Delta-IV nuclear sub emerges with a conning tower survival cage

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After hundreds of light, transport, and armored combat vehicles appeared on the battlefield in Ukraine, equipped with anti-drone cages on their turrets or chassis, it was the Russian Delta-IV class nuclear submarine’s turn. Although BulgarianMilitary.com cannot confirm, this instance quite possibly marks the first time in any navy’s history that ‘grills’ have been installed on a submarine’s conning tower. 

This occurrence further demonstrates that small ‘sting’ kamikaze drones and FPV drones can deal tens of millions of dollars in damage. Despite this, ships and submarines remain exceptionally vulnerable to drone attacks, and there doesn’t seem to be an efficient defense against them. 

The submarine in question is the Tula, a Russian nuclear submarine that is part of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Federation. The footage captured the Russian submarine at the port of Gadzhievo in Russia’s far northern Murmansk region. The grill is mounted directly above the command hatches, from where officers observe their surroundings using visual and electro-optical means when the submarine surfaces. 

Video screenshot

Questions

This prompts some questions. For instance, does the Tula submarine submerge with the grills on? Can the structure withstand the pressure of seawater at great depths? Or are the grills removed before the submarine embarks on a mission? If so, the structure must be easy to deploy or retract. 

Despite our familiarity with similar cages on land war machines, the grill on the submarine could serve a totally different purpose. Some experts suggest that this might be a kind of canopy to protect officers who monitor the surroundings when the submarine surfaces. It could also be a test for a new concept, and this could either be the first or last time we witness such a ‘naval solution’. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Assuming the most plausible scenario based on the war in Ukraine, it’s clear that the once ridiculed and criticized cage indeed has a role to play. Examples abound with Russian and Ukrainian tanks frequently seen on the battlefields featuring these grills. 

The trend

The ‘trend’ even reached Israel, where the first Merkava tanks featuring a cage on the dome appeared almost a month after the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Looking at the Merkava tanks, we would be deeply impressed to find that, unlike Russian and Ukrainian tanks, Israeli ones feature factory-installed cages on their domes. This implies assumed factory serial production. 

Photo credit: Twitter

It’s worth noting that at one of the recent military exhibitions in Moscow, the Russian Ministry of Defense exhibited a series of armored combat and transport vehicles with serially and factory-produced cage structures. So, these grills, first seen in Crimea, even before the Ukraine conflict, certainly played a role in this conflict’s history. 

What Cope Cage is?

It’s important to remember exactly how cage armor works against a drone attack to understand the meaning behind the integrations we have observed over the past two years. A ‘cage’ or slat armor is a type of protective measure designed to counter threats from anti-tank weapons, including drone-delivered munitions. It functions as a physical barrier, disrupting the trajectory or detonation mechanism of incoming projectiles. 

Photo credit: MuxelAero / Twitter

Cage armor, typically made of high-strength steel, is arranged in a grid-like pattern around the protected area. When a drone drops an anti-tank weapon, the cage armor can trigger premature detonation before it penetrates the main armor of the protected area, thereby significantly reducing the weapon’s effectiveness. Moreover, the cage armor can cause the incoming projectile to tumble or change direction, reducing its kinetic energy and penetration capability. This is particularly effective against shaped-charge warheads, which rely on a focused explosive jet to penetrate armor.

Furthermore, the cage armor adds minimal weight to the protected weapon systems such as tanks, vehicles, and even submarines, preserving their mobility. This is crucial in modern warfare, where speed and maneuverability can often be the deciding factors in engagements. 

However, it’s important to note that cage armor is not a foolproof solution. Advanced anti-tank weapons and drone technologies can potentially overcome this defense. Therefore, it is typically used in conjunction with other defensive measures like active protection systems and electronic warfare systems to provide a multi-layered defense against drone attacks. 

Photo credit: @MuxelAero / Twitter

Tula sub or 667BDRM project

What do we know about the newest cage holder in the Russian Navy? The Delta-IV class Tula submarine, also known as Project 667BDRM Delfin, is a type of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine that was built and operated by the Soviet Navy and later the Russian Navy. It is one of the most advanced classes of submarines in the Russian fleet, designed for strategic deterrence and capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. 

The Tula submarine has a submerged displacement of approximately 18,200 tons and a surfaced displacement of around 11,700 tons. This makes it one of the larger classes of submarines in operation. Its dimensions are also considerable, with a length of about 167 meters, a beam of 11.7 meters, and a draft of 8.8 meters. In terms of technical characteristics, the Tula submarine is equipped with advanced sonar systems, electronic warfare systems, and navigation systems. It has a maximum speed of 24 knots when submerged and 14 knots when surfaced. The submarine can dive to a maximum depth of 400 meters and has an endurance of 80 days. 

Photo credit: Reddit

The Tula submarine requires a crew of approximately 135 to operate. This includes officers, warrant officers, and enlisted personnel. This crew is responsible for all aspects of the submarine’s operation, including navigation, weapons control, and maintenance. The propulsion system of the Tula submarine is nuclear, consisting of two VM-4 pressure water reactors and two steam turbines that drive two shafts. This allows the submarine to remain submerged for extended periods and travel long distances without needing to refuel. Finally, the Tula submarine is heavily armed. It carries 16 R-29RMU Sineva ballistic missiles, each capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. In addition to this, it is equipped with four 533mm torpedo tubes and carries a variety of torpedoes and anti-ship missiles for self-defense. 

Just in case

One might wonder, what’s the purpose of anti-drone grids on a submarine stationed at Gadzhievo? After all, it’s over a thousand miles away from the conflict zones in Ukraine and unquestionably out of reach of Ukraine’s long-range kamikaze drones. Or at least the ones we are currently aware of. We’ve seen covert teams successfully executing operations in Russia using shorter-range armed drones. These activities extended as far as Russia’s Pskov region, yet that’s still hundreds of miles south of Murmansk. 

Photo credit: Hero of Ukraine

However, a submarine’s exposed conning tower, on the surface, particularly one carrying strategic nuclear ballistic missiles, presents an appealing target for drone strikes. What’s more, submarines are vulnerable when they are on the surface, either entering or exiting ports and sometimes when peacefully traveling through crowded sea lanes. During these times, their maneuverability is compromised and they lack the close-in defenses typical of surface warships that are designed to counter threats like drones.

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