An unusual story has been circulating since last week of an Akula class Russian submarine lurking in the Gulf of Mexico for weeks, evidently undetected by the U.S.The story is odd not only because such a mission would be unusual and alarming, but also because of the source — in this case, veteran national security reporter and former Washington Times columnist Bill Gertz via the conservative news website The Washington Free Beacon, launched in 2012.
While cat and mouse games between Soviet and American sub forces were fairly commonplace during the Cold War, these types of missions are very rare now, with the last acknowledged set of occurrences reported by the New York Times in 2009.
As part of Russia’s military retrenchment and treaty disarmament since the collapse of the Soviet Union, its total deployed navy was reduced, along with the geographical projection of its missions. While the Russian navy under Putin and Medvedev has undertaken well advertised “symbolic” missions, such as a 2008 visit by a contingent of its weathered North Sea Fleet to Venezuela, these have generally not been much more than extremely visible ways to demonstrate displeasure with U.S. and NATO policy and/or maintain good relations with its arms customers.
Likewise, when Russia’s air force deploys its ancient propeller-driven Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” bombers to buzz close to American airspace, the U.S. deploys fighter jets to intercept.
These strategic bombers are unarmed, though their long range allows them the opportunity to reach U.S. coastlines, as they were originally designed to do.
So, then, would Russia be willing to escalate the situation by sailing an attack sub into the Gulf of Mexico?
According to the Washington Free Beacon, two U.S. officials confirmed that the Akula’s incursion took place at the same time that Russia once again trotted out its Tupolevs into restricted airspace in June and July.
Of course, the movement of submarine fleets — particularly those carrying nuclear arsenals — is a restricted topic in both the U.S. as well as Russia.
Requests for confirmation of the Beacon’s story from the Navy were declined, the Pentagon has thus far denied the incursion, and the Russian defence Ministry will not disclose information either way.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Armed Services Committee, has seized the issue and sent a letter to the Pentagon’s Chief of Naval Operations demanding clarification, stating that the incident “is especially troubling given the drastic defence cuts sought by President Obama, which include reductions in funding for antisubmarine defence systems.”
Likewise, the Beacon’s own story points to the purported incident as part of the Obama administration’s failure to reset relations with Russia, along with defence budget cuts which would further cripple submarine detection efforts.
The Washington Free Beacon is a nonprofit publication funded by the centre for American Freedom, which was profiled earlier this year as the conservative counterweight to the centre for American Progress by Politico’s Ben Smith.
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