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    Stealth in the Sea: Russia’s “Black Hole” Submarines in Modern Warfare

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    A staraboard quarter view of the Iranian Navy’s second Russian-built Kilo class diesel-powered attack submarine en route to Iran.

    Russia’s upgraded and silent Kilo-class submarines have been operating in the Black Sea during the conflict in Ukraine, armed with lethal Kalibr cruise missiles that have been employed to eliminate targets within Ukraine.

    A staraboard quarter view of the Iranian Navy’s second Russian-built Kilo class diesel-powered attack submarine en route to Iran.

    Despite being conventionally powered, these submarines have the capability to navigate stealthily along the Ukrainian coast, enabling them to conduct operations without being detected.

    October 2021 saw the induction of the Magadan, the most recent submarine in this category, into Russian service. Project 636.3 submarines are constructed based on the original Kilo-class design from the early 1980s.

    A starboard beam view of a Soviet Kilo class patrol submarine underway.

    These newer submarines are considered to be among the most silent globally, earning them the moniker “Black Hole” due to their exceptional stealth capabilities.

    The diesel-electric Kilo-Class submarine, known for its 45-day maximum endurance at sea and a submerged range of 400 nautical miles, remains a fixture in Russia’s current naval capabilities despite the prevalence of nuclear submarines.

    Developed in the 1970s and manufactured in the 1980s, the fleet of 73 Kilo-Class submarines has maintained a consistent level of operational activity.

    Throughout the years, these submarines have undergone incremental upgrades, resulting in quieter operations, enhancing their effectiveness in anti-shipping and submarine missions.

    As the U.S. Naval Institute’s Eric Wertheim remarked, “more than 70 Kilo-class units have been built during the past 40-plus years, and more than 60 remain in service… New and improved models are still being built, with deliveries planned well into the future.”

    Amid the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War, these “relics” have shown their worth.

    Moreover, the Kilo-class poses a significant challenge for not only the US Navy but also the navies of its allies.

    This is primarily due to the exceptional stealth capabilities of the Kilos, particularly following the extensive upgrades implemented by the Russians in 2010.

    An aerial stern-on view of the Russian Northern Fleet AKULA class nuclear-powered attack submarine underway on the surface.

    The use of special ceramic coatings and rubber insulation contributes to maintaining the stealthiness of the Kilo-class submarines when submerged.

    The Kilo-class submarines have proven to be valuable assets for the Russian navy, with successful export ventures.

    However, they do possess certain vulnerabilities. Their small size limits their torpedo capacity, and their slower speed and shorter endurance compared to nuclear-powered submarines restrict their time at sea.

    Despite these drawbacks, the Kilos are renowned for their exceptional stealth capabilities. They are anticipated to maintain their role in launching Kalibr cruise missiles for land-attack missions in the Black Sea while submerged, a capability that renders them unstoppable by Ukraine.

    Relevant articles:
    Russia’s Kilo-Class ‘Black Hole’ Submarine: A Nightmare for the U.S. Navy?, The National Interest
    Russia’s Kilo-Class Submarine: Nightmare for the U.S. Navy That Won’t End, The National Interest
    Kilo-Class: What Makes This Russian Submarine So Dangerous?, nationalinterest.org
    Russia Sends Super-Quiet ‘Black Hole’ Submarine to Pacific: Intensified Hunt for American Subs?, Defence Security Asia

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