The Ice Curtain: Kola Peninsula Part 2: Expanded Maritime Facilities

Latest
storage facility construction on-time
Impact
enchanced maritime capability
Updated
MAR 10
30 Days Ago

Overview

GEOINT analysis confirms Russian public declarations to expand the storage facilities at Okolnaya submarine support base and Gadzhiyevo submarine base.

Expanded maritime assets add to Russia's "defense in depth" of the Kola peninsula while stealthier submarines enhance the regime's survivability and challenge NATO's sea lanes of communication in the North Atlantic.


Activity

GEOINT shows steady construction activity expanding storage facilities and bunkers at both submarine bases. Sometimes Russian Arctic public declarations do not match the GEOINT analysis such as slow progress at Tiksi and Severomorsk.

New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base

The Okolnaya submarine support base (69.095773 N, 33.450602 E) is located on the eastern shores of Guba Okolnaya (Okolnaya Bay), Murmanskaya Oblast, and serves as one of several strategically important Russian Navy submarine bases and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) storage and loading facilities on the Kola Peninsula. Other SLBM loading facilities include the Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base and Severodvinsk Submarine Base.1 In addition to housing and maintaining SLBMs, Okolnaya likely stores the nuclear warheads. While most often described as a submarine support base, it likely also supports the cruise missile requirements of other Northern Fleet surface combatants such as the warships based across the bay at the Severomorsk Navy Base.

The Okolnaya submarine support base has been associated with nuclear armed SLBMs since the late-1950s. As an historical footnote, the base appears to have played a minor but important role during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when nuclear weapons may have been transported from Okolnaya to Cuba and back again during October-November 1962 by the merchant vessel Aleksandrovsk. The voyage of the Aleksandrovsk was unique in several ways: it was the only merchant vessel known to have carried missile-associated equipment from Cuba to the Soviet Arctic and it was one of the first to depart after the Soviet decision had been made to remove strategic weapons from Cuba. The vessel may have carried nuclear warheads to and from Cuba, perhaps without ever having offloaded them. By transferring nuclear warheads via this Arctic facility, the Soviets probably hoped to avoid any possible radiological monitoring or surveillance in either the Danish or Turkish Straits,2 underscoring the importance of the Arctic as an avenue of approach to the United States.

OkolnayaSubBase-01

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

During 2013, media reports indicated that the Okolnaya submarine support base would be expanded by the construction of a large storage facility for more than 100 RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (NATO reporting name: SS-NX-30 or SS-N-32). The Bulava equips the Project 955/955A Dolgorukiy (Borey) Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), each of which can carry 16 missiles. The Dolgorukiy Class SSBNs are expected to eventually replace the Delta III and Delta IV-class SSBNs currently in service with the Northern Fleet.3

OkolnayaSubBase-02

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

OkolnayaSubBase-06

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

The location chosen for the new storage facility (69.114642 N, 33.525728 E) is 3.7-kilometers northeast of the main Okolnaya facilities on the site of an old open storage facility that consisted of 14 large revetments, several support buildings, and a large parking area. Satellite imagery shows that by May 2014 construction started and by August 2015 there were a total of 31 weapons storage bunkers under construction (none of which were completed) while excavations began on others.4

OkolnayaSubBase-03

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

OkolnayaSubBase-07

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

By July 30, 2017 the number of bunkers completed or under construction rose to 38 and construction of what appears to be a triple fence security perimeter began.5

OkolnayaSubBase-04

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

OkolnayaSubBase-08

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

Most recently, in satellite imagery from September 4, 2019, there are a total of 41 weapons storage bunkers (35 completed and 6 under construction) and excavations for at least an additional 9 storage bunkers. Additionally, there are several new small support buildings and construction work on the triple fence security perimeter slowly continues. Media reports indicate that construction of the facility is scheduled to be completed during 2020 and given the current rate of progress, and barring unforeseen circumstances, this projected date appears feasible.6

OkolnayaSubBase-05

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

OkolnayaSubBase-09

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

OkolnayaSubBase-10

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

OkolnayaSubBase-12

(New Missile Storage Facility at Okolnaya Submarine Support Base)

All of the storage bunkers observed to date consist of an approximately 40-meter-by-32-meter concrete structure that is protected on three sides by earthen berms up against the sides, with an approximately 52-meter-by-20-meter concrete pad on the fourth open side and a final 75-meter-by-18-meter protective berm in front of it. Thus, each storage bunker occupies a footprint of approximately 75-meters-by-90-meters. Internally each bunker consists of four approximately 20-meter-by-32-meter storage bays. Adjacent to all the weapons storage bunkers is a smaller auxiliary bunker of varying sizes for unidentified purpose (potentially for power and environmental controls).

It is assumed that when completed the facility will consist of a total of 50 storage bunkers, each with four storage bays, with the potential to house a total of 200 RSM-56 Bulava SLBMs, corroborating media reports from 2017.7 While almost all media reports describe the new storage facility as being for nuclear-armed RSM-56 Bulava SLBMs, there is nothing to prevent sensitive non-nuclear munitions (e.g., cruise missiles, etc.) from also being stored. It is also likely that aside from ballistic and cruise missile support, the base provides other submarine-related support services.

