Like the U.S. Navy,
the Soviet Navy found German submarine innovations of compelling interest.
It rapidly built a fleet of fast, modern ocean-going submarines based
on German models and continued to build and deploy diesel-electric attack
submarines throughout the Cold War. The first Soviet ballistic missile
submarines in the late 1950s were also diesel-electric. By 1960, however,
the Soviet Navy had launched its first nuclear-powered attack and ballistic
It also developed
a third type of nuclear-powered submarine (called SSGNs) designed specifically
to launch cruise missiles against American aircraft carrier task forces.
At its peak in 1980, the Soviet submarine force numbered 480 boats, including
71 fast attacks and 94 cruise and ballistic missile submarines. Because
the names of individual Soviet submarines are seldom known abroad, the
usual practice is to refer to them only as a member of a submarine class.
The most widely known class names are those assigned as code names by
NATO, such as Alfa, Charlie, and Kilo.
Nuclear-powered Attack Submarine
After the prolonged testing of a 1970 prototype, the Soviet Union built
six Alfa-class boats between 1979 and 1983. These highly automated boats
require only small, 30-man crews. Combining a liquid-metal cooled reactor
propulsion system with a titanium hull, Alfa-class boats achieve exceptionally
high underwater performance, a top speed of 43 knots (80 km/hr) and an
operational depth of 2,000 feet (600 m).
Nuclear-powered Ballistic Missile Submarine
The largest submarines ever built, the first Typhoon-class ships
entered service in 1977. They are 563 feet (172 m) long, have a beam of
81 feet (25 m). Performance figures can only be estimated: speed submerged,
30 knots (56 km/hr) and operational depth, 1,300 feet (400 m). Typhoons
carry 20 SS-N-20 "Sturgeon" underwater-launched ballistic missiles.
Nuclear-powered Cruise Missile Submarