A Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine armed with long-range cruise missiles operated undetected in the Gulf of Mexico for several weeks and its travel in strategic U.S. waters was only confirmed after it left the region, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.
It is only the second time since 2009 that a Russian attack submarine has patrolled so close to U.S. shores.
The stealth underwater incursion in the Gulf took place at the same time Russian strategic bombers made incursions into restricted U.S. airspace near Alaska and California in June and July, and highlights a growing military assertiveness by Moscow.
The submarine patrol also exposed what U.S. officials said were deficiencies in U.S. anti-submarine warfare capabilities—forces that are facing cuts under the Obama administration’s plan to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years.
The Navy is in charge of detecting submarines, especially those that sail near U.S. nuclear missile submarines, and uses undersea sensors and satellites to locate and track them.
The fact that the Akula was not detected in the Gulf is cause for concern, U.S. officials said.
The officials who are familiar with reports of the submarine patrol in the Gulf of Mexico said the vessel was a nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarine, one of Russia’s quietest submarines.
A Navy spokeswoman declined to comment.
One official said the Akula operated without being detected for a month.
“The Akula was built for one reason and one reason only: To kill U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarines and their crews,” said a second U.S. official.
“It’s a very stealthy boat so it can sneak around and avoid detection and hope to get past any protective screen a boomer might have in place,” the official said, referring to the Navy nickname for strategic missile submarines.
The U.S. Navy operates a strategic nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia. The base is homeport to eight missile-firing submarines, six of them equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles, and two armed with conventional warhead missiles.
“Sending a nuclear-propelled submarine into the Gulf of Mexico-Caribbean region is another manifestation of President Putin demonstrating that Russia is still a player on the world’s political-military stage,” said naval analyst and submarine warfare specialist Norman Polmar.
“Like the recent deployment of a task force led by a nuclear cruiser into the Caribbean, the Russian Navy provides him with a means of ‘showing the flag’ that is not possible with Russian air and ground forces,” Polmar said in an email.
The last time an Akula submarine was known to be close to U.S. shores was 2009, when two Akulas were spotted patrolling off the east coast of the United States.
Those submarine patrols raised concerns at the time about a new Russian military assertiveness toward the United States, according to the New York Times, which first reported the 2009 Akula submarine activity.
The latest submarine incursion in the Gulf further highlights the failure of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy of conciliatory actions designed to develop closer ties with Moscow.
Instead of closer ties, Russia under President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB intelligence officer who has said he wants to restore elements of Russia’s Soviet communist past, has adopted growing hardline policies against the United States.
Of the submarine activity, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “It’s a confounding situation arising from a lack of leadership in our dealings with Moscow. While the president is touting our supposed ‘reset’ in relations with Russia, Vladimir Putin is actively working against American interests, whether it’s in Syria or here in our own backyard.”
The Navy is facing sharp cuts in forces needed to detect and counter such submarine activity.
The Obama administration’s defense budget proposal in February cut $1.3 billion from Navy shipbuilding projects, which will result in scrapping plans to build 16 new warships through 2017.