Some of the Reddit military forums have been buzzing about the Top Gear Russia magazine showing a picture of a supposedly previously unseen Russian experimental submarine for all to see. So is this really some totally unknown Russian super-sub, or is it just new to Top Gear readers?
Top Gear's shot at the top of the post is by far the clearest photo I could find on this Russian experimental submarine but it appears to have been the object of some discussion and conjecture over on Russian submarine forums for years. Known supposedly as Project 10831 "Losharik," and AS-12 in its operational form, this submarine is said to have had a development period starting as far back as 1988.
The idea behind this experimental boat is rumored to have been to create a very deep diving, long endurance, nuclear submarine that is made up of a string of spherical pressure vessels, with the boat's propulsion, living accommodations, command and control interfaces, and everything else for that matter, being placed within that string of attached internal spheres. This leaves the outer hull as more of a facade, with it being used to mount sensors, ballast tanks and other less-sensitive operating components.
What is even more interesting about this shadowy deep diving sub, which is the size of some large diesel submarines, also is said have a carrier mothership.
The program appears to have been starved of funding, like so many others, during the 1990s, but was restarted around the turn of the century and the Project 10831 was rumored to have been built. Meanwhile, it is known that a mothership was modified to accept midget submarines, even of the very large variety, during this same period of time, with some rumors stating that it was assigned to the Project 10831 program. This mothership was the Delta III Class "Orenburg" (BS-136).
Although details remain sketchy, the 510 foot long Orenburg may have been adapted to multiple mothership projects, with the Project 10831 Losharik being the largest rumored to be carried. Other smaller, but still highly capable submersibles were also said to have been used with the design. One of these is said to have been called 'White Salmon' with a dive depth of 1km, while Losharik is said to have a dive depth of a whopping 6km.
Although the Orenburg's missile compartment and ventral section was cutout to make room for stowing fairly large submarines, the Losharik, at least the submarine pictured in the Top Gear Magazine and other shots seen in this post is said to be around 250 feet long, making it far larger than what we would traditionally call a 'midget submarine.' Its reactor is said to provide around 10,000shp making the boat rivaling fast attack nuclear submarines in speed, but its job is clearly one of espionage and surveillance due to its deep diving abilities, where it can plant listening devices, manipulate those of the enemies, tap into fiberoptic cables or sit for long periods of time surveying its dark domain. This job is similarly performed for the U.S. by the USS Jimmy Carter, a highly modified variation of the deep-diving Seawolf Class design, along with smaller, remote controlled submersibles.
The big question remains is the submarine pictured really Loasharik or is it some other developmental submarine that was never meant to be carried by a mothership at all? The fact that both this boat and the Orenburg shared a port at Deer Bay near the Arctic also lends to the case that they were, or are, indeed connected in some fashion.
So did Top Gear really out a Russian secret submarine? No, pictures and conjecture about this shadowy sub and its potential mothership have been around for some time, but not in the mainstream press by any means.
On a semi-related note, it would be interesting to know if the Orenburg was in port during the time of the recent Swedish submarine crisis wouldn't it? The old converted research vessel had been seen operating in the arctic as recent as 2012.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com