Russian Typhoon class: the largest submarine of all time will soon be retired (maybe)
Russia’s Last Active Service Typhoon– ballistic missile submarine, the Dmitry Donskoy can be directed to retirement. At present, reports regarding the fate of the submarine are conflicting – and no official statement has been released.
“RIA Novosti, citing unnamed sources, was the first to report that Dmitry Donskoy, also known by her hull number TK-208, had been officially decommissioned and headed for scrapping,” Joseph Trevithick wrote for The War Zone. However, TASS refuted the RIA Novosti report. “Anonymous sources within the Russian shipbuilding industry and the country’s security services later told TASS that this news was incorrect and that any final decision on the submarine’s future would not be made until December at the earliest.”
Newsweek translated the TASS report. “Recent reports of the withdrawal of Dmitry Donskoy of the Russian Navy do not correspond to reality,” a TASS source said. “The ship is currently performing combat training duties at sea, participating in combat training activities. It will remain in combat training at least until the end of the year.
If the Typhoon is retired, it will relinquish its title as the world’s largest (by displacement) submarine. The Typhoon, which is longer than a football field, displaces 48,000 tons and requires a crew of 160 men to operate. The staggering dimensions of the submarine were conceived during the Cold War, in reaction to the new Ohio-class submarine.
“When America unveiled its Ohio– class submarine, the Soviets were deeply concerned,” I wrote for 19FortyFive. “Each Ohio could carry 192 of the 100 kiloton warheads. The Soviets wanted to craft a proportionate response, something with equal destructive potential…the problem, however, was that the Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the R-39 Rif, was almost double the size of its American counterpart, the UGM-96 Trident I. Thus, to match the destructive potential of the Ohioto match an R-39 for a UGM-96, the Soviets needed a significantly larger submarine than the Ohio. And the Ohio already moved 19,000 tons.
“According to the US Naval Institute, this huge disparity in size between US and Soviet/Russian missiles is due to differences in the maturity of the plastics industry, which in the US was able to create both plastic toys for children, as well as important filing cabinets for solid-fuel missile components,” my colleague explained for 19FortyFive.
The Soviet solution, the Typhoon, is absolutely massive; it moves 250 percent more than the Ohio. The Typhoon wasn’t just long – it was wide, thanks to the multiple pressure cups. Pressure hulls were a safety feature that greatly increased the survivability of the crew.
only six Typhoons were ever built. Today, only one Dmitry Donskoy, remains in service. Curiously, the Dmitry Donskoy Was the first Typhoon-class built; launched in 1979, the submarine outlived its younger siblings.
The news that the last Typhoon-class can be directed to the scrap heap is no surprise. The submarine is “clearly at the twilight of its career”. I wrote. “Used only in a limited weapons testing role, the Dmitry Donskoy not expected to remain in service much longer than 2026. The largest submarine ever built in the world will be decommissioned and scrapped, along with the other five Typhoon-class submarines, in favor of the Boreiclass submarine – a smaller submarine that only displaces 24,000 tons, but has great firepower: 16 Bulava SLBMs.
The Typhoon is not the longest submarine in the inventory of the Russian Navy. This distinction belongs to the K-329 Belgorodwhich is 603 feet long (about 40 feet longer than the Typhoon). The Belgorod only displaces 30,000 tonnes, however. When the Typhoon finally retired Belgorod will be the largest submarine in the Russian inventory.
Fortunately, the Typhoon was never tasked to deliver its nuclear payload; most of the submarine’s service was after the end of the Cold War. The Typhoon however, remains an iconic symbol of the Cold War; The Typhoon is best known for its inclusion in the classic Tom Clancy novel The Hunt for Red October. The film adaptation was a hit, starring Alec Baldwin as the first in a long line of top actors to portray CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Baldwin stars through Sean Connery, who portrays the Typhoon commander.
Whether the conflicting reports from the RIA or TASS are accurate, the Typhoon-class is definitely at the end of its service.
Harrison Kass is the senior defense writer at 19FortyFive. A lawyer, pilot, guitarist and minor professional hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a trainee pilot, but was discharged for medical reasons. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.