US, Russia Set to Square Off in Atlantic

On October 3, 2021, the Russian Federation’s (RF) Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced that the Russian Navy had successfully test fired a hypersonic missile from a nuclear submarine, the Severodvinsk, in the Barents Sea. The event follows the United States Navy’s announcement last week of the formation of a submarine task force solely dedicated to tracking and hunting Russian submarines off of America's East Coast.



Background

Since the beginning of the First World War, submarines have prowled the ocean depths, hunting for cargo ships, transportation vessels, and warships as targets. The predator, however, can quickly become the prey if strict precautions are not taken. Destroyers, which are relatively quick and maneuverable, can expeditiously attack a submarine if the underwater craft is loud, clumsy, or a bit too audacious.


During the Cold War, Russian submarines maintained a strong presence in the Atlantic. With the collapse of the USSR, Moscow was forced to recall the majority of its fleet to home waters, and in many cases, leave their craft to rot and rust in dock. After this long period of stagnation, however, the Russians are back in the Atlantic. According to US Northern Command, Russian submarine capabilities in the region are now, "on par with our submarines."


The latest test launch of the hypersonic missile, identified as the 3M-22 Hypersonic Missile, simply underscores the threat posed to the East Coast of the United States by Russian submariners. The 3M-22, designed by Moscow-based defense company, can travel as fast as Mach 9 with an altitude of 30-40 kilometers. With a relatively large payload capacity of 300-400 kilograms, it appears as though the missile would be able to pack quite a punch while simultaneously being able to penetrate any of America's traditional Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) or Cruise Missile Defense (CMD) systems.


Aware of this ever growing risk to national security, the Department of Defense (DoD) has decided to permanently station a task force of submarine hunters on the East Coast of the United States. Known as Task Group Greyhound (TGG), the small squadron will be solely dedicated to hunting Russian submarines off of America's territorial waters. Four vessels have been slated to join TGG, including the USS Thomas Hunder (DDG-116), USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), USS Cole (DDG-67), and USS Gravely (DDG-107).

Assessment

With the renewal of great power competition, it is unsurprising that tensions are now flaring on the high seas. In 2019, The Intelligence Ledger cited the introduction of hypersonic missiles to the conventional fleets of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Russian Federation as a massive threat to national security. America’s adversaries have wisely adjusted their force postures to take advantage of this blaring gap in Washington's defenses, as the United States has no viable defense against this platform. The Intelligence Ledger assesses that as early as 2023, both the PRC and RF will be fielding limited quantities of hypersonic missile systems in their submarine, destroyer, and cruiser vessels.