Submarines: The Last Akulas Headed To The Scrappers


March 7, 2023: After years of delays, diversions and unexpected difficulties, the last of the failed Russian Typhoon submarines is being retired and scrapped. This follows over a decade of efforts to finally get rid of the expensive Akula ("Typhoon" in the West) SSBNs (nuclear powered ballistic missile subs). In 2010 Russia announced that at least two of the Akulas would be returned to service. By 2012 the situation had changed because the Bulava SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile) had entered service and the new Borei SSBN had passed its sea trials. With that, the risk of Russia having too few SSBNs in service had passed. The Akulas were no longer needed and the remaining three were to be disposed of. That soon changed and one of the Akulas remained in service until 2023.

Six of these 24,000 ton Akula “boomers" (missile subs) were built in the 1980s, and three were scrapped between 1999 and 2009. The other three were to be retired because they were too expensive to operate. Two of these were retired in 2006 and 2009. These were the ones that were supposed to be brought back into service to maintain the size of the Russian SSBN force. This was delayed for several years as navy officials struggled with the huge costs of putting an Akula back into service.

Akulas were the largest submarines ever built and each carried twenty of the huge (16 meters long and 2.4 meters in diameter, 90 ton) R-39 SLBNs. These missiles, the first Russian solid fuel SLBMs, have all been retired from service. One of the Akulas had some of its missile silos converted to test fire the new, smaller solid fuel Bulava SLBM. Bulava was designed to be used on the new Borei SSBNs. The other two Akulas were to be taken out of retirement, with their silos converted to fire the smaller (12.1 meters long and two meters in diameter) Bulava SLBM. These refurbished Akulas were to remain in service at least until 2019. That plans could not be carried out because of the high conversion and operating costs.

The Akulas were built to complement, not replace, the existing Delta IVs and both classes are being replaced by new Boreis. These subs are closer in design to the Delta IVs than the revolutionary Akulas. The Boreis are 170 meters (558 feet) long and 13 meters (42 feet) in diameter. Surface displacement is 15,000 tons and 16 Bulava SLBMs are carried. There are currently six Boreis in service with another due to enter service in 2023. If financial problems can be overcome, Russia plans to build at least 14 Boreis. The last of the Delta IV SSBNs were retired or converted to other uses between 2010 and 2022. Seven Delta IVs entered service between 1984 and 1990. They were 13,500 ton (on the surface) boats operated by a crew of 135. Sixteen 35-ton SLBMs were carried. These missiles used storable liquid fuel. There were also four torpedo tubes for 533mm torpedoes used to defend the SSBN if need be. Top speed was 26 kilometers an hour on the surface and 44 kilometers when submerged. Powered by two nuclear reactors, the Delta IVs could remain at sea for as long as food supplies for the crew lasted (usually no more than 90 days).




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