Defence analysts believe the secretive underwater operations are designed to send out a clear signal about Russia’s resurgent seapower. They said Kremlin officials want to show they can position their nuclear-armed submarines within range of the eastern USA while testing NATO’s ability to respond such a large-scale deployment.
Norway’s military intelligence agency said it had been tracking eight nuclear and two diesel submarines since they left their Northern Fleet bases near Murmansk early last week.
They said the operation, expected to last two months, was the biggest since the Cold War and featured almost the entire underwater contingent of the northern fleet.
The vessels remained submerged as they entered the Norwegian Sea and some are expected to pass through the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap and enter the north Atlantic close to UK territorial waters above Scotland.
Defence expert Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute said deploying 10 submarines was a “very big and definite statement” about Russia’s growing naval capabilities.
He said it also showed Russia’s ability to defend the Arctic “bastion” where its ballistic missile submarines form a key element of Moscow’s nuclear deterrence.
Mr Bronk said: “The ability to put lots of boats in the way of any NATO forces coming up from the north Atlantic or the North Sea, it’s a big feature of Russian active defence capability.”
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The North Atlantic manoeuvres come as Russia’s latest nuclear-powered submarine Prince Vladimir test-fired a Bulava ballistic missile for the first time during trials in the White Sea.
A Defence Ministry spokesman said: “For the first time ever, a seaborne Bulava ballistic missile was test-fired from the latest Project Borei-A strategic missile-carrying submarine Prince Vladimir.”
He said the submarine launched the missile from a submerged position during in towards the Kura range in the Far Eastern Kamchatka Region across from Alaska.
The lead submarine Yuri Dolgoruky has entered service with the Northern Fleet, while two serial-produced subs Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh are operational in the Pacific Fleet.
The new submarines feature better acoustic stealth, manoeuvring and deep-sea running capabilities and an improved armament control system.
All Borei-class submarines can carry 16 Bulava missiles and are also armed with 533mm torpedo tubes.