What We Know About Russian ‘Losharik’ Submarine Incident

Did A Deadly Fire Break Out On A Secret Russian Spy Sub? Here’s What We Know About ‘Losharik’ It’s one of the more unique, more capable, and more distinctive vessels in Russia’s naval fleet. And it now appears to hold the distinction of being the latest Russian naval ship to suffer a catastrophic — and, so far, unexplained — incident.  Russia’s Defense Ministry said on July 2 that a submarine operated by its main naval research-and-development unit had suffered a fire on board, killing 14 sailors. The ship was reportedly operating in Russia’s territorial waters in the Barents Sea.  The ministry did not identify the ship involved in the July 1 incident, describing it only as “a research submersible vehicle designated for studying the seafloor…in the interests of the Russian Navy. Multiple Russian media outlets, however, reported it was a submarine known as the AS-12; another outlet pointed to a vessel with a similar design, the AS-31. Nicknamed Losharik, after a Soviet-era cartoon horse made up of balloon-like spheres, both submarines are nuclear-powered vessels that have been the subject of speculation and rumor among Western naval analysts and military experts for years, curious about its design and capabilities. According to one respected naval blogger, the AS-12 is a deep-diving special missions ship, operated by the Russian Navy’s primary research unit, the Main Directorate Deep Sea Research (GUGI). Nuclear-powered, with a crew of up to 25, the ship has been in service since the early 2000s and is believed to be able to dive as deep as 6,100 meters.  It’s designed in a way that allows it to dive deeper than normal Russian attack or ballistic-missile submarines. It features a series of orbs contained within a traditional-looking submarine hull, thus giving rise to its cartoon nickname. The submarine is also designed to be carried, or ferried, under the belly of a larger submarine, allowing greater secrecy and shrouding from sonar or other surveillance. Western military analysts and at least one Russian naval blogger said the ship that most often ferries the AS-12 is the BS-136 Orenburg, a modified Delta III ballistic-missile submarine. For the wider public, the shadowy world of undersea surveillance, and even sabotage, has regained attention over the past two years with the spotting of Russian military research vessels lurking off U.S. coastlines. U.S. intelligence and military officials have publicly voiced concerns that Russian forces might be developing new, secretive ways to tap — or even cut — undersea fiber-optic cables that carry transatlantic Internet traffic. Others have pointed to new Russian efforts to go after the network of undersea acoustic arrays that the United States and NATO have deployed for years to track submarines, or even classified naval cables. Here’s Everything We Know About The Deadly Russian Submarine Fire (Updated) Hard details about the accident are still limited, but Russia has revealed that 14 sailors died in a fire on board an unspecified deep-diving “research” submarine yesterday, making it the deadliest Russian submarine accident in more than a decade. Unconfirmed reports say that the incident occurred on board the Project 10831 Losharik, one of the Russian Navy’s secretive “special projects” spy subs, a submersible it had launched, or its larger modified Project 667BDRM Delfin-class mothership submarine, the BS-64 Podmoskovye. This is still very much a developing story, so all of this information could be subject to change. The incident occurred on July 1, 2019, within Russian territorial waters, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense. The statement does not name the submarine, but says it was carrying out “bathymetric measurements,” or underwater mapping, at the time. Russia says the blaze is now extinguished and the submarine is in port at Severomorsk, home of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet’s headquarters, but there is no detailed timeline of how long the submarine was on fire or how long it took to get it back pier-side. Russian newspaper Novaya Gazetaseparately reported that the fire had been on board Losharik itself and initially reported that the entire crew of 25 had died, though they subsequently changed this to the official tally of 14 fatalities. The updated Novaya Gazeta story also said that the submarine in question had the hull number AS-31, rather than the Losharik‘s reported hull number of AS-12. Yet another report from Open Media, again citing unnamed sources, says that the submarine in question was actually BS-64, which reportedly serves as the mothership for Losharik. The small nuclear-powered submarine is supposed to ride closer to the mission area underneath the larger BS-64. The official description of the submarine is “deep-water research apparatus” could point to a smaller deep-diving submersible, which the Russian Navy and other Russian government agencies do operate for intelligence gathering and special operations missions, scientific research, and deep-sea rescue purposes. However, these vessels typically have crews that are much smaller than 14 individuals. For instance, Russia’s AS-28 deep-sea rescue vehicle (DSRV) has a crew of only five, though it can carry up to 20 additional individuals during a rescue mission.  If Losharik or Podmoskovye suffered the fire, one of the immediate questions is whether or not their nuclear reactors were ever in danger and what their statuses are at present. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly canceled his entire schedule for the day and is set to meet with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, very likely about the accident.  The Kremlin has released a full English readout of Putin’s meeting with Shoigu, in which the Russian President describes the submarine that suffered the fire as an “unusual vessel.” This would seem to further point to the boat in question being Losharik or another one of Russia’s special projects submarines.

Joseph Dempsey on Twitter: “#Russia official description of role and crew composition consistent with ‘Losharik’ but does not discount one of handful of Prj.1910 ‘Uniform’ & Prj.1851 X-Ray/Paltus class special purposes submarines… https://t.co/dcDaMmLlCM”

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