Russia scraps Typhoons

Publish date: June 12, 2002

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Cold war demolition machines — five Typhoon class submarines — will be scrapped. New generation subs are entering the scene.

Severodvinsk shipyard Sevmash has started defueling a Typhoon class submarine. The submarine will be scrapped shortly after that. The whole process is funded by the US Cooperative Threat Reduction program, or Nunn-Lugar program.

The Soviet Union has built six Typhoons — world’s biggest submarines included into the Guinness Book of World Records and promoted in Hollywood’s Hunt for the Red October. This 172 meters long submarine is capable of carrying 20 ballistic missiles each armed with 10 nuclear warheads.

The design work of Typhoons started in 1973 and was an answer to American Trident submarines which could carry 24 new solid fuel intercontinental missiles. The USSR engineered solid fuel missiles, but they grew in size what influenced the design of Typhoon class. The submarine was to integrate two independent hulls — a kind of catamaran. The oblate form of the submarine was prompted by the shallow waters in the area of Severodvinsk shipyards. Such solution led to increased displacement of the submarine — Typhoon class has 49,800 tonnes displacement submerged and was nicknamed a “water-carrier” — but it also led to increased safety and better possibilities to perform repairs and upgrade due to a high degree of modulation of various parts of machinery. Typhoons were also designed to launch missiles from the Arctic being capable of surfacing from underneath 2 to 2.5 meters thick ice to shoot out its arsenal.

Each Typhoon had two PWR reactors with 100,000 h.p., located in the starboard and portside hulls. The nuclear installation was equipped with the system of battery-free cooling, and the reactor control rods would go down automatically in case of emergency even if the submarine flips.


The first submarine entered service in 1981. The last Typhoon was commissioned in 1989. All of them were stationed in Nerpichya base, Zapadnaya Litsa fjord at the Kola Peninsula. The Soviet Union had ambitious plans of building Typhoons in great numbers and assign them both to the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet. But by the end of 1980s a decision was made to halt the program due to the cost of the endeavour and political considerations — the cold war was nearing its end. The seventh Typhoon was dismantled in the building berth in Severodvinsk in 1990.

Another reason to quit Typhoons was the complicated infrastructure they required to operate properly. Redesigning of Nerpichya base which earlier hosted first generation submarines of Echo-II and Hotel classes started in 1977. Most of the other existing bases could not accept Typhoons due to their football field size. The reconstruction of Nerpichya was completed in 1981. New pier plants were designed and built to supply Typhoons with electricity and heat when in base. Typhoon’s missiles were also difficult to handle due to their size. They could be transported only by railway and lifted by a 125-tonne crane. Neither the railway nor the quay crane were commissioned. No initial design features were functioning in the pier plants either. They were used just like any other quay facilities except for being larger in size. The loading of missiles was carried out by a transport ship Aleksandr Brykin which was built specifically for Typhoons and had 125-tonne crane onboard.

The Pacific Fleet was also to build base facilities for Typhoons but had failed to do anything in that direction until 1990s when the Typhoon program was finally wrapped up.

In 1996, TK-12 and TK-202 and in 1997 TK-13 were taken out of regular service and placed on reserve.

Two last built submarines — TK-17 and TK-20 — allegedly remain in service but de facto they have not been fulfilling any missions the past two or three years.

The first submarine within Typhoon class — TK-208 — commissioned in 1981 has been under repairs in Severodvinsk since 1990. In 2000, Severodvinsk received additional funding for repairs and said that the submarine might join the Northern Fleet in 2001. The submarine is, however, still in Severodvinsk.


Demolition machine under decommissioning

TK-202 arrived to Severodvinsk first week of July 1999 for decommissioning. The work on this submarine and four others — in total five except for TK-208 — is to be funded by the US Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Although being in Severodvinsk since 1999, no major work has started on TK-202 — except for cut out missile tubes — until June this year. The question to decommission the first Typhoon was a complicated political decision. These giant submarines are still one of the prides inherited from the Soviet Union and scrapping the pride was hard to accept for many politicians. From the practical point of view Typhoons have become useless after the end of the cold war and too expensive for the scarce budget of the Russian navy.

The first week of June, Sevmash shipyard started to defuel two reactors of TK-202. CTR is paying for all the jobs necessary to do. This includes funding of infrastructure, such as a storage pad for TK-18 containers which will hold spent fuel from this Typhoon and other strategic submarines decommissioned at Zvezdochka shipyard, located at the opposite side of Sevmash on Yagry island.

Four Typhoons to go, fifth generation subs to enter

The remaining four Typhoons — TK-12, TK-13, TK-17 and TK-20 — which are not currently in Severodvinsk are still at Nerpichya base. One of the Typhoons was observed, however, at Gadzhievo.

Should TK-208, which has been under repairs in Severodvinsk, ever enter service again, it is unlikely the submarine will go back to Nerpichya. Unofficial sources suggest that all the base points located in Zapadnaya Litsa fjord — Malaya Lopatka, Bolshaya Lopatka and Nerpichya — are in the process of closing down. The submarines, which remain there — Oscar and Victor classes — will be transferred to other bases such as Gadzhievo and Vidyaevo. The base point Andreeva Guba used as a dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste will be cleaned up, given funding, including international, is in place.

The only operational strategic submarines left in the Russian Navy are Delta-III and Delta-IV classes. Sevmash which is along with decommissioning also still builds new submarines has reportedly four boats in its construction docks, including one Borey class strategic submarine and one Severodvinsk class, likely multipurpose, submarine. Borey class has been recently reclassified by the Russian navy to be the fifth generation, whereas Severodvinsk class is referred to the forth generation. The two other submarines under construction are unknown. The newest Russian submarines — Akula class attack submarines — belong to the third generation.

(fabric no.)
Ship yard
-Laid down
Active service
-Start date
-End date
Present condition
TK-208 Sevmash
30/06 1976
23/09 1979
12/12 1981 1986: Reactor cleaning unit leakage
1987: Reactor cleaning unit leakage
The submarine has been under upgrade and repairs at
Sevmash shipyard since 1990. Repairs intensified in 2000, but the submarine
is still at the shipyard.
TK-202 Sevmash
01/10 1980
26/04 1982
28/12 1983
No data Under decommissioning with CTR funds at Sevmash shipyard
in Severodvinsk since 1999. Defueling started in June 2002.
TK-12 Sevmash
27/04 1982
17/12 1983
27/12 1984
No data Laid-up in Nerpichya Bay, Zapadnaya Litsa.
TK-13 Sevmash
05/01 1984
30/04 1985
30/12 1985
No data Laid-up in Nerpichya Bay, Zapadnaya Litsa.
TK-17 Sevmash
24/02 1985
Aug 1986
06/11 1987
in service
No data Based in Nerpichya Bay, Zapadnaya Litsa.
TK-20 Sevmash
06/01 1986
Jul 1988
Sep 1989
In service
No data Based in Nerpichya Bay, Zapadnaya Litsa.