do is fly along the border in order to force the other air force to come and mark their territory. I should know, I grew up to a Norwegian Air Force base. It’s a game they’ve been playing for decades, they just took a break in the 90’s. It’s annoying and unfriendly, but there’s nothing illegal about it.

    Comment by Virgule — August 6, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  6. argh, that should be “next to a Norwegian air force base.”

    Comment by Virgule — August 6, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  7. Virgule. Illegal is one thing. Provocative and unfriendly is something else. I never said it was illegal, but it does represent a throwback to the old way of thinking that worked out so wonderfully for them in the past.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 6, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

  8. I see. So the sustained US sub patrols off Russia’s coast the past fifteen years indicates sustained US unfriendliness to Russia, now being reciprocated.

    Comment by rkka — August 6, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  9. Once again, SUBLIME DURAK is lying like the sack of rubbish he is.

    (1) These subs were perfectly capable of carrying missiles.

    (2) What about the strategic bombers?

    Such pathetic dishonesty is the indicator of an utterly empty, corrupt mind.

    Comment by La Russophobe — August 6, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  10. RKKA:

    Is the US buzzing Russian bases with strategic bombers, including the Russian coastline?


    So why is Russia doing that to the USA. Please answer, if you can, reptile.

    Comment by La Russophobe — August 6, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  11. Yes, you’re correct about the Akulas being new subs. My bad. I’m not as interested in naval matters as in ground and air. I think rkka makes a lot of sense – if US subs patrol near Russian waters, then patrolling round the East Coast is nothing more than fair reciprocity, if somewhat pointless.

    PS SWP. With your new concern about editing out insulting content, are you going to do anything about LR’s use of “sack of rubbish” and “reptile”?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 6, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

  12. S/O–

    Thanks for the acknowledgement.

    US sub patrol patterns are hardly public knowledge, though it is almost certain that they continue to patrol the Arctic close to the Russian coast because that’s where Russian boomers hide. That makes perfect sense. They still represent a potential threat to the US. The recent Russian excursion has no such explanation, as US boomers are almost certainly far from where the Akulas were. As if Akulas could find them anyways.

    Re the “new concern.” I set out my criteria. Outing people who don’t want to be outed was one. Racist remarks is another. The namecalling is not exactly elevated or edified, but that falls more in the sticks-and-stones category. I am sure that you don’t appreciate it, but I also think that you are big enough to shrug it off.

    I am very reluctant to intervene in the comments at all, but there are limits. For now, that’s what they are, but are subject to change at my discretion.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 6, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

  13. The point of Akulas patrolling off the US coast might be to pick up US boomers as they leave base, just like your justification of US sub patrols off Russia’s coast. So you’re still stuck on the dilemma. Either these sub ops are a normal part of naval activity, or they are a provocative indication of hostility.

    Pick one, and stick to it.

    Comment by rkka — August 6, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  14. Professor

    Picjking up on Rkka’s point and putting aside this guy’s seemingly at times snutty approach, (which is partly responsible for the comparatively crappy commentary out there getting the nod in some instances), he has a point on the hypocrisy factor, which for objectivity sake shouldn’t be simply dismissed as “whataboutery”:

    BTW, I’m still on the floor over your recent post on on Twitter subject. Perhaps I’ll reply to it later.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 6, 2009 @ 11:42 pm

  15. Anchors Aweigh!

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 7, 2009 @ 8:28 am

  16. @Cutie Pie, I read the linked document but I wasn’t that convinced.

    If Russia saw some recent American action as provocative, which appeared neutral to American eyes, and the russiaotherpointsofview blog explained why, that would have been useful.

    To simply point out a long standing American practice won’t explain this recent incursion.

    Comment by Michael Webster — August 7, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  17. rkka-

    1. Re the parallelism b/t US sub patrols in the Arctic and the recent Akula forays, the change in behavior is what is significant. Given the timing around an uptick in tensions over Georgia, Russian pique over US sub deployments in the Black Sea around the time of last year’s war, and Russian beliefs that all of their conflicts are in essence proxy wars with the US, I think that it is more likely that the current deployment is intended to warn the US against taking similar actions in the Black Sea the next time around.
    2. Re picking up US boomers. Snicker. Good luck with that.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 7, 2009 @ 10:58 am

  18. Hmm, it seems the Russophile trash ADMITS that since the US is NOT buzzing Russia with strategic bombers, Russia is WRONG to do so to the US.

    Pity they lack the courage and character to actually admit this, much less to call upon Russia to stop. But predictable.

    Comment by La Russophobe — August 7, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  19. Michael

    You think it’s quite okay to have the (what you describe as a) “long standing practice” unlike the discussed Russian action?

    Without meaning to simplify things, this is something akin to the bully who is used to having his way with others. Suddenly, that bully is given the treatment he dishes out.

    How shameful!

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 7, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  20. US sub deployments in the Black Sea just after Georgia bombarded Russian soldiers. I’ll have to check the number the number of boomers on the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s ORBAT. None.

    I guess that leaves ” being provocative and unfriendly” as the sole reason for US subs in the Black Sea last year.

    Comment by rkka — August 7, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

  21. @Cutie Pie;

    Uh, I think that we need some explanation for the “Suddenly”. Why did the Russians “suddenly” decide to confront the Americans wrt to the American’s long standing practice.

    Morality has very little do with it.

    Comment by Michael Webster — August 9, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

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