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Akula: The Russian Submarine That Makes the US Navy Sweat

Akula-class
K-322 Cachalot, Akula class submarine underway. A port quarter aerial view of the Russian Northern Fleet AKULA class nuclear-powered attack submarine underway on the surface.

In the spring of 2020, K-147 Vepr re-entered service with the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet. It was the most recent boat in the series of Project 971 Shchuka-B (NATO reporting name Akula) nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) to complete the modernization and refit. It was also the only completed Akula II, an improved version of the Cold War-era Soviet-designed vessels.

Akula, Explained – 

Designed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Project 971 – not to be confused with the Soviet Akula-class SSBN (NATO reporting name Typhoon) – first entered production in 1983. Akula incorporates a double hull system composed of an inner pressure hull and an outer “light” hull. This essentially allowed more freedom in the design of the exterior hull shape, which resulted in a submarine with more reserve buoyancy than western attack submarines of the era.

Fifteen of a planned twenty submarines were built and completed by the Amur Shipbuilding Plant Joint Stock Company at Komsomolsk-on-Amur and by Sevmash at the Severodvinsk shipbuilding yard. Five additional hulls were laid down, but some were canceled during construction and two of the hulls were used in the completion of the Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic submarines Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky.

Seven Akula I submarines were commissioned between 1986 and 1992 while three Improved Akula boats entered service between 1992 and 1995. Construction of the later boats was often suspended at times due to a lack of funds during Russia’s economic crisis.

What’s in a Name?

The Vepr was built as the further improved Project 971M. To further add to the confusion – always common with Soviet military vessels – the improved Akula I and Akula II have also been designated as Project 971U and Project 971A respectively.

The oldest submarine, Akula I was retired in 2001, while three other of the early Project 971 boats have also been retired.

Akula: Fast and Ready to Attack

As designed the Akula-class boats were equipped with eight torpedo launch tubes, including four 650mm and four 533mm tubes.

The Improved Akula and Akula II have ten tubes, with six 533mm tubes. In addition, the four 650mm tubes could be fitted with liners to provide an additional 533mm weapon launch capacity. The torpedo tubes can be used to launch mines instead of torpedoes.

The Akula can launch a range of anti-submarine and anti-surface vessel torpedoes, as well as the Granit (NATO designation: SS-N-21 Sampson) cruise missile, which has a range of about 3,000km and it can deliver a 200kt warhead.

In 2016, it was announced that Moscow had plans to upgrade its Akula-class fleet with the 3M-54 Kalibr missiles.

The submarines are powered by a 190 MW OK-650B/OK-650M pressurized water nuclear reactor, OK-7 steam turbine, which provides 43,000 hp (32 MW) to a seven-bladed propeller. The Akula-class has a maximum speed of 10 knots surfaced and 28-35 knots submerged. While the ships have an unlimited range, endurance is reported to be around 100 days.

Each of the boats is fitted with the MGK 540 sonar system, which provides automatic target detection in broad and narrow-band modes by active sonar. It can provide the range, relative bearing and range rate. Moreover, the sonar system can also be used in a passive, listening mode for the detection of hostile sonars. The sonar signal processor can detect and automatically classify targets as well as reject spurious acoustic noise sources and compensate for variable acoustic conditions.

While the Russian attack submarines were developed back in the 1970s, the boats that have been modernized are expected to remain in service until the end of the 2030s or later.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Joe Sailor

    April 25, 2022 at 1:04 am

    Doesn’t sound scary to me.. because US Navy Submarines have the similar weapons systems and more sophisticated combat control systems.

  2. Frédéric

    April 25, 2022 at 2:02 am

    The Russians decent submarines. But the maintenance does not follow. It took a minimum of three to four years to return a Yankee-class SSBN to service after the ten-year maintenance visit.

  3. edward murphy

    April 25, 2022 at 3:07 am

    If I remember well…back in 1990..an Akula was lauched and was definitely detected by the usn
    ..u.s.s permit 594…or u.s.s pintado SSN 672… Not sure what boat… but was definitely detected.

  4. Phil H Spector

    April 25, 2022 at 7:10 am

    Interesting article

    • Big Daddy

      April 26, 2022 at 6:25 pm

      Judging by the articles on this platform 1945 is just a Russian sponsored disinformation information machine. No need to worry, in a straight up fight with Russia they wouldn’t have a chance. The truth is we have s*** here in the United States that makes their little tiny balls shrivel up inside of them. Putin and Russia are a bunch of assholes.

  5. Rog

    April 25, 2022 at 8:02 am

    During my career in the USN serving on submarines of all types, WWII Diesels, Nuclear Missile Subs and Fast Attack Subs, never once did I believe any other country had superiority over our submarine fleet. Hopefully, this is accurate today.

    • fred Kirchner

      April 27, 2022 at 7:21 pm

      Russia is a paper tiger,an inferior ragtag military,with substandard equipment.

  6. Dale

    April 25, 2022 at 8:43 am

    Allegedly, not as afraid of Russian submarines. Russia is out numbered by over 2 to 1.

  7. Jack

    April 25, 2022 at 10:51 am

    Remember what happened to the Kursk?

  8. Alex

    April 25, 2022 at 10:56 am

    Russia has relied on diesel submarines that carry hypersonic weapons and are almost silent – a great move.

  9. TJO

    April 25, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    This article is a bunch of nonsense. These subs were only perceived as a threat in the early nineties. As of today, their technology is antiquated, and essentially obsolete in comparison to the capabilities of US subs.

    • Elysianknight

      April 25, 2022 at 3:36 pm

      ^^^This^^^

      This article is just clickbait junk my 12 year old could have written after reading Wikipedia

      • Chance

        April 26, 2022 at 11:03 am

        You may have that speed part backwards. Most subs travel faster on the surface than submerged.

