The Russian Navy’s last Typhoon-class super-sized submarine could be headed to the scrap yard, or it could still be in service the rest of the year. Which is it? It doesn’t even look like Russia is certain about its future. Moscow propaganda organs are releasing news about the sub in question – the Dmitry Donskoy, but there are conflicting reports. Despite the murky news, the Dmitry Donskoy is probably slated for retirement within the next 12 months as Russia is loath to admit publicly the last days of such a large and fabled submarine.
How Big is the Donskoy?
The Dmitry Donskoy nuclear-powered ballistic missile boat displaces 48,000 tons, more than any other submarine in the world. By comparison, the American Ohio-class boomer only displaces around 21,000 tons and is 14 feet shorter than the Dmitry Donskoy. After the Donskoy leaves service, it will be replaced by the Belgorod, a 549-foot Oscar II-class nuclear submarine that was commissioned in July. The Belgorod would then be the largest sub in the fleet.
Donskoy Is Checking Out
Newsweek began the speculation on July 20 on Dmitry Donskoy by reporting that the sub would be retired soon. RIA Novosti said that the Donskoy was headed for the exits. The state-run media outlet said, “The submarine Dmitry Donskoy has been removed from the fleet and is to be scrapped.” The source, quoted by RIA Novosti, even claimed the name of the Typhoon-class sub has already been given to another boat – the “Borei-A class (Project 955A), which was laid down at Sevmash last year.” Sevmash, in Severodvinsk, is the only Russian yard that produces submarines.
What If It Is Still In Service?
But the Drive.com’s War Zone said Russia’s TASS reported a decision on Dmitry Donskoy’s fate will not happen until December. “Recent reports about the withdrawal of Dmitry Donskoy from the Russian Navy do not correspond to reality,” one of TASS’ sources said, “The ship is currently performing combat training tasks at sea, participating in combat training activities. It will remain in combat formation at least until the end of the year.”
Typhoon-Class Was a Cold War Dinosaur
Nevertheless, the Dmitry Donskoy is assuredly a relic of the Cold War. The six subs of the Typhoon class were built between 1976 and 1989. The Donskoy was the first Typhoon introduced, so it has enjoyed quite a service life. The other five Typhoon subs were retired between 1996 and 2013. The original design had them carrying 20 RSM-52 ballistic missiles with powerful MIRV capability (Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles). It is clear the Donskoy was meant for nuclear war, so Russia would prefer to keep NATO and the United States guessing when the boomer gets the final ax.
Typhoon-Class Symbolized Russian Nuclear Might
I wouldn’t read too much into the conflicting reports. The headline news is that the Donskoy is at the end of its service life and that official decommissioning will probably happen sometime in the next year. The Donskoy symbolizes a time when the Warsaw Pact menaced NATO. The Warsaw Pact is of course defunct, but the Cold War mentality that proclaims the West is Russia’s ultimate adversary lives on. Russia’s boomers are an important leg of the country’s nuclear triad and that is something Vladimir Putin does not take lightly. So, the Dmitry Donskoy is the end of an era, one in which nuclear Armageddon was a certain fear. It will be up to the Belgorod to carry the torch.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.