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Russia’s Kilo-Class: The ‘Black Hole’ Submarine in the Black Sea (Attacking Ukraine?)

Kilo-class Submarine
Kilo-class Submarine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Expert Analysis: Why Russia’s Kilo-Class Submarine Is Dangerous – In January, more than a month before Russia launched its unprovoked and wholly unwarranted invasion of Ukraine, there was much speculation on the role that the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet would play in an invasion of Ukraine. Arguably it played a crucial role in showing how inept the Kremlin’s handling of the war was after the loss guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the fleet – and the largest warship sank in combat since the Second World War.

Many jokes have been made that Moskva is now part of the Russian Navy’s submarine flotilla, which actually only serves to remind us that even Russia’s best underwater cruisers haven’t exactly played a significant role in the conflict to date.

There had been speculation that the six improved Kilo-class submarines could have been used to launch missiles from hundreds of miles away. In the weeks following the invasion, Russia even reinforced its fleet with the Rostov-na-Donu (B-237) returning to the Black Sea from Russia’s Tartous Naval Base in Syria.

At least four of the improved Kilo-class boats in the Black Sea have been reported to be equipped with the Kalibr land-attack missiles

A Terror Weapon

While Ukraine faced numerous barrages, with strikes hitting population centers and civilian targets since the start of the war, it remains wholly unclear what role the so-called “Black Holes” have played – beyond a strike launched at a civilian business center in Vinnytsia, Ukraine in July. According to The Washington Post, the attack killed 23.

At this point, it would seem the Kilo-class boats are little more than a terror weapon. It could be argued that is exactly what they were designed to be.

The modified Project 636.3 Varshavyanka-class submarines (NATO reporting name: Improved Kilo-II) have been referred to as the third generation of large diesel-electric underwater cruisers. The boats, which have been nicknamed “Black Holes” by the U.S. Navy, were designed to operate in shallower, coastal waters and are tasked with ASuW and ASW missions, but can hit land targets as well.

The Improved Kilo-II class is noted for its higher combat efficiency compared to its predecessors, and this includes the combination of acoustic stealth and the target detection range, as well as the latest inertial navigator, advanced automated information and control system, more powerful high-speed torpedo, and improved missile armament. The boats are capable of detecting an enemy submarine at a range three to four times greater than it can be detected.

Moreover, the Russian submarines also feature something referred to as an anechoic coating—essentially large rubber tiles sprinkled with air bubbles to deaden noise coming from within the submarine. That is why some in the U.S. Navy refer to this submarine as a “black hole,” a compliment to its stealthiness.

The Project 636.3 submarines are 74 meters long and displace more than 3,900 tons, and due to their strong hull, the submarines have an operational depth of 240 meters and can dive to a maximum depth of 300 meters and an operational range of up to 7,500 miles. The Russian submarines have been considered among the world’s quietest underwater cruisers, and the boats can travel at speeds of up to twenty knots, while they have sea endurance of forty-five days. Each submarine carries six torpedo tubes, and they carry a crew of fifty-two submariners.

Project 636.3 submarines are armed with Kalibr/Club land-attack cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and anti-submarine missiles. The 3M-54 Kalibr also referred to it as 3M54-1 Kalibr, 3M14 Biryuza, (SS-N-27 Sizzler and SS-N-30A), 91R1, and 91RT2 is a family of Russian cruise missiles developed by the Novator Design Bureau (OKB-8). The Kalibr can be launched from torpedo tubes while the boat is in a submerged position. Each of the Kilo-class boats is also equipped with armed with 533-millimeter torpedo tubes and carried a total of 18 torpedoes.

Kilo-Class Submarine

Kilo-Class Submarine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Given that Ukraine has no navy, the Kilo­-class can’t serve in its ASW or ASuW roles, but it could be deployed to strike land targets. Why it hasn’t served a more significant role in the conflict is simply anyone’s guess.

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.

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.