While the Red October may not have been an actual submarine, the Russian Typhoon class that it’s based on certainly is. Turns out, Hollywood didn’t have to embellish many details for the film — Typhoons really can sneak up on you.
The Typhoon is a class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines developed by the USSR and deployed throughout the 1980s. The fleet of six submarines were built at the Severodvinsk Shipyard on the White Sea.
The largest submarines ever constructed, they measure 175m long with a submerged displacement of 48,000 tons. The Typhoon class is capable of staying submerged for up to three months at a time.
These massive ships employ a five-layer, pressurised hull — the outermost of which is covered in sound-dampening plates — which allows the ship to dive to a maximum depth of 400m. The five-layer style also allows for an overall wider design than a conventional submarine. This helps create the necessary living space for the Typhoon’s crew of 160 sailors, and it provides additional protection against hull breaches.
A Typhoon class sub is powered by two OK-650 pressurised-water nuclear reactors, each of which provides an excess of 250,000 HP. This allows the subs to reach a top speed of 22 knots on the surface and 27 knots when submerged.
The Typhoon was designed to compete with America’s Ohio class subs, which were capable of carrying up to 192 100-kiloton nuclear warheads. Typhoons carried a primary cache of 20 RSM-52 SLBMs, each of which contained up to 10 MIRV warheads. These missiles were designed so that a Russian sub would be able to launch them safely and discreetly from beneath the ocean’s surface. The missiles were also capable of breaking through Arctic ice floes during launch.
The missile systems that the Typhoon class use are reaching the end of their service lives. Three of the ships have been retired, two have been placed on reserve, and the flagship of the Typhoon fleet, the TK-208 Dmitry Donskoy, has been retrofitted and is in field testing with a new weapon system. [Typhoon Class Wiki, Naval Technology, Russian Forces]
Image: Bellona Foundation