Maybe they’re getting in line early for the premiere of the Red Dawn remake. Or perhaps they’re planning some sort of surprise victory parade for newly reelected President Barack Obama. It’s possible that they got lost on their way to Bermuda, where they were looking for a respite from the cold winters in Moscow. Whatever the reason, the Russians have been hanging out in nuclear submarines along the East Coast, just outside of United States waters, and it’s making the U.S. military a little bit nervous.
Earlier this week, news of a Russian nuclear attack sub trolling the waters about 275 miles off the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia leaked to the press, uncovering a story that would be more at home in the Cold War than 2012. The Sierra-2 submarine is one of Russia’s newer ships, and with a titanium hull and the capability of transporting nuclear warheads, it’s a serious war machine. This latest sighting comes just a couple of months after reports of a Russian Akula-class submarine patrolling the Gulf of Mexico, though that encounter was not confirmed by the military like this latest one was. It’s unclear if a Sean Connery was at the helm of any of these subs. (They would’ve made it to America if he had been!)
The military officials who spoke anonymously to the press pushed back against the idea that this was a hostile gesture from the Russians. It’s just a good old fashioned war game. Like War Games-era old fashioned. Richard Fisher, a military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said Russian submarine patrols in the Atlantic have been reduced but remain “regular.”
“As was their primary mission during the Cold War, Russian SSNs [nuclear attack submarines] would likely be trying to track U.S. nuclear missile submarines deploying from Kings Bay, Ga., and to monitor U.S. naval deployments from Norfolk, Va.,” military analyst Richard Fisher told The Washington Free Beacon, who was the first to report on the presence of the Russian attack sub. This is, in fact, the second round of such exercise that we know of. The presence of two nuclear-powered Russian attack subs was detected close to the U.S. coast in 2009. At the time, a senior Defense Department official told The New York Times, “Anytime the Russian Navy does something so out of the ordinary it is cause for worry.”
Don’t worry too much about the new subs. The one spotted off the southern East Coast has already turned back towards Europe, having not destroyed or invaded America. It is, however, safe to assume that the Russian defense policy is evolving, especially as far as the U.S. is concerned. This is after Mitt Romney called Russia the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States, a classification that Putin said he was “grateful” for, since Romney had “proven the correctness of our approach to missile defense problems.” Nevertheless, nobody’s eager to return to the Cold War.
If you want to wring your hands about a nuclear sub, worry about China’s efforts. The latest reports out of China say that the country is “on the cusp of establishing” its first nuclear attack sub equipped with a submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile and everything. At least with the Russians, we’re pretty familiar with their tactics, but we’re less sure about China. Or if you really want to worry, imagine North Korea getting a modern, high-tech sub. In any case, I wouldn’t stress too much. These days, a sub starting a nuclear war remains the stuff of video games.