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The World's Largest Submarine: The Soviet Union's Pr. 941 Typhoon SSBN (2014) (imgur.com)
91 points by eps 59 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments

It's interesting that part of the rationale for building huge submarines is that the Soviets couldn't afford American-style aircraft carriers. Then they proceeded to bankrupt themselves making huge submarines.

An aircraft carrier is expensive because it requires an entire fleet to support it. The carrier isn't the expensive part - the dozen screening vessels that protect it are.

That fleet can be taken out with a single tactical nuclear weapon.

A nuclear submarine can operate on its own, and carries more firepower (If we count by number of capitalists/communists/unaligned people it can kill) than an entire carrier group.

An aircraft carrier is useful for force projection on the other side of the world, if you are trying to bomb some stone-age savages, or to carry out some gunboat diplomacy to an uppity developing nation. It can't surprise-surface 30 miles off the coast of New York, and launch three dozen half-megaton nuclear weapons at six different metro areas in the span of forty minutes.

The Soviet Union was much more concerned about it's security than it was about power projection. It didn't need carrier groups - it needed a way to guarantee it's safety from nuclear attack, by holding the threat of initially Cuba, and later, it's submarines over the head of the US.

The former USSR's, and today's Russia's foreign policy become a lot clearer when you understand their primary goal - security of the homeland from attack. The country was absolutely traumatized by the Great War, the Russian Civil War, and the Great Patriotic War. All Soviet, and now Russian military planning focuses on preventing such disasters.

The US's primary goal, in contrast, is not homeland security (it is a secondary goal). The US's primary goal is making sure the world's oceans remain open to marine trade. That is why the USSR didn't invest in aircraft carriers, but the US did.

> than it was about power projection

That part came from people singing "The Internationale" all over the world, but it started to come apart in the 1960s, and by the 1980s it had disintegrated, and so did the Soviet Union.

Ah, well, interesting times.

It's just an industrial revolution too early and did not manage to avoid an imbred political class.

The AI and (insert unknown political change) might enabled a very different version of Internationale, that might arise in our lifetime.

Submarines have always been an underdog's weapon to some extent, ever since they were used by the South in the US civil war. If you expect your navy to be outclassed, but still want to build one, stealth is one of the few options.

Interestingly enough the US is considered to be in a rather bad spot with anti-submarine warfare, especially non-nuclear submarines. Carrier groups have limited ability to counter advanced diesel-electric and air independent propulsion submarines. It's especially bad in littoral areas. The US Navy has the majority of their ships used up in BMD, drug enforcement, etc. etc.. There is very little ASW training done. There are no S-3 Viking ASW resources, carrier/ship based helicopters are now "multi-purpose", P-3 Orion patrols are well... land surveillance & communication relays, T-AGOS is heavily reduced, and SONUS is a bust. The US Navy is severely weakened against submarines and sea mines since the end of the cold war.

Yes, USSR/Russia has never been able to build a Navy projecting power far beyond native shores, so as a result the Navy task in the modern times would be to protect the shores, present some "assymetric" response to the US carrier groups by means of the attack submarines and to play its part of the MAD using ballistic missile submarines for which the "bastion" strategy was implemented


Soviets didn't need aircraft carriers because they were a purely defensive army. Aircraft carriers are only needed for offensive armies, like the US army. Submarines are a much better and cheaper way to keep the offensive attacker under control. They are almost unbeatable.

The power numbers are a bit confusing. It is stated that the sub is powered by two 380MW nuclear reactors. It almost doesn't make sense that a submarine can output as much power as a large power station. Though, the reactors power appears to be thermal and not electrical.

At 746 watts to a horsepower 760MW is pretty much 1,000,000 horsepower. But the stated shaft horsepower (shp) driving the props is given at 80,000 shp which is a 1/10th the output of each reactor. Granted there are losses and the rest of the ship needs power but not 90%.

Reactors are often quoted in MW-thermal vs. MWe (electric). They also mention there are 2 steam turbines. Here's my analysis. 2x 380MWt. They have two for redundancy. Then 1x 380MWt, assume 33% conversion efficiency => 125MWe. 80k SHP implies after losses, guess 85% conversion efficiency, 80k/0.85 HP to MWe ~= 70MWe. Which leaves 55MWe left over. That's still a lot of power, but it puts this closer to realistic I think.

What a wonderful historical piece that deals with both the engineering and geopolitical implications of a historic vessel. Glad I saw this, despite it being five years down the road.

A separate detailed analysis of the 941 boats by, H.I. Sutton - his "Covert Shores" blog and publications are my favorite Naval tech OSINT and historical data sources:


.. I really enjoy his material for the original artwork and diagrams.

The article is very good. Having been a nuke on both US fast attack and ballistic missile subs, I would say any assessment of current US or Russian sub capabilities listed in these comments are not accurate unless that person is currently in the sub service. If they are, they are not going to say anything, anyway. i.e. The Silent Service.

When I was in Portland a few weeks ago, my kids and I went on the submarine tour at OMSI. Fascinating look at something you normally only see in movies. I would highly recommend it.


As long as we're on the topic of submarines you can enter; anyone looking to visit a Soviet/Russian submarine can do so in Germany. The Tango-class submarine B-515 (now known as U-434, launched in 1976) can be visited year-round in Hamburg:


I can recommend the guided tour. At 200cm standing room was limited for me, but the sub is quite accessible as long as you're not overweight.

We just toured the Albacore in Portsmouth, NH.


They actually have events where you can spend the night on the sub at omsi.. Our cub scout pack has looked into it, but several of us parents are over 6' tall, and don't think we would fit on the bed.

One thing leads to another, and one ends up listening to the Hunt for Red October movie theme ...

Basil Poledouris - Hymn to Red October: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRG1UixHvos

Had this playing in the car the first time I drove to Montana.

I would would have liked to see Montana...

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