Useful Notes / Mnogo Nukes: Missile Submarines
The Soviet Union were really into their ballistic missile carrying submarines. Their "second strike" doctrine required launch platforms that could stay undetected for long periods of time until they could launch their missiles at the USA, just as it was starting to get back on its feet after an initial exchange.
Early Soviet missile subs were limited in missile range, forcing their deployment close to the US coast, which was potentially very dangerous in a war- for the crews, as the subs were also considerably noisier than Western ones.
The basic thinking behind all this seems to have been that having an actually deployed system was better for scaring the West than one that was military effective- or even safe
(the "Hotel" class is a particular case in point).
The Soviets developed longer range missiles for the "Delta"-class and then changed to a "bastion" strategy, keeping their subs close to the Soviet Union, supported by surface ships, aircraft and other subs.
As of December 2014, Russia had in service 3 "Delta III" subs, 6 "Delta IV", 1 "Typhoon" (being used for missile trials) and 3 Boreys.
"Boomer" is a US slang term for a ballistic missile submarine, which we will use here. Reporting Names
are in speech marks.
In a mistake repeated in more than one pre-1989 techno-thriller, the Soviet Navy did not name its submarines, instead relying on an acronym for the size type (TK = "heavy cruiser", B = "Large" for example) followed by its service number.
"We all live on a Workers' Submarine"- Soviet Conventionally-Powered Boomers
As with the US, the Soviet Union started off with conventionally powered missile submarines. They could manage an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, but not a controlled one- yet.
Project 611AV/"Zulu V"
The first Soviet submarines to carry ballistic missiles (in fact the first such subs in the world), being converted from attack submarines. The Project 611 design was based on the German Type XXI U-boat
. The design was revolutionary, allowing subs high speed underwater and would have influenced the outcome of the Second World War
had it entered service earlier.
"Carried" (it was rarely if ever deployed with them on board) two R-11FM missiles, which it had to launch from the surface.
The first dedicated Soviet boomers, although still conventionally-powered. Fitted with a system that updated current position and launch settings automatically, reducing launch time to 72 minutes, needing to surface for only 12.
23 were built in all, with six variants. The first three carried the R-11FM, but the later ones had R-13/SS-N-4 missiles. 14 were later refitted for the R-21/SS-N-5, which could be launched underwater. Three were converted, each to different variants, for testing of later missiles.
Noisier than was practical for a nuclear deterrent force
, many of these ended up in the Baltic Fleet, where they could be better protected. Nevertheless, they had an excellent safety record, something practically unheard of in the Red Fleet, and were kept in service until the late 80s.
All were out of service by 1990 and some were sold for scrap purposes to North Korea
The plans were sold to China in 1959 and one may still be in PRC service.
Sunk in mysterious circumstances off Hawaii in 1968, with the loss of all on board. A search by the Soviet Pacific Fleet seemed to have no idea where K-129
might be, when ballistic missile subs were required to report their position at regular intervals. A US spy satellite briefly detected the infrared signature of Soviet ballistic missile fuel burning near her wreck's final location (which remains classified). It appears to have imploded after going below crush depth. Was then, with help from Howard Hughes partially or fully raised by the Glomar Explorer
, the deepest salvage operation of all time.
The CIA "refuse to confirm or deny" whether they have any documents on this raising, the location remains classified, as does what they recovered. A Conspiracy Theory
claims that K-129
exploded while trying to nuke Hawaii. This is supported by some very
strange activity surrounding the boat before she put to sea, her failure to make scheduled position reports, and the US Government returning some items to post-Soviet Russia that could not have been recovered from the small section that was supposedly raised.
"Big, Radioactive, Nasty and that's just the submarines"
The first SSBN class in Soviet service, i.e. nuclear-powered. Generally similar to the "Golf," but with two reactors in place of the Diesel engines, and a horrible
safety record. The missiles were initially the R-13/SS-N-4 "Sark", but were later replaced with R-21/SS-N-5 "Serb". They had to surface to fire the first type of missiles.
The most notorious is K19 The Widowmaker
", which had two reactor accidents, both causing fatalities. It was the focus of a Hollywood film, which was full of Lzherusskie
Project 667A Navaga/"Yankee"
The first modern SSBN in Soviet service, apparently based on plans for American subs covertly obtained by the GRU. Carried either for R-27/SS-N-6 "Serb" ("Yankee I") or the R-31/SS-N-17 "Snipe" ("Yankee II"- just one converted from a "Yankee I"). There was never a Snipe Hunt
. Role appears to have been destruction of time-sensitive targets, such as Strategic Air Command bomber bases. The "Yankees" had to get rather close to the American coast (Bermuda area specifically) and probably would have been taken out by American subs before they could launch. Because of this, a number might have been switched in mission for European targets, allowing them to stay in "sanctuary areas" nearer the USSR. All now removed from service.
, commanded by Captain Igor Britanov, suffered a catastrophic accidental fire in her missile compartment on October 3, 1986 while maneuvering close to the fast-attack submarine USS Augusta
(SSN-710) north of Bermudanote
. Several men were killed outright, and the fire soon spread to the engineering spaces, with the intense heat damaging the controls for both reactors. Seaman Sergei Preminin entered the reactor compartment in temperatures exceeding 150 degrees Farenheit and hand-cranked the control rods into place, preventing a meltdown that would've killed millions on the US east coast, but was unable to escape
. With his boat now a deathtrap and Moscow giving unrealistic orders that would get his crew killed, Captain Britanov ordered K-219
abandoned and scuttled her himself. Seaman Preminin was posthumously declared a Hero of the Soviet Union.
