Russian Military in Our Backyard

Washington was alarmed upon learning that a Russian nuclear submarine was detected departing the east coast of the United States after patrolling there for an unknown amount of time. Superpower military intrusions are no longer confined to the Chinese entering Taiwanese airspace. The collective nuclear throw-weight of the sub’s missiles is sufficient that it could have destroyed most of the United States within minutes, making its presence likely a greater threat than all the missiles that Khrushchev hoped to deploy during the Cuban missile crisis. Russia’s military is not woke – it is a traditional military force focussed on fighting to win. Russia will deploy more submarines this year, including the Belograde. The nuclear-powered vessel, which is said to be the largest submarine in the world, has been built to carry the nuclear-tipped long-range Poseidon drone torpedoes that are guided by artificial intelligence.

Washington’s war-brinksmanship with Russia seems to have an unfavorably-skewed benefit-to-risk tradeoff. I know that the presence of Russian submarines off the US coastlines were a regular threat during the cold war, but I have no knowledge of how common or uncommon such visits have been recently. However, I do know why it has always been a fundamentally tough challenge to detect them using sonar and similar listening methods: Since the water of the ocean is vertically stratified by density (and temperature), subsurface sound waves become trapped within horizontal layers that lie between isopcynals (surfaces of constant density). These confine any sound emitted by a sub to propagate only the horizontal directions away from it, so that it can be picked-up only up by sensors positioned at the same depth as the sub, which is an impractical requirement for canvassing the ocean. Further complicating the problem is the fact that wave propagation within these channels can continue over very long distances (i.e., around the globe) with very little energy loss. So even if submarine propulsion noise is detected at some depth under the main thermocline (e.g., 90 meters), it is still neccesary to suss-out whether the noise originated locally or from somewhere much more distant like the Sea of Japan. It has remained a persistent and fundamental anti-submarine warfare problem since at least the beginning of the cold war.

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