The number of active Russian submarines in the Black Sea has grown substantially — from one to seven — since Moscow annexed the Crimea in 2014.
The subs are presenting a substantial challenge to NATO’s security along its eastern flank. Together, along with Russia’s military buildup on the peninsula, Russia has shifted the military balance of power in the region.
Shortly after the annexation, Russia embarked on a major military modernization effort of the Black Sea Fleet, which is based out of Sevastopol.
Originally, six Admiral Grigorovich–class (Project 11356P/M) guided-missile frigates and six Kilo-class submarines were to be constructed and deployed in the Black Sea. Both vessels are capable of firing Caliber land-attack cruise missiles that have a range of more than 1,240 miles.
But the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine has interrupted the construction of the frigates; the gas turbine engines that power them are built in Ukraine and the country has stopped supplying them to Moscow. As such thus far, only three of the warships have been commissioned.
But all six of the Kilo-class subs have been delivered. And all six have fired cruise missiles in support of Russian military action in Syria. They are a legitimate threat.
Moreover, the Kilos — a Cold War-era vessel — are among the quietest diesel-electric subs in the world. Plus, they’re proven safe and have a good track record of performance. And among NATO members in the Black Sea, just Turkey has a fully-developed anti-submarine warfare capability. But Ankara is dividing its ASW capability between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, where it isn’t getting much help from Romania and Bulgaria. (Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 19, 2018 — Volume 15, Issue 8)
(Analyst comment: NATO has quickly become outclassed in the Black Sea. The U.S. is attempting to mitigate the alliance’s disadvantage by adding U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon patrols, as Romania and Bulgaria work to upgrade their aging fleets. For now, however, the advantage is clearly Russia’s, and historically, when Russia has found an advantage against NATO it has pressed it.)