  10. SM2 (SW/AW)

    April 25, 2022 at 2:25 pm

    There’s no sub in ANYONES Navy that carries hypersonic missiles. The tech for that probably won’t ever happen.

    As for Russian subs.. sorry about your mindset here, but anything after the Delta class diesel boats (all decom and sold off), are a sonar techs dream. And if you have the right training, you can even pick out the completely submerged Russian subs visually at about 6Nm.

    Russian subs are about as threatening as the Iraqi navy.

    • Rick

      April 25, 2022 at 10:02 pm

      Clickbait for sure…as for “hypersonic” weapons from a sub, now that fantasy is quite humorous indeed!

  11. Gene Donovan Evanson

    April 25, 2022 at 8:06 pm

    I dont know why anyone would be worried about Russain submarines. They were being detected way back in the mid 90s. The hull design hasn’t changed and neither has their screw design.

    • Anthony Bennett

      April 26, 2022 at 11:50 am

      This guy didn’t do his homework or is just plain LAZY. How about “super cavitating” as opposed hypersonic? I’m retired ARMY and I know the difference

  12. matt

    April 26, 2022 at 1:06 am

    thats why a swedish sub of russian design, diesel electric which stores liquid oxygen and can stay out almost as long as nuclear sub now, was able to run rings around american subs and destroyers and carriers in excercises. People are so ignorant its not even Funny. Western powers reign is over. We have destroyed ourselves with political BS, wokeism, cancel culture and self loathing and our enemys and advisories have noticed this and spoke on it. China and Russia are both 20 to 30 years ahead of us in hypersonic cruise missiles, icbms, and multilayered air defense. We cant even get 1 succesful carriage test of a hypersonic weapon. China has one that goes 35,000mph,Russia has some that go Mach15 and can take out our satellite network in a matter of minutes, shows over.Russian S550, S600, S700, nudol 230 Take a look and Sit the F#ck down
    Everything we have relies on, is supported by, guided or directed by and synced up with a satelite gps and networking system. Can you drive across the country to a restaurant without gps, then hows a bomber or fighter going to deliver payload? Furthermore, It not just Russia, its Russia, China, Iran, Syria, United Arab Emirates and others will come on board. The best part, good ol murica is testing palletized weapon systems (mini slow flying cruise missiles) delivered from slow, fat aging 70 year old cargo planes like the c130 or c5a. hahaha wtf lmao, yeah thats our answer to china?! By the way Russia Is not the Enemy and Putin Is not the Enemy. Globalists and Elitists like Hunter Biden, George Sorros and Klaus Shcwabb amd the countless other Demonrats and republicans that run the grotesque cesspool of ukraine, are the enemy.

    • Gabriel

      April 26, 2022 at 8:59 am

      Russia has a paper army and China never had a real conflict in more than 50 years, what are you talking about?

      • Anthony Bennett

        April 26, 2022 at 11:54 am

        Another tRUMPturd to tell us what we think.

    • Anthony Bennett

      April 26, 2022 at 11:53 am

      Another tRUMPturd to tell us what we think.

    • Anthony Bennett

      April 26, 2022 at 11:57 am

      Man hush, you sound like an uneducated tRUMP loving cult member

  13. Matt

    April 26, 2022 at 1:19 am

    yeah a bunch of beta simp gen xer soy boys from commifornia are a real threat to the world’s superpowers. hahaha. We were just holding meetings with the British ministry of defense to discuss banning the word “manpower” and “grip” and “strength” among other naughty words because soy boys are literally too butthurt 👉👌. Lets see how that equates to the battlefield! We couldnt even win against a postage stamp 3rd world country that had a lower GDP Than Texas!! Literally 14 year old vietnamese boys barefoot in the jungle, no tech, and a 40 year old ak47 and we couldnt figure it out and still cant. Afghanistan, 20 years and where did that get us?! We got defeated by a Bedouin on a moped!! hahah again, a young boy, no tech, no armour, no radios, no money and amusingly and Ironically, again, a 40 year old Rusty, never maintained, beat up AK-47 and using old ammo. Yes I can see 🙈 Russia and china are no match for Murica

  14. Ryan Carter

    April 26, 2022 at 4:11 am

    Was the leading pic supposed to be of a rusted out sub? Not sure anyone is overly concerned with rust covered subs. Doesnt even look like the Russians care much about these subs, if that pic is anything to go by..

  15. Ucxo

    April 26, 2022 at 5:14 pm

    and now share how much did russian propagandons pay to write non relative blog 🙂

  16. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:14 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

  17. Luis

    May 2, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks for article,but don’t have real confident at this!!

  18. Andrew M. Winter

    May 18, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    Well.

    The thing is this. Russia does have some really great minds working on some really interesting tech. But the notion that the tech automatically translates to geopolitical “potency” just is not that automatic.

    Take the much hyped SU-57. Great Bird, really right up there with the F-16, FA/18 etc. Russia has five in service. Five. Just five. Five is not a world beater now matter what the thing looks like on paper.

    T-14 Armata. REally good looking tank, on paper, except for that awful auto loader carousel at the bottom of the turret. Russia has received less than 100. That will not replace the hundreds of tanks lost in Ukraine. 70 or so really good tanks does not constitute a world beater.

    And the Akulas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_Russian_Navy_ships#Nuclear_attack_submarines_(SSN)

    There are eleven. 11. Seven of them are being “refitted” and not in service. Russia has four. 4. I do not think the US navy is sweating four really good Russian Attack Boats. I really am not seeing that.

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