Russia’s Remaining Project 941 “Typhoon” Class Submarines

Geo Eye imagery from 30 July 2010 shows Russia's three Akula Class submarines, TK-208, TK-20, and TK-17 at Russia's Sevmash shipyard located at Severodvinsk.

Geo Eye imagery from 30 July 2010 shows Russia’s three Akula Class submarines, TK-208, TK-20, and TK-17 at Russia’s Sevmash shipyard located at Severodvinsk.

The remaining three Project 941 Akula submarines (Hull numbers TK-208, TK-20, & TK-17) also known by their NATO reporting name “Typhoon,” will reportedly be dismantled for scrap in 2014, despite a planned rise in Russia’s defense spending.

The submarines, immortalized in Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October,” created a huge stir among naval bloggers in September 2011 when Russian daily, Izvestia, first reported their fate.

According to the Izvestia, Russian Defense Ministry officials had indicated the Typhoons were more difficult to maintain than the new Borei-Class Project 995 submarines, suggesting the Typhoon would not return to duty and would therefore be scrapped.[1]

However, prior to the announcement, the Russian Navy had planned to keep the Typhoons in service until 2019 with expensive refits–probably for the Bulava sea-launched nuclear missile–as their previously installed SS-N-20s had been decommissioned.[2] The main reason to keep the submarines despite the extravagant expense: Russia needs as many strategic submarines available until shipyards can produce enough Borei class replacements.

Following the Izvesti report, Russian Defense officials made a statement denying the reported claims, saying the “submarines [would] remain in service with the Navy.”

Digital Globe Imagery from 21 August 2011 show two Typhoon class submarines (TK-17 & TK-20) at Sevmash Shipyard. The submarines appear to have remained in this position since 2009.

Digital Globe Imagery from 21 August 2011 show two Typhoon class submarines (TK-17 & TK-20) at Sevmash Shipyard. The submarines appear to have remained in this position since 2009.

 

Digital Globe imagery from 11 August 2011 show one Typhoon class submarine (TK-208) adjacent to the former Admiral Gorshkov, future INS Vikramaditya of the Indian Navy.

Digital Globe imagery from 21 August 2011 show one Typhoon class submarine (TK-208) adjacent to the former Admiral Gorshkov, future INS Vikramaditya of the Indian Navy.

In light of the conflicting information, it will be interesting to see what happens at Severodvinsk’s Sevmash shipyard in the coming year. According to satellite imagery from 21AUG11, all remaining Typhoon are currently located there which may suggest the situation could still go both ways. Sevmash currently handles submarine overhaul and refitting for Russia’s northern fleet and is also the location of prior Typhoon dismantling.

While it does seem highly likely the submarines will be dismantled due to the exorbitant costs of operation and overhaul, one shouldn’t rule out Russian nationalism as an important factor keeping the Typhoon around–no matter how unlikely the submarines will ever conduct another deterrence patrol. For example, Sevmash engineers even suggested turning the submarines into underwater LNG carriers for the Arctic, a seemingly absurd notion.

It is also worth mentioning that China had shown interest in buying two modernized Typhoon, though no orders have surfaced to date.[3]

Digital Globe imagery from 13JUL04 shows TK-202 in the floating dry dock in the process of being scrapped with funds from the Nunn Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programme. Another Typhoon, probably TK-208 Dmitri Donskoi remained docked near the former Admiral Gorshkov.

Digital Globe imagery from 13JUL04 shows TK-202 in the floating dry dock in the process of being scrapped with funds from the Nunn Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programme. Another Typhoon, probably TK-208 Dmitri Donskoi remained docked near the former Admiral Gorshkov.

Beyond the Typhoon, Russia has recently built three of the Borei-class submarines with the third recently put into water for sea trials in December 2012. According to Voice of Russia’s Ilya Kramnik, Russia plans to commission 2 new submarines (one diesel and one Borei class SSBN) and refurbish one Delta IV for 2013.

Notes:

[1] Russia currently has two Borei-class in service and plans to build at least eight.

[2] Russia had already refitted one Akula, TK-208 Dmitri Donkoy, to be a test bed for the Bulava missile which was successfully test-fired in 2005.

[3] Jane’s Strategic Weapons Entry on the SS-N-20

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