End Of The TYPHOON Era: World's Largest Submarine Retires

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End Of The TYPHOON Era: World's Largest Submarine Retires

Flag Russia It's time, Captain... Time indeed. The last Pr.941 TYPHOON Class boat, Dmitriy Donskoy (TK-208), is reportedly no longer in active service. The world's largest submarine, the undisputed king of submarines, is finally being decommissioned.

Regardless of your politics, there has always been a air of respect for the gigantic Russian submarine in defense circles. It is probably the most recognized boat. Its distinctive silhouette has adorned many western posters and website headers. It will be missed.

The exact details, whether it is already decommissioned, or will be later this year, are unclear. As we have come to expect for these reports from Russia. But the overall story is clear, it is the end of the era.
The world's largest submarine
Reports of the last Typhoon being out of service may be slightly premature, but the bigger picture rings true. Despite being reported as no longer in service, TK-208 Dmitriy Donskoy was observed on the surface in the White Sea on July 17 2022. Sentinel 2 satellite image.


In its day, the significance of the submarine wasn't only its size. The appearance of the Typhoon captured the West’s imagination. And understandably so. Even in defence circles ot was a subject of research, speculation and wonder. There was concern that regular torpedoes couldn’t sunk it.

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The 'Typhoon' class got it's NATO reporting name (TYPHOON) before it even hit the water, using the name used in US-Russian arms control discussions.

(The Russian name is Akula, meaning shark, not to be confused with the NATO designated AKULA Class attack submarine). At the time it was being built, in the 1970s, the new Typhoon class represented an effort to keep pace with the U.S. Navy's Trident submarines (now Ohio Class). Russian, then the USSR, wanted their super-submarine to carry fewer missiles than the American boat, as a gesture that they were not the aggressor. So only 20 missiles were carried.

The size was driven largely by the ginormous R-39 Rif (NATO: SS-N-20 STURGEON) ballistic missiles. Designed, loosely, to balance the Trident, these were the argent submarine launched missiles. Each was 16.1m long (53ft) and 2.4m (7.9ft) in diameter.

Uniquely, the missiles were mounted between two separate pressure hulls, in a flooded space. The overall layout with 5 occupied pressure hulls inside a unifying outer hull is something which has never been duplicated.

The size came with other advantages. It allowed for incredible reserve buoyancy, which enabled the submarine to surface through thicker ice. This played into the ultimate bastion strategy, where missile submarines could hide beneath ice before delivering their world-ending revenge.

The crew enjoyed relative luxury, including of course an internal swimming pool(!).

Not All Plain Sailing

Unfortunately for Russia each submarine cost a fortune to build. Even for the Soviet economy. I don’t fully trust quotes numbers, but logically each submarine would cost more than twice a regular ballistic missile submarine. It had 2 of everything and was more than twice as large. And the outer hull was heavily built, adding yet more time and money.

With the end of the Cold War the last boat we cancelled sand the six in service were steadily withdrawn from service from the mid-1990s, well before their prime. Only one, the oldest boat TK-208, was still active service by 2010.

The solid-fueled rocket motors of the Rif missiles expired without replacement, leaving her a toothless monster. She was modernized to test lunch the newer Bulava missile. And she regularly exercised with newly built submarines. Most recently she has been working with Belgorod, another supersized submarine.

In naval terms these Cold War monsters have suffered a slow and painful to watch demise. Bit their way no thing away their crown of being the largest, and in many ways most impressive submarines ever built.

Now, 42 years after the first boat slipped into the water, the world will tremble again, at the sound of their silence. The TYPHOON has finally engaged the silent drive.

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