USS Helena confronts Kazan sub in a high-stakes show of force

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The USS Helena, a high-speed attack submarine, has made its way to Guantanamo Bay, according to the announcement from the U.S. Southern Command on the social network X. This move coincides with the visit of Russian Navy ships to Cuba. 

Photo credit: VKontakte

“The fast attack submarine USS Helena is currently at Guantanamo Bay as part of a routine visit. This area falls within the U.S. Southern Command’s jurisdiction. […] The location and transit of the ship were planned in advance,” states the official release.

However, the Associated Press reports that the USS Helena’s arrival at Guantanamo Bay serves as a “show of force” amid the Russian warships’ presence in the region. Additional US Navy ships are also keeping a close eye on the maneuvers of the Russian vessels, which, according to Pentagon officials, do not pose a threat to the United States. 

Photo credit: Reddit

On June 12, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that its naval fleet had completed high-precision weapons exercises and had arrived at the port of Havana. This fleet includes the frigate “Admiral Gorshkov,” the nuclear-powered submarine “Kazan,” the medium sea tanker “Akademik Pashin,” and the rescue tug “Nikolay Chiker.” According to Cuba’s military department, these Russian vessels will remain in Havana until June 17. 

On June 11, social media buzzed with the phrase “The hunt is on!” accompanying screenshots of global air traffic monitoring apps. This activity particularly highlighted areas off the southern coast of the United States. 

Following the arrival of part of the Russian Northern Fleet in Cuba, the U.S. Navy deployed its P-8 Poseidon “submarine hunter” aircraft on June 10 and 11. The U.S. Civil Defense News X account reported, “U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon ‘Sub hunter’ flies over Florida coast in search of a rogue Russian submarine.” The report also noted that “Russian Navy nuclear submarine Kazan, located 66 miles off the coast of Florida, is equipped with 4,500-kilometer Kalibr-M missiles near Cuba! A new Cuban Missile Crisis?” 

Photo credit: Boeing

American experts have noted close cooperation with the Royal Canadian Navy in search operations. Ottawa has deployed the Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft, which complements the American P-8 Poseidon’s efforts. 

Screenshots from air traffic tracking apps reveal these planes circling within a specific quadrant, diligently conducting their search missions. Official details on the outcome of this Canadian-American naval search are still pending.

Previously, shared that the Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the nuclear submarine Kazan, accompanied by a tanker and tug, were either en route to or had already arrived in Cuba. This move is perceived as a power display, with the Zircon missile-equipped ships potentially unsettling the US. 

Photo by Greg L. Davis

The US response to Russia’s recent actions can be described as vigilant but not overly alarmed. The proximity of Russia’s newest vessels to the US Navy has heightened tensions. However, the implications for Russia’s allies should also be considered. 

Deployment of Zircon missile launchers in Cuba, a nation that hasn’t overtly endorsed Russia’s actions in Ukraine, signals that the Kremlin is assessing potential reactions. While Cuba officially holds a neutral stance, Ukrainian experts highlight that this hasn’t stopped the recruitment of mercenaries for Russia. Consequently, this naval maneuver could serve as a strategic influence on Cuba itself.

John Kirby, the coordinator of strategic communications at the White House National Security Council, has stated that the United States currently lacks any information on nuclear weapons being present on Russian vessels. However, U.S. intelligence points out that the submarine is equipped with a nuclear installation, Kirby mentioned. 

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The USS Helena [SSN-725], a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine of the United States Navy, has been in service since July 11, 1987, and is named after the city of Helena, Montana. Measuring 360 feet [110 meters] in length and 33 feet [10 meters] in beam width, the USS Helena’s draft—which indicates the vertical distance from the waterline to the bottom of the hull—stands at approximately 32 feet [9.8 meters]. 

The submarine is powered by a single S6G nuclear reactor, which runs two steam turbines and a single shaft. This enables the USS Helena to achieve submerged speeds of over 25 knots [46 km/h]. 

On board, you’ll find a dedicated crew of about 140 individuals, including both officers and enlisted sailors. This team is tasked with operating and maintaining the submarine’s complex systems, ensuring it remains mission-ready at all times. 

Photo credit: US Navy

The USS Helena boasts an array of advanced systems, from sonar arrays for detecting underwater objects to sophisticated navigation systems for pinpoint positioning. It also features electronic warfare systems for defensive measures and robust communication systems to stay in contact with other naval units and command centers. 

When it comes to firepower, the submarine is no slouch. It’s equipped with 12 vertical launch system [VLS] tubes for Tomahawk cruise missiles and four 21-inch [533 mm] torpedo tubes capable of firing Mk-48 torpedoes. These torpedo tubes are designed for both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. 

Thanks to its nuclear propulsion, the operational range of the USS Helena is virtually unlimited, allowing it to stay submerged and operational for extended periods without the need for refueling. However, other factors like food supplies and the physical and mental health of the crew ultimately limit its endurance. 


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