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This Russian Submarine Was Built to Sink Aircraft Carriers (It Needed a Tugboat)

Oscar II-class Submarine 3
Image Credit: Facebook posting from Danish Navy.

The Russian Navy’s Orel is the same class as the Kursk, the Russian submarine that sank in 2000 with all hands lost.

The Incident 

The Russian Navy’s Orel, an Oscar II-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine, broke down while transiting the Kola Peninsula after leaving port in St. Petersburg. The exact cause of the breakdown is unclear.

However, The Barents Observer, a Norwegian news site, reports that the malfunction happened on July 30th off the coast of Århus, Denmark’s second-largest city. Without propulsion, the large submarine started to drift with the tide and current.

The Danish Navy captured the drama of the event on social media. On the Danish HDMS Diana’s Facebook page, the crew wrote that “one of the [Danish naval] escorts out of the Baltic will go down in history as both dramatic and exciting, when the nuclear-powered attack submarine OREL of the OSCAR II class had problems with propulsion and lay dead in the water off Sejerø, drifting towards the island at 1.5 knots.”

The Russian tugboat assisting the Orel rebuffed the HDMS Diana’s offer of assistance.

“From DIANA we followed closely the situation on the submarine and our thoughts quickly ran to the movie “The Hunt for Red October” when we saw a crowd of people on the foredeck of the submarine. But after all it was two miles to Sejerø. A bit too far to swim for a defection to the west.

OREL got going again though and all rigged towing gear was rigged again. VERY exciting to witness at close quarters.”

Oscar II-class

The Oscar II-class is not exactly new: the newly-formed Russian Navy commissioned the Orel in 1992 or 1993, making the submarine nearly 30 years old. While the submarine is nuclear powered, the class relies on two nuclear reactors for propulsion and is heavily armed.

The submarine is armed with 72 P-800 anti-ship cruise missiles capable of striking targets on land or at sea as far away as 300 kilometers. In addition, the class is equipped with two different sizes of torpedo: Four 533mm torpedo tubes and two 650mm heavyweight torpedoes that give the submarine a potent underwater capability. Many naval experts see this class of submarine as a perfect way to attack U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and NATO surface warships in the event of a conflict. 

Oscar II-class Submarine 3

Image Credit: Danish Navy Facebook post.

The class is perhaps best-known thanks to the Kursk, another Oscar II submarine that suffered a catastrophic onboard explosion in 2000. The powerful blast breached the submarine hull and caused the ship to sink to the bottom of the Barents Sea, losing all 118 sailors on board. The Russian Navy currently operates just three Oscar II-class submarines.

Oscar II-class Submarine 3

Image: Facebook posting from Danish Navy.


After an unspecified amount of time, Orel’s crew restored the sub’s propulsion and removed the tow lines. After initially cruising on the surface, the submarine submerged and continued its journey underwater. Given previous Russian Navy submarine mishaps — the most infamous of which involved the same submarine class — there is reasonable cause for concern. 

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

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