According to news from Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, preliminary plans for an unmanned deep drilling submersible support vehicle are underway. The vehicles, designed to be part of an Arctic sub-sea drilling system for beneath pack ice, will be part of a robotic Arctic Sea security system. Other reports suggest Rubin may be designing what we've termed "Driller-Killer" submarine robots.
The subsea vehicles being developed are part of a projected plan for exploration and survey work, according to the news. But the mention of "robotized security" has been caused for raised eyebrows from some experts. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin first informed news outlets of Russia's plans to tap the Arctic fields using marine robots earlier this month. And while "helper" robots make sense for the practical work of offshore Arctic drilling, securing Russia's coastlines is an ever growing concern for Moscow. The fact that Mr. Rogozin is Russia's top weapons official, adds fuel for those interested in advanced weapons deployments.
This Moscow Times article brings into the light Russia's advanced military technology agency, the Foundation for Advanced Research Projects. This top secret operation is essentially Russia's version of the United States' touted DARPA Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. So, it cannot be a coincidence that Russia's advanced military technology agency announces it is working on a special underwater robot to protect Russian shores from foreign underwater intruders, and the more mundane sub-sea robots in the same week.
Further research and reading brings us projections of a massive market for such robots. According to this report from the General Director of the Rubin Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering Igor Villeneuve, which we found via the Foundation's Facebook page, the total market for unmanned underwater vehicles by 2019 will grow, projected to triple to 4.8 billion dollars. The report also alludes to the growing trend for creating "dual use" technologies, which would explain why these new Arctic robot submarines are billed for two separate tasks. It makes complete "Russian" sense, to build undersea drones that can build and fight.
This brings us to the ultimate geo-strategic underwater robotics project, the highly secretive "Status-6 Project", which few people even ever heard of. One of "Rubin's" most closely guarded developments, Status-6 is in development to deploy a massive destruction of an enemy’s key economic facilities on coastal areas. The remotely driven submersible in this project would create a "vast radioactive contamination zone" which would cripple any of Russia's enemies economically. According to various reports, the plan is that reworked or built from scratch special purpose robot submarines (Belgorod (Project 09852) and Khabarovsk) would be the first prototypes capable of carrying out this lethal first strike capability. One report even names the command authority overseeing the subs, as the Chief Directorate of Deep-Sea Research at Russian Defense Ministry, a structure separated from the Navy, under Hero of Russia, Vice Admiral Alexei Burilichev. This report talks about these Status-6 subs being for deployment of nuclear torpedoes, and this BBC report tells more details of the "nuclear torpedo" menace.
Of course, Russian unmanned underwater vehicles are no rarity. Neither are US and other major nation facsimiles of underwater drones under development. The well documented Klavesin-1R robot mimics its western counterparts, looking for the world like a fat-yellow-torpedo more than a submarine. And the Russian military has been testing drones like the Gavia Defence modular, man-portable autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) produced by Teledyne Gavia Iceland for some time. It's certain the Russian military has its own variants by now, and the "leaked" imagery from a Russian defense briefing of Russia President Vladimir Putin in Sochi last year shows what looked to be an even more advanced and devastating sub-drone being considered.
The implications of these developments amount to payload and purpose. Russia and other nations have made no secret of the need for "dual purpose" UUVs. What is gives these announcements more import is the current state of international relations, in particular the renewal of strategic crisis in between the US led NATO alliance and Russia. The growing number of "first strike" deployments in Eastern Europe, demand a countermeasure by Russia. ABM systems just went live in Romania, which would thwart any Russian retaliation to a NATO first strike on her territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the west Russia cannot tolerate such weapons on her border. Deployment of a kind of "doomsday" economic killer suggested with Status-6, it at least gives Mr. Putin arms talks leverage. With a nasty nuclear payload, advanced drones like those suggested would effectively alter the balance of power. I am imagining such drones pre-programmed to retaliate automatically, ensuring what was known once as mutually assured destruction (MAD).
It remains to be seen whether or not these Arctic robot subs will have divergent capabilities, but the logic is in place. A "killer-driller" dual purpose first strike weapon could very well be Vladimir Putin's next ace up his sleeve in dealing with western aggressive moves.