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The Massive Soviet Sub That Inspired ‘Hunt For Red October’
Massive and oddly innovative, yet at the same time totally antiquated by western standards, the Soviet built ballistic missile nuclear submarine, code named “Typhoon” by NATO, was in many ways a perfect metaphor for the USSR’s military capability during the 1980s and thus the perfect fodder for informed fiction.
Built primarily for long missions under the polar icecap, the sheer size of the Typhoon, known indigenously as the Akula Class, was simply mind blowing. She was half the length of an Nimitz class aircraft carrier and about 2/5ths its displacement. A submerged Typhoon was said to reach 48,000 tons, while its western equivalent, the almost as long Ohio Class “boomer,” displaced “just” 19,000 tons.
The Typhoon’s massive tonnage comes from the fact that they were basically two Delta Class submarine hulls mated together and built outward from there. They could carry 20 R-39 SLBMs, each with 10 multiple reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads. In other words, this sucker could rain two hundred nuclear warheads down on western cities and military installations in a single barrage. Seeing as the ship was designed with arctic patrols in mind, she could break through the ice and fire all of her missiles while surfaced if need be. Additionally, she possessed six 533mm tubes that were capable of launching Type 53 torpedoes and SS-N-15 “Starfish” cruise missiles, although these were tertiary capabilities in comparison to her primary mission as a nuclear “second strike” deterrent.
What made the Typhoons even more threatening was that they were among the quietest vessels ever built by the USSR, and they were fast, capable of hitting around 28 kts underwater. In effect, tracking these suckers was a top priority for NATO, and especially the US, and it was not that easy for America’s silent service to do so. Additionally, these ships were prime targets on America’s nuclear hit lists while in port as they could launch their missiles even while tied up to the dock if the orders to end the world as we knew it were ever given.
Strangely, Russia promoted the titanic Typhoons as representing a sort of “new level of comfort” in submarining in an attempt to show off the “bigger is better” functionality of these massive and costly boats. There were expansive (everything is relative on subs) recreational and dining lounges on-board, including what looks like the saddest state produced video game, and a prison like swimming pool for sailors to “enjoy.” Some of the propaganda reels from the day almost make the sub appear like some type of militarized and deep diving “Love Boat.” None-the-less, the Typhoons are still luxurious when it comes to submerged livability even by today’s standards.
The Soviet built Typhoon Class super-sub was also the F-14 Tomcat’s submersible mil-tech superstar equivalent on the silver screen. As the inspiration for Tom Clancy’s novel “Hunt For The Red October,” she was featured in the blockbuster screenplay adaptation with that same title (and with Sean Connery!). In the movie the big sub had some farcical modifications such as a shadowy “caterpillar drive,” which used an inapplicable magnetohydrodynamic propulsion concept.
In the end just six Typhoons were built during the 1980s, and most were withdrawn from service within a decade and a half of their christening. Today a single boat, the first of her class, the Dmitriy Donskoy, is still in service, acting partially as a missile development test boat as she was updated and converted to carry the newest Russian SLBM, the RSM-56 “Bulava.”
The two other remaining Typhoons that were still in Russia’s reserve inventory are being scrapped as the cost of refitting and operating them is deemed too high. In their place, the more streamlined, efficient and cost effective Borei Class, and its second generation derivative, which were designed around the RSM-56 SLBM, will solidify its grim role as Russia’s primary second strike nuclear deterrent.
Interestingly enough, before the final decision was made to scrap all but one of the remaining Typhoons, the shipyard that originally built them was floating some pretty wild concepts in an attempt to see that they were refurbished and put back into active service. Some of the ideas proposed were to refit the ships as natural gas, oil and cargo transports capable of delivering large quantities of stores to Russia’s most northern outposts.
Although the Typhoons are truly relics of the Cold War, and are almost ridiculous in their proportions, one has to marvel at the concept and aspirations behind such a unique, colossal, and costly design…
For a look inside a dilapidated Typhoon, check out this dude’s recent tour of one!
Check out this tour of a Typhoon during its operational heyday:
See the massive Typhoon doing its thing set to cool music:
This modern documentary on the Typhoon is pretty awesome too:
Photo credits: Russian Navy, public domain.