Ultimate Comeback: Russia's Typhoon Class Submarine (The Biggest on Earth) Is Back

Mark Episkopos

Mark Episkopos

Security,

It now appears that Russia’s Northern Fleet plans to give at least one of its Typhoon submarines a new lease on life.

Ultimate Comeback: Russia's Typhoon Class Submarine (The Biggest on Earth) Is Back

Earlier this year, Russian Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev told Russian state news that two Typhoon-class submarines--Arkhangelsk and Severstal--could re-enter service after a deep refit, notably including a weapons suite upgrade to over 200 Kalibr cruise missiles: “the dimensions of each of these submarines allows them to be armed with at least 200 [Kalibr] cruise missiles each.” Burtsev’s proposal drew its share of skepticism, centered around cost and practicality concerns.

It now appears that Russia’s Northern Fleet plans to give at least one of its Typhoon submarines a new lease on life, though not quite in the way that Burtsev intended.

Dmitri Donskoi, the first Typhoon-class vessel and the largest submarine in the world, served for the past decade as an RSM-56 Bulava ballistic missile testbed. In 2018, it was announced that Donskoi will undergo a deep refit to join the upcoming Borei line as one of two Russian submarine classes to deploy Bulava missiles. Earlier this week, the press office of Russia’s Northern Fleet announced that Donskoi has completed combat trials in the White Sea.

It is unclear if a similar fate awaits Arkhangelsk and Severstal, which were decommissioned in the mid 2000’s and have sat in a Severodvinsk repair port ever since. But even if Donskoi will be the only one to receive this treatment, serious logistical problems persist. Not only is there a heavy upfront bill to refitting as old and large a vessel as Donskoi, but the maintenance costs of a modernized Typhoon submarine would far exceed that of its much smaller and leaner Borei counterparts.

What does the Russian Navy stand to gain from such a daunting and expensive project, involving everything from titanium derusting to nuclear reactor replacement? Prestige, for one. Typhoon is arguably the most feared and renowned submarine line ever constructed by Russia or its Soviet predecessor state; a household name from such classic films as the Hunt for Red October, but also a genuinely potent centerpiece of the Soviet SLBM arsenal from 1981 onward.

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