Claims swirl around the fate of Russia’s last giant Typhoon-class submarine

Reports by Russian state media today have given conflicting details on the status of the last typhoon active duty class ballistic missile submarine, the Dmitry Donskoi. Although the fate of this submarine, the largest of any type in existence by displacement, is unclear, it appears that it is fast approaching retirement.

RIA Novosti, citing anonymous sources, was the first to report the Dmitry Donskoi, also known by the construction number TK-208, was formally decommissioned and was on its way to the scrapyard. Anonymous sources from Russia’s state shipbuilding industry and the country’s security services then told TASS that this news was wrong and that a final decision on the future of the submarine would not be made until December at the earliest.

“Recent reports of withdrawal from Dmitry Donskoi of the Russian Navy do not correspond to reality,” a TASS source said. as translated from news week. “The ship is currently conducting combat training duties at sea and participating in combat training activities. It will remain in battle formation at least until the end of the year.”

At the time of writing, there do not seem to have been any official statements on the matter one way or the other from any arm of the Russian government.

if Dmitry Donskoi truly out of service forever and facing the scrapper’s torch, it would spell the absolute end of an era for the Russian Navy. The Soviet Union built six of these submarines, officially known as Project 941 Akula Great – not to be confused with the Project 971 Shchuka-B class that the US military and NATO refer to as those Akula Class – between 1976 and 1989.

That typhoonseach of which is powered by two 190 megawatts OK-650 Nuclear reactors remain the largest submarines ever built from the keel up. The Russian Navy’s highly specialized special operations submarine Belgorodcurrently the world’s longest submarine at nearly 604 feet, is a converted Project 949A Oscar II Class guided missile submarine, as you can read more about here. But myself Belgorod can’t keep up with the crowd typhoon Boats of the class displacing up to around 48,000 tons underwater. For comparison, the underwater displacement of a US Navy Ohio class ballistic missile submarine, which is also 14 feet shorter than that typhoonis around 20,664 tons, Belgorod is estimated to have an underwater displacement of 25,000 to 30,000 tons.

Dmitry Donskoi was the first typhoon to enter service and be officially accepted into the Soviet Navy in 1981 typhoon The class submarine was originally designed to carry up to 20 submarines R-39 Ref Submarine-launched ballistic missiles, now known as the RSM-52, as the main armament. Each R-39/RSM-52 can be loaded with up to 10 multiple independent reentry vehicle (MIRV) nuclear warheads with an estimated yield between 100 and 200 kilotons. These missiles are loaded into vertical tubes in a section of the forward hull with the sail in place, giving the design its distinctive look compared to other Soviet and now Russian ballistic missile submarines.

That typhoons quickly became an iconic component of the Soviet Navy. A heavily modified fictional sub-variant of this sub named the Red Octoberwas the centerpiece of Tom Clancy’s now famous novel The Hunt for Red October. This book was then adapted into an equally famous film of the same name, starring Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery.

1991 one of the real ones typhoons, then known only by hull number TK-17, suffered a harrowing accident during a scheduled test of an unarmed R-39 missile when the weapon exploded in its launch tube. The boat’s captain at the time, Igor Grishkov, and his crew were able to prevent the sinking, as you can read more about here.

Arms control agreements with the United States, coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991, and the economic devastation that subsequently ravaged Russia, saw the other five steadily retire typhoons between 1996 and 2013. The Soviets had also laid down a seventh boat in 1986 which remained unfinished and was eventually scrapped. TK-12 SimbirskTK-13 and TK-202 have all been disposed of now as well, but TK-17 Arkhangelsk and TK-20 Severstal still languish on the pier side of the Russian Navy base at Severodvinsk.

A satellite image taken in September 2021 showing TK-17 and TK-20 moored to a pier at the Russian Navy base in Severodvinsk. Notably, the covers on their missile tubes were removed to ensure that the US government could use spy satellites to routinely verify that they were unarmed under various arms control agreements. Google Earth

For years Dmitry Donskoi has been used extensively for research and development, testing and evaluation, and training purposes. It was notably modified to fire the new ballistic missile from the RSM-56 Bulava nuclear submarine as part of the development of this weapon. TK-208 conducted the first-ever launch of a prototype RSM-56 in 2005.

Recently, independent naval analyst HI Sutton, who focuses primarily on all things military riding beneath the waves, posted satellite imagery on social media of what appeared to be it Dmitry Donskoi Sailing along with Belgorod in the White Sea. It would not be surprising that these two massive submarines may have been conducting testing or training activities together, which would also agree with TASS sources saying that TK-208 is still very much in service. The Russian Navy only announced that it was officially commissioned Belgorod put into operation in early July.

It is certainly possible that RIA Novosti and TASS will tell stories about it Dmitry Donskoi are both technically correct. The Russian government may now largely agree on a plan to decommission the submarine, which is certainly very costly to maintain and operate, but has yet to iron out the details. The Russian Navy hopes to commission a new Project 955A Borei-A Class ballistic missile submarine with the name Dmitry Donskoi in 2029, which may indicate that this is a tough deadline for the latter to retire typhoon. Of course, TK-208 could always just be renamed. Still, that’s seven years for a boat that’s already the only one of its kind in operation and four decades old.

It is worth noting that another An anonymous source told TASS last year that Dmitry Donskoi It was unlikely to be decommissioned for at least another five years. However, this was before Russia was under a Mountain of crippling economic sanctions as a result of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. It can only be costly and complex to obtain that single remainder typhoon, which has been modified in various ways over the years. The three scrapped examples, along with the TK-17 and TK-20, have likely provided more readily available sources of spare parts, but over time even routine maintenance will no doubt become more complicated and costly to carry out.

Another possibility could be that the Russian Navy waits until the annual Navy Day celebrations in St. Petersburg, which will be held later this month, to make a public announcement about it Dmitry Donskois future. The submarine took part in the 2017 iteration of the Sea Parade that accompanies this event. Warships and submarines, including the advanced Project 885 jasen class submarine Severodvinskare already gather in the area for this year’s parade.

No matter what, as underscores the still undecided ultimate fate of TK-17 and TK-20 awaiting eventually be scrappedit’s not clear what would happen to that immediately Dmitry Donskoi after an official shutdown. It takes a lot of time and money to actually disassemble ships and submarines, especially nuclear powered ones, as you can read more about here.

All in all, even if we do not yet know exactly the current plans of the Russian Navy Dmitry Donskoi could be, it seems more than likely that the sub is in the twilight of his career. Whenever it finally retires, it marks the end of the history of these legendary boats.

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