SHOW OF FORCE: U.S. attack submarine surfaces in Guantanamo Bay after Russian Navy task force visits Cuba
06/20/2024 // Richard Brown // Views

A United States Navy attack submarine, the USS Helena, docked at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba on Thursday, June 13, in an apparent show of force after a Russian Navy task force of four ships sailed into Havana on a long-range expedition.

According to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine arrived for a "routine port visit," with its location and transit allegedly previously planned as part of SOUTHCOM's global maritime security and national defense mission.

Multiple media outlets have described the USS Helena's arrival at Guantanamo Bay as a "show of force" by Washington in response to the Russian ships being so close to U.S. shores. (Related: Nuclear War: Why we should be thinking about it now.)

The Russian Navy's Northern Fleet task force, which sailed into Havana a day before Helena docked in Guantanamo Bay, was led by two of Russia's most advanced naval assets: the missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov and the Yasen-class nuclear-powered submarine Kazan.

The task force also comprised the oil tanker Akademik Pashin and the salvage tug Nikolay Chiker. Moscow had previously described the mission as a "long-distance expedition" to "show the flag" and maintain a naval presence in key operational areas.

The Russian Defense Ministry has not provided further details on the flotilla's mission, sparking speculation in the U.S. that it might be the Kremlin attempting to send a message regarding Washington's continued support for Ukraine.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby indicated that the Russian ships' presence likely signals their displeasure with U.S. actions in Ukraine, though he emphasized there was no indication of nuclear weapons being involved.

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The Cuban government confirmed that the Russian ships were not carrying nuclear missiles and that their mission adhered to international law.

The Admiral Gorshkov and Kazan practiced long-range sea strikes while en route to Cuba, shadowed by several U.S. Navy vessels.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh assured that these exercises did not pose a threat to the U.S., noting, "We of course take it seriously, but these exercises don't pose a threat to the U.S."

USS Helena more than a match for Russian naval vessels

The USS Helena (SSN-725), a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, has been serving the U.S. Navy since July 11, 1987. Named after the city of Helena, Montana, the USS Helena measures 360 feet in length and 33 feet  in beam width, with a draft of approximately 32 feet.

Powered by a single S6G nuclear reactor, the USS Helena operates two steam turbines and a single shaft, allowing it to achieve submerged speeds of over 25 knots, or 28 miles per hour. The submarine is manned by a dedicated crew of around 140, comprising both officers and enlisted sailors who manage and maintain its complex systems to ensure it remains mission-ready.

The USS Helena is equipped with advanced sonar arrays for underwater detection, sophisticated navigation systems for precise positioning, electronic warfare systems for defense and robust communication systems for maintaining contact with other naval units and command centers.

In terms of armament, the submarine is formidable. It features 12 vertical launch system tubes for Tomahawk cruise missiles and four 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of firing Mk-48 torpedoes, suitable for both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.

The nuclear propulsion system grants the USS Helena virtually unlimited operational range, enabling it to remain submerged and operational for extended periods without the need for refueling. However, factors such as food supplies and the physical and mental well-being of the crew ultimately determine the limits of its endurance.

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