SEVERODVINSK, RUSSIA – APRIL 23, 2019: The Belgorod nuclear-powered submarine (Special Project 09852), during the launching ceremony, that carries Poseidon strategic underwater drones. (Photo by Oleg Kuleshov/TASS via Getty Images) [credit:
Oleg Kuleshov/TASS via Getty Images
On April 23, 2019, a hulking submarine named the K-139 Belgorod was christened and launched from Severodvinsk, Russia. It slid from Sevmash Shipyard into the Nikolskoye estuary off the White Sea. First laid down in 1992, the Belgorod is the world’s longest submarine, surpassing Russia’s Typhoon-class nuclear-missile sub and the US Navy’s Ohio class. Its construction was paused for over a decade in 2000 after the disaster aboard its immediate predecessor, the Kursk—in which all the crew was lost after an explosion during missile tests. But Belgorod was resurrected with its design modified for a new purpose: carrying the Poseidon nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed torpedo “drone.”
The Belgorod is a modification of the Soviet Navy’s Project 949A design program—what Western military analysts have called the Oscar II class. Originally intended to be a cruise-missile submarine, the Belgorod was re-designated as Special Project 09852, a “special-purpose research and rescue submarine,” in December 2012. The design was lengthened to add a docking compartment for crewed and uncrewed small submersible vehicles, such as submarine rescue vehicles. It was also apparently intended to do cable-laying operations and inspections, deployments of underwater equipment, and other tasks similar to those the US Navy constructed the USS Jimmy Carter for.
The submarine-rescue role was clearly at the front of the mind of the Russian Navy in the years after the Kursk debacle, in which Russia initially refused assistance from the United Kingdom and Norway. The incident was a major embarrassment to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who—just four months into his presidency—was on vacation in Sochi at the time of the accident and remained there for five days afterward.