Did a Russian frigate track down an Ohio class submarine?

In April, the Russian frigate Admiral Essen managed to find, identify, and track an American Ohio class submarine in the Mediterranean. That reports Izvestia. The incident took place around the time of the American-British-French airstrikes on Syria.

According to sources in the Russian naval command, Admiral Essen found the submarine and managed to follow it for a few hours. During that time they recorded data for the acoustic portrait which makes it possible to pinpoint the exact submarine based on sound analysis alone. They also utilized the opportunity to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW) drills. According to Izvestia the submarine was probably USS Georgia.

Admiral Essen
Admiral Essen. Photo: OSK, United Shipbuilding Corporation

Admiral Essen is commissioned to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It was on patrol from 13 March to 30 June, and the incident with the Ohio class submarine has been secret until now.

In fact, the most intriguing question about the whole thing may be why it was made public at all. Perhaps the naval leadership decided that after so much time there weren’t any tactical advantages left in keeping it secret. Why not get some positive branding for your new frigate out of it? The Izvestia article is full of praise for the masterful execution of the operation. A former ASW officer from the Northern Fleet explains how remarkable it is that Admiral Essen was able to keep the contact for two hours, and that this shows the ship’s extraordinary potential.

But doesn’t this seem like a weird admission that most of the time the Russian ships have no clue where the American submarines are? After all, it is only a story because it is a rare occasion. Well, I’m probably just boring here. It is indeed difficult to find and track a submarine, so what Admiral Essen did is impressive.

Another unanswered question, though, is whether the American submarine tracked the Russian frigate as well. It seems likely that the submarine was aware of the surface ship and could have disappeared whenever they wanted to. After all, you do not conduct ASW operations with a single surface ship. As I hinted in this post back in April, the point of the Western submarines around Syria could have been to keep the Russian ships occupied. ASW is jokingly referred to as an abbreviation of Awfully Slow Warfare, and that’s exactly what it is. If you want to keep your opponent busy for a long time, make them hunt your submarines.

Admiral Essen is a frigate of the Admiral Grigorovich class. It was built at the Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad and commissioned in 2016. However, a remarkable display of poor judgment resulted in a delayed stay in the Baltic Sea before transit to Sevastopol. When the deputy squadron commander from the Black Sea was aboard to see his new ship, bad weather gave difficult conditions for the mooring maneuver. The ship’s commander, who had experience with handling of the ship, wanted to wait for tug assistance, but the deputy squadron commander ordered him to proceed without help. The propellers were damaged as a result, and Admiral Essen wasn’t able to join the Black Sea Fleet until 2017.

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