A second missile loading facility was built during 2012-2018 with the original missile loading facility on the northern shore of the facility.8 This is likely in support of the larger role of the RSM-56 Bulava SLBMs stored at Okolnaya, and the slowly increasing number of Dolgorukiy Class SSBNs in the Northern Fleet.

New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base

The Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base (69.258878 N, 33.335251 E) is located on the eastern shores of Guba Sayda (Sayda Bay), Murmanskaya Oblast, and serves as one of several strategically important Russian Navy submarine bases and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) storage and loading facilities on the Kola Peninsula.9 It reportedly is the primary home port for the Northern Fleets Project 667BDRM Delfin (Delta IV) and Project 955/955A Dolgorukiy (Borey) Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN).10 As such, the base not only houses and maintains the R-29MU2 Liner (NATO reporting name: SS-N-23) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) for the Delta IV and RSM-56 Bulava (NATO reporting name: SS-NX-30 or SS-N-32) SLBMs for the Project 955/955A Dolgorukiy SSBNs but also the nuclear warheads they support. The base may also support the cruise missile requirements of Northern Fleet surface combatants.

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-01

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

During 2013, media reports indicated that the Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base would expand to include the construction of a new SLBM storage facility.11 The location chosen for the new storage facility (69.251165 N, 33.357418 E) is one kilometer south of the main Gadzhiyevo facilities on the site of an existing storage facility. The existing facility consists of several vehicle maintenance and storage facilities and yards, bunkered storage facilities, open storage yards, and a number of support buildings. All but the bunkered storage facilities and open storage yards would be retained for the new facility.

Satellite imagery shows that by May 29, 2014 construction had started and there was a total of 3 weapons storage bunkers under construction and excavations had begun on others.

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-02

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-05

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

By May 23, 2016 the number of bunkers under construction (none of which were completed at the time) rose to 10 and excavation work for a new support building began.

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-03

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-06

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

Most recently, satellite imagery from June 30, 2019, shows that there are a total of 10 weapons storage bunkers with 5 completed and 5 under construction.

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-04

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-07

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-08

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-09

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

GadzhiyevoSubmarineBase_markup-10

(New Missile Storage Facility at Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base)

Space within the existing storage facility remains for additional storage bunkers should the Russians decide to build them. Media reports suggest that construction of the facility is scheduled to be completed during 2020 to coincide with the launch of the eighth Dolgorukiy Class SSBN.12 Given the current rate of progress, and barring unforeseen circumstances, this projected date appears feasible.

All of the storage bunkers observed to date are similar to those built at the Okolnaya submarine support base and consist of an approximately 40-meter-by-32-meter concrete structure that is protected on three sides by protective berms up against the sides, with an approximately 55-meter-by-20-meter concrete pad on the fourth open side and a final 65-meter-by-20-meter earthen berm in front of it. Thus, each storage bunker site occupies a footprint of approximately 90-meters-by-80-meters. Internally each bunker consists of four approximately 20-meter-by-32-meter storage bays. Adjacent to all the weapons storage bunkers is a smaller auxiliary bunker of varying sizes for unidentified purpose (potentially for power and environmental controls).

At present, there are a total of 10 storage bunkers, each with four storage bays, which would imply that the facility has the potential to house a total of 40 RSM-56 Bulava or R-29MU2 Liner SLBMs, although most reports state that they will be used for the nuclear-armed RSM-56 Bulava. Regardless, there is nothing to prevent sensitive or non-nuclear munitions (e.g., cruise missiles, etc.) from also being stored here.

Unlike the Okolnaya submarine support base, no second missile loading facility has yet to be built at the Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base.

Analysis

Russia's 2017-updated Naval strategy elevated the role of its maritime forces in securing Russia's Arctic domain. The strategy builds on President Putin's promise in 2010 to spend more than 20 trillion rubles to modernize 70% of all Russian military equipment by 2020. Under this modernization plan, Russia's naval forces are a priority, harkening back to the Cold War when Soviet maritime capabilities posed a formidable challenge to NATO. Upgrades at Gadzhiyevo and Okolnaya reinforce defensive and offensive capabilities around the Kola Peninsula.

