Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Ukraine’s New Mini-Submarine: A Potential Game Changer in the Black Sea and Threat to Putin?

Will this mini-sub put Ukraine’s navy on an equal footing with Russia’s submarine fleet of Typhoon-class boats, Oscar II-class subs, Kilo-class, and so forth? Obviously not.

Yasen submarine diagram from Russian state media.
Yasen submarine diagram from Russian state media.

Russia’s Navy, or at least the surface component, has been fairly quiet lately in terms of participation in direct combat missions in support of Putin’s ongoing “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Humiliations such as the sinking of the flagship Moskva and the recapture of Snake Island, as well as the October 2022 drone strike on the Russian Black Sea Fleet moored at the Sevastopol Naval Base – resulting in damage to the frigate Admiral Makarov – could make any navy stay at a standoff distance. 

However, Russia’s submarine fleet continues to have skin in the game, as demonstrated by the recent cruise missile strikes against Ukrainian civilians in the city of Vinnytsia, which in turn prompted the presumably retaliatory assassination of former Russian submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky.

Right now, Russia has exclusive dominion on submarine warfare in the conflict, as the Military Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Військо́во-морські́ си́ли Збро́йних сил Украї́ни/ Viysʹkóvo-morsʹkí sýly Zbróynykh syl Ukrayíny) currently has no submarine fleet to speak of. But that may be changing soon.

The Basics

The news of the promising new developments comes via an April 2023 article penned by Jesus Diaz for Fast Company, “Ukraine’s sneaky submarine may change naval warfare forever.” As Mr. Diaz states in the opening two paragraphs of his article:

“In the Arabian Desert—somewhere past the end of Dubai—a small band of misfits claim to have built the submarine of the future in the middle of an ocean of sand. Hanging from a heavy industrial crane inside an industrial warehouse, the black silhouette of the machine feels biological and menacing, almost alive as its creators put in the last touches before its virgin voyage … Its name is Kronos. And according to its chief designer, Ukrainian engineer Alexander Kuznetsov, founder of Highland Systems, it may change naval warfare forever… If traditional large submarines are the slow-moving bombers of the sea, Kronos is a stealth jet fighter, capable of maneuvering at fast speeds, turning on a dime, and sneaking behind big enemy ships to disable them with torpedoes and even sink them with magnetic mines.”

Regarding that “slow-moving bombers” analogy, Diaz provides readers with a sense of perspective by pointing out that the U.S. Navy’s mighty Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) take up to five minutes to fully submerge, and WWII-era submarines took roughly 30 seconds to perform an emergency crash dive. Modern-day subs also have a turning radius of 750 to 1,500 feet and require a minimum operating depth of 650 feet (the latter because of the need for space under the keel).

Kronos Specifications

By contrast, Kronos can patrol in waters as shallow as 50 feet – hypothetically facilitating her ability to target enemy vessels in port, and still able to dive as deep as 820 feet (wherein water pressure reaches the level of 24.84 atmospheres, or 327 pounds per square inch. Her manta ray-like shape and sonar-absorbent coating, combined with her electric engine, make her stealthy enough for hit-and-run operations; in essence, combining submarine warfare and guerrilla warfare. The compact size of the sub requires only a single pilot to operate her, however, it has the carrying capacity for up to eight commandos

How compact exactly? We’re talking a length of 29.61 feet, a width of 24.38 feet, a height of 6.85 feet, and a curb weight of 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds).

Speed is also a plus; Kronos’s submerged speed is 27 knots (31 mph). It surpasses the official published top speed of the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines, which is 20 knots (23 mph). Surfaced speed is even more impressive; 43.2 knots (49.7 mph), which easily exceeds that of an ultra-modern surface warship like the USN’s Zumwalt-class destroyers, which reach 32 knots (36.82 mph).

Armament-wise, Kronos would presumably wield the Leonardo Black Scorpion, which doesn’t carry a sufficient explosive payload to actually sink a ship but can do enough damage to disable any enemy vessel approaching from its wake and firing at its propellers, as the manufacturing company told Diaz. After launching its attack, Kronos would hypothetically either do a 180-degree turn and retreat or descend straight to the seabed, lying down to avoid detection.

Diaz continued, “While Highland Systems wouldn’t share its final numbers, it assures me that the price tag of its vessel will be a ridiculous fraction of the cost of an SSK attack submarine, which goes for about $450 million without maintenance and operational expenses. The result is that you can build a large fleet of Kronos-like subs and cover their operational costs for years for the price of a single SSK.”

The Way Forward?

Spearheading this entire ambitious project is Highland Systems – founded by Ukrainian engineer Alexander Kuznetsov – whose website proclaims “Made In the UAE” but lists a Suffolk, UK address for contact information. 

USN Cmdr. Matthew Sweeney, a faculty member at the U.S. Naval War College, states that everything Highland proposes is feasible on paper, though needless to say the current war serves as a major obstacle to going from on paper to reality.

In any event, 37 prototypes have been built so far, with the first functional, full-scale Kronos prototype being displayed at the IDEX-2023 international defense fair in Abu Dhabi this past March.

Will this mini-sub put Ukraine’s navy on an equal footing with Russia’s submarine fleet of Typhoon-class boats, Oscar II-class subs, Kilo-class, and so forth? Obviously not. But, it’ll still put Ukrainiane’s underwater sailors in a better position than, say, their Taiwanese counterparts, who are currently stuck with having to resort to WWII-era submarines to defend against a prospective Chinese invasion. And I have a hunch that, if and when they get used in combat, they’ll have better success than, say, the Imperial Japanese Navy mini-sub crews did during the IJN’s attack on  Pearl Harbor. 

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).

From 19FortyFive

5 Worst 9mm Guns on Planet Earth

5 Worst Glock Guns

5 Best Home Defense Rifles on Earth 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).