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Daily News (New York) July 1, 2001

U.S. EYING NEW RUSSIAN SUB

BY RICHARD SISK

WASHINGTON - The Navy is warily monitoring the sea trials of a new Russian nuclear submarine that Moscow's admirals claim can outrun, outdive and outstealth anything in the U.S. fleet. Russian news accounts boast that the nuclear attack sub Gepard - an Akula II class vessel undergoing tests in the White Sea and expected to join the ragtag Northern Fleet this month - is the "real Red October" that terrified the Pentagon in the Tom Clancy novel and Sean Connery movie. Law enforcement sources said that U.S. naval intelligence, the CIA and the FBI were investigating whether the Russians packed the Gepard with propulsion and sonar secrets stolen by alleged FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen, whose lawyers are negotiating with the Justice Department about what secrets Hanssen will reveal he stole.

But on an April visit to the Gepard's builders in Severodvinsk, Russian Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov insisted that the sub's technology is homegrown. Kuroyedov said the Gepard is the first step in his planned buildup of the once-proud Russian surface and submarine fleet, now mostly confined to port for lack of funding.

Russian government officials and news accounts said the Gepard is superior to the U.S. Navy's Los Angeles-class attack subs. The U.S. Navy closely guards the capabilities of its subs, saying only that they run at "25 knots-plus." But the Russians said that the 362-foot-long, 12,700-ton Gepard, with a beam of 45 feet, can dive to 2,000 feet and run at "33 knots-plus." With 24 Granat cruise missiles aboard, the Gepard also packs more firepower than U.S. attack subs, and is "the quietest submarine ever built," the Russians said.

Western analysts cautioned that Moscow routinely crows that its weapons, from rifles to jet fighters, are superior to those of the U.S., but they also said the Gepard's launch caught the U.S. off guard because the sub was thought to be five years behind schedule. "It came as a surprise that they got it together and put it out to sea," said Bryan Bender, an analyst with the Stratfor intelligence group. He said the Gepard was evidence of President Vladimir Putin's intention to "resurrect the image of the big, bad Russian Navy" after the disastrous sinking last summer of the ballistic missile submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea.

The Gepard marks "a really significant improvement" for the Russian Navy, but one sub hardly is a threat to the U.S., said John Pike, head of the GlobalSecurity.com think tank. He said that U.S. defense spending of $330 billion dwarfs that of Russia, thought to be about $10 billion.


Copyright 2001 Daily News, L.P.