How Russia's New Mega-Sub Compares to U.S. Amid Fears of Naval Cold War

The Russian Navy is now armed with the world's longest known submarine, one that could eclipse the submarine power of any other country —including the U.S.

The Belgorod, which was delivered to the Russian Navy on July 8 in the port of Severodvinks on the White Sea, according to shipbuilder Sevmash Shipyard, is a submarine measuring 608 feet long, some 39 feet more than the U.S. Navy's Ohio-class submarines, the largest such vessels in the U.S. naval fleet.

Russian officials said the gargantuan submarine will be used for research purposes, but there is suspicion among naval experts that the vessel could one day be turned into an instrument of war and espionage.

Experts think the Belgorod could one day be fitted with the world's first nuclear-armed stealth torpedoes, as well as espionage equipment, challenging the U.S. submarine fleet and triggering a tense espionage face-off between the two countries, in a dangerous replay of the Cold War.

How Does The Belgorod Compare To U.S. Submarines?

The U.S. Navy's Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine has been widely considered one of the most advanced —and one of the most lethal— among all submarines in the world.

They're slightly smaller than the announced new Columbia class, which are expected to be 560 feet long and 42 feet wide, but the Ohio class subs are more heavily armed as they were initially designed to carry four torpedo tubes and up to 24 Trident nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

The U.S. built 18 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) between 1976 and 1997. In 2002, four of these SSBNs were converted into cruise-missile submarines, also known as guided-missile submarines or SSGNs.

Ohio submarine
Russia's newest submarine, the Belgorod, is now the longest in the world, longer even than the U.S. current longest submarine, the Ohio-class. In this photo, a USS Ohio (SSGN 726), a US guided missile submarine is docked at a South Korean naval base in the port city of Busan. KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP via Getty Images

For submarine expert and author H. I. Sutton, the Navy's Ohio-class SSGN is the number one most advanced submarine in the world, according to a list he compiled in 2020.

Sutton wrote that the Ohio-class SSGN can carry a load of up to a maximum of 176 cruise missiles in its torpedo room, a number which he said qualifies the submarine as "the undisputed king of weapons load." Under normal circumstances, the Ohio-class SSGN carries up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles.

"The more torpedoes and missiles a submarine carries, the more targets it can attack," Sutton said.

But how does the undersea king of weapons load compare to the Belgorod?

According to Russia's state-owned news agency TASS, the new Russian submarine will be armed with the Poseidon, the largest torpedo ever developed in the world.

"It is approximately twice the size of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and thirty times the size of a regular 'heavyweight' torpedo," Sutton said in a recent post analyzing the Russian submarine.

"It is a giant torpedo which can hit coastal cities with devastating results. Compared to an intercontinental ballistic missile it is very slow, but possibly unstoppable," Sutton writes.

The submarine analyst called the Poseidon "unique in the history of the world" and interpreted the weapon as diversification of Russia's nuclear deterrence that could prove very dangerous to the U.S. and anyone posed against Moscow's path.

"Its lack of reliance on satellites and the fact that it literally goes underneath missile defenses make it a slow but inevitable death," Sutton wrote.

According to a report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) in April, the Belgorod is capable of carrying up to eight Poseidons.

But Sutton said the Poseidon system "isn't ready" to be launched from the Belgorod. The Covert Shores analyst believes that the Belgorod will likely be used as an intelligence gathering platform, an opinion shared by other experts.