While the US Military might not fear Russia’s conventional military forces seeing how they are struggling in Ukraine, Moscow’s submairnes armed with nuclear weapons are a very different story: In August 0f 2021, Russia officially marked the beginning of construction on two additional Borei-A-class submarines, with President Vladimir Putin attending their keel-laying ceremony via video.
The boats, Knyaz Potemkin and Dmitry Donskoy, bring the total number of Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines, designated SSBNs, under construction to five.
The ceremony, which also marked the construction of two diesel-electric submarines and two corvettes, was held some four months after Russia’s navy said it would begin decommissioning the Ekaterinburg, one of its seven Delta IV-class SSBNs.
Since its first SSBN was commissioned in 1960, the Soviet Union and now Russia have operated five classes of “boomers,” some of them with their own subclasses.
Events this year show that Russia is now moving full speed ahead on its modernization of that SSBN fleet, which has long been feared by its rivals.
The first SSBNs to enter service with the Soviet Navy were those of the Hotel class. Modeled after the November class, the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-powered attack submarines, eight Hotel-class boats were built between 1958 and 1962.
Hotel-class SSBNs had blunt bows and forward-set sails. Their only armament was three missiles carried in silos directly behind the sail, similar to the Soviet Navy’s earlier diesel-electric ballistic-missile subs.
They were originally armed with R-13 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which could only be launched when the sub was surfaced. Subsequent upgrades to the launching systems enabled Hotel-class subs to carry R-21 SLBMs, the first Soviet SLBM that could be fired while submerged.
Hotel-class subs were built hurriedly to keep up with the US Navy, which commissioned the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, in 1954.
The lead boat, K-19, had a troubled history.
In 1961, while on a mission in the North Atlantic, a leak in a coolant pipe almost caused a complete reactor meltdown. Twenty-two sailors exposed themselves to lethal doses of radiation to fix the leak. Eight died within a week, the other 14 over the next two years. In 1969, K-19 was damaged in a collision with the US submarine USS Gato. It suffered two fires in 1972, the first of which killed 28 sailors.