The class also had some other conversions, which are described elsewhere.
- In Red Storm Rising, to show their apparent goodwill, the USSR announces the unilateral scrapping of the "Yankee" class.
Project 667B or 667BD Murena or Murena-M/"Delta I" or "Delta II"
A major problem of the Red Fleet's earlier boomers is that they had to get close to the American coast to actually hit anything far inland. That meant getting through the American Navy, which was not easy since the subs weren't all that quiet. This changed with the "Delta I". Its R-29/SS-N-8 "Sawfly" missiles had a range of 4,846 miles (7,800 km), which meant that the boomers could stay in friendly waters, protected by other subs. In fact, it could even launch its missiles while tied up at a dock in Severomorsk and still hit Washington, DC. "Delta II" subs have a less pronounced "hump".
- The production designers in The Spy Who Loved Me appear to have been aiming to make the Potemkin, a "Delta II", but seem to have forgotten the fairwater planes the class had and chucked on (inaccurately) a red star on the side for viewer identification, since your average viewer wouldn't know what a "Delta I" looks like.
Type 667 BDR Kalmar/"Delta III"
Carrying 16 R-29R/SS-N-18 missiles, this was the first seriously quiet Soviet boomer.
- In Red Storm Rising, a US submarine shadows a "Delta III" and realises that the USSR is placing all their boomers in mined inlets, so they can't be attacked by NATO subs.
- In the 1985 Airwolf episode "Crossover", the kidnapped defector is being delivered to a waiting "Delta III", named as such by Dominic. Loses points for bad Stock Footage use of a Los Angeles submarine and an American SLBM launch for an surface-to-air missile, although Soviet footage would have been impossible to get at that time. Depiction on the display screen has too few missiles. The chopper blows it out of the water.
Project 941 Akula (shark)/"Typhoon"
One of the world's most famous submarines and the biggest type ever built (it has a small swimming pool on board, since it's rather roomy), being twice the width of the US equivalent, the Ohio
class (it's twice the width because it's essentially two standard submarine hulls welded together side by side). The R-39/SS-N-20 "Sturgeon" missiles could hit anywhere in the continental US from inside the Arctic Circle. Now more or less retired. Six were built, while the seventh was scrapped while incomplete.
- They've turned up in fiction, most notably as the Cool Boat Red October in the Tom Clancy novel and film, The Hunt for Red October (a modified version). They're also playable in the Command And Conquer series (where they're just very good attack subs).
Type 667 BRDM Delfin ("Dolphin")/"Delta IV")
In case the "Typhoon" didn't work, this was built as well. Seven entered service between 1985-91, one now converted to a special forces boat. Sixteen missiles on board. Still in service and recently overhauled.
Project 935 Borey/Borei [The Russian spelling of Boreas]
The most recent class of missile submarines, the first vessel of the class (Yury Dolgoruky) was launched in February 2008 and commissioned in January 2013. They replace the "Delta III" and "Typhoon" classes, and carry 16 R-30 Bulava ("Mace")/SS-NX-30 ballistic missiles and 6 RPK-2 Viuga (Blizzard)/SS-N-15 "Starfish" anti-sub cruise missiles launched from torpedo tubes.
Long Legs, Little Accuracy- Missiles
Naval version of the "Scud" (see Mnogo Nukes Short Range Missiles
). The range of these missiles was very low (about 350 miles) requiring them to get very close to the American coastline and would have been very awkward to use, requiring about two to four hours to launch. Live missiles were seldom carried operationally, as the propellants were corrosive. Deployed on the "Zulu V" and the "Golf". It wasn't very good (being more a case of only-thing-available, as everything else was too large) but it was a first step and Makeev, the design bureau, designed other Soviet missiles.
Range of only 600 km (pretty short by any standards) and had to be launched from the surface. Accuracy varies depending on which source you're looking at. Peak deployment around 1962, but gradually phased out after 1964. First Soviet SLBM to use vernier engines- which seems to be some form of chamber system allowing for course alterations.
R-27 Zyb/SS-N-6 "Serb"
A two-stage, liquid-fuelled missile, capable of carrying a 1 megaton warhead about 2,500 km. Carried on the "Yankees" and could be launched submerged, being held ready for about an hour and under peak conditions launching in a minute (according to Western estimates). Could be described as the Soviet equivalent to Polaris, in a way, except NATO subs were far quieter.
It's been argued by a number of defence commentators that the North Koreans and Iranians have reverse-engineered these missiles for their own use.
Carried by the "Delta IV", it has four warheads and a range of 8300km (5157 miles). Has recently undergone an upgrade to the Sineva model.
R-39M or R-39UTTH/SS-NX-28
Intended for the Borey class and as a retrofit on the "Typhoons", this would have been an improved version of the R-39- had it worked. After three embarrassing launch failures in its first three tests, including one in front of Putin himself, the program was axed.
R-30 Bulava ("Mace")/SS-NX-30
Replacement for the R-39, this all-Russian missile is known for its troubled developmentnote
. In service since January 2013.