Naval bases housing Delta IV- and Borei-class SSBN are a key component of Russia's bastion defense concept. These SSBN, when equipped with SLBMs, are the backbone of Russia's sea-based component of its nuclear-triad. Importantly, the SSBNs represent Russia's second-strike capabilities and serve as a deterrent against potential adversaries. The Borei-class in particular boasts improved stealth capabilities as well as increased SLBM payload, adding to Russia's defense in depth of the Kola Peninsula. Stealthier submarines such as these enhance the regimes survivability and poses a challenge to NATO's sea lanes of communication in the North Atlantic as the Alliance is increasing its anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

While the primary objective of the SSBNs is defensive, they also serve as a tool of power projection beyond the Kola Peninsula. Adm. James Foggo, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, warned about Russia's renewed capabilities in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Of particular concern is the ability of Russian submarines to project power through the GIUK Gap. NATO recently tracked 10 Russian submarines south of Iceland testing their stealth abilities and demonstrating their capacity to threaten the strategic maritime route between the United States and Northern Europe. The exercise also exposed Russia's ability to breakout into the North Atlantic and threaten the east coast of the United States. Russia's defense of its western Arctic territory is determined by its ability to control the surrounding maritime space and assert its presence in maritime choke points like the Greenland-Iceland-UK-Norway (GIUK-N) Gap. To this end, Gadzhiyevo and Okolnaya are critical staging grounds and house Russia's most advanced capabilities.

References and Notes

  1. It is unclear, but the Okolnaya support facility may actually date to World War II, however, it only became associated with cruise and ballistic missiles during the 1950s. Central Intelligence Agency. The USSR's Guba Okolnaya Submarine Support Facility, May 10, 1963, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP79-00927A004000080005-7.pdf.
  2. Central Intelligence Agency. The USSR's Guba Okolnaya Submarine Support Facility, May 10, 1963, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP79-00927A004000080005-7.pdf.
  3. Trude Pettersen, Russia Builds Huge Nuclear Missile Depot in Severomorsk, The Barents Observer, December 13, 2013, https://barentsobserver.com/en/security/2013/12/russia-builds-huge-nuclear-missile-depot-severomorsk-13-12.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Thomas Nilsen, Satellite images reveal Russian Navys Massive Rearmament on Kola Peninsula, The Barents Observer, September 16, 2018, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/node/4370.
  6. Thomas Nilsen, Satellite images show expansion of nuclear weapons sites on Kola, The Barents Observer, May 8, 2017, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/content/satellite-images-show-expansion-nuclear-weapons-sites-kola.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Other SLBM loading facilities include the Okolnaya Submarine Support Base and Severodvinsk Submarine Base. The Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base is sometimes referred to as the Guba Yagelnaya (Yage'naya Bay) or Guba Sayda (Sayda Bay) Submarine Base.
  10. Thomas Nilsen, Bulava ballistic missile launch from brand new strategic sub in White Sea, October 30, 2019, The Barents Observer, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2019/10/bulava-ballistic-missile-launch-brand-new-strategic-sub-white-sea; and Thomas Nilsen, Satellite images show expansion of nuclear weapons sites on Kola, The Barents Observer, May 8, 2017, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/content/satellite-images-show-expansion-nuclear-weapons-sites-kola. The Dolgorukiy Class SSBNs are expected to eventually replace the Delta III and Delta IV-class SSBNs currently in service with the Northern Fleet. Trude Pettersen, Russia Builds Huge Nuclear Missile Depot in Severomorsk, The Barents Observer, December 13, 2013, https://barentsobserver.com/en/security/2013/12/russia-builds-huge-nuclear-missile-depot-severomorsk-13-12.
  11. Trude Pettersen, Russia builds huge nuclear missile depot in Severomorsk, The Barents Observer, December 13, 2013, https://barentsobserver.com/en/security/2013/12/russia-builds-huge-nuclear-missile-depot-severomorsk-13-12.
  12. Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway, New Details On Russian Submarine Fire Emerge Along With An Intriguing Schematic (Updated), The Drive, July 3, 2019, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/28814/new-details-on-russian-submarine-fire-emerge-along-with-an-intriguing-schematic; Thomas Nilsen, Satellite images show expansion of nuclear weapons sites on Kola, The Barents Observer, May 8, 2017, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/content/satellite-images-show-expansion-nuclear-weapons-sites-kola; and Trude Pettersen, Russia builds huge nuclear missile depot in Severomorsk, The Barents Observer, December 13, 2013, https://barentsobserver.com/en/security/2013/12/russia-builds-huge-nuclear-missile-depot-severomorsk-13-12.

Google Earth Overview

Gadzhiyevo (top)
Okolnaya (middle)
Severomorsk (bottom)

Source: Google Earth

Google Earth

Okolnaya Submarine Support Base and Gadzhiyevo Submarine Base KML annotations.

Source: See "Data Sources" section for both KMLs

Looking Ahead

Russia's maritime assets will increasingly play an important role in its Arctic capabilities as it seeks to control and monitor the Northern Sea Route and probe the North Atlantic.

Things To Watch

  • Post-construction activity
  • Exercises using the facilities

Data Sources

kml Okolnaya Facility Annotations
kml Gadzhiyevo Facility Annotations
shp Okolnaya Facility Annotations
shp Gadzhiyevo Facility Annotations

About the Authors

Matthew Melino

Associate Fellow

Heather Conley

Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic; and Director, Europe Program

Joseph Bermudez

Senior Fellow for Imagery Analysis, CSIS

Tearline
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Methodologies Reviewed by NGA


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