Russian Nuclear Submarines 'On Par' With US, Top General Says

Yasen-class submarine could put U.S. fleet at risk

Gen. Glen VanHerck
June 17, 2021

The latest class of Russian nuclear submarines is "on par" with American technology, a top U.S. Air Force general said Tuesday.

Gen. Glen VanHerck, the head of U.S. Northern Command and the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command, told lawmakers that Moscow’s continued buildup of nuclear submarines will be a "persistent" threat to America in the years ahead.

"Russia just fielded their second Sev-class submarine, which is on par with ours," VanHerck said. "Within a five-year period or so, they'll have eight to nine of those submarines, which will be a persistent proximate threat off of our east and west coasts that we haven't had ever in the past."

VanHerck was referring to the "Yasen" class submarine, which possesses super-quiet capabilities and a new missile launch system. The construction of such a submarine is a major advancement for the Russian Navy, which mostly still uses Cold War-era platforms. Moscow has at least two Yasen submarines, with more on the way.

The general’s comments came the day before President Joe Biden met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. The talks mark the beginning of multiple working groups between Russia and the United States on issues such as nuclear weapons, which experts say may yield little results. 

Tim Morrison, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who worked on Russia issues on the Trump administration's National Security Council, told the Washington Free Beacon the Biden administration should approach further talks with Russia with caution.

"My concern is the Biden administration appears to want to improve relations with Russia more than Russia cares to improve relations with us," Morrison said. "The only cards [Putin] has to play are those of the disruptor. Every time he disrupts and provokes, he ends up getting international attention and prestige."

Prior to the summit, the release of Biden’s defense budget request revealed significant budget constraints for the Navy, spurring the acting secretary of the Navy to issue a memo declaring that production of nuclear cruise missiles would have to be cut to meet constraints. Republican defense hawks fervently objected to the memo.

The Biden administration’s tone and approach toward Russia leaves much to be desired, said Amanda Rothschild, the senior policy director for the Vandenberg Coalition and a former national security speechwriter for President Donald Trump.

"There is a significant gap between rhetoric and action," Rothschild said. "[Biden] is willing to risk peace in pursuit of politics—when politics means getting along with others and saying the right things—instead of actual substantive decisions and actions, which we didn't see much of."