Earlier this month, a story about Russian submarine activity made a few headlines. Part of that was the misleading title, which said that "Russian Submarine Activity at Highest Level Since Cold War." Quite a few people noted that this cannot possibly be true - Russia simply doesn't have enough submarines to maintain a level of activity that would be comparable to that during the Cold War. Indeed, the actual quote, attributed to Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, Commander of NATO's Maritime Command, was that Western sub commanders are reporting "more activity from Russian submarines than we've seen since the days of the Cold War" (emphasis added). That's quite a different matter - it is quite possible and even likely that Russian submarine activity today is at its highest level since the early 1990s.
I thought it might be a good occasion to publish a chart that I prepared as part of a project on HEU use in Russia. It shows the change in the number of submarines in service from the early years of the Soviet program to the end of 2015. It is an estimate, of course, so it should be treated as such. Since the chart was about HEU consumption, the submarines are grouped by generations that correspond to generations of nuclear reactors. I assumed that the reactors on Project 955 and Project 885 submarines are essentially third-generation reactors.
Also, it should be noted that the number of operational submarines that can actually go on patrol, is somewhat smaller. Of the 42 submarines included here, as many as 19 are undergoing overhaul. This number includes 13 ballistic missile submarines and 27 cruise-missile and multipurpose submarines. It also includes Project 09786 Orenburg and Project 09787 Podmoskovye submarines that appear to be carriers of deep-submersible stations. The stations are in the "special purpose submarines" category. It includes seven of them, even though the exact operational status of these stations is not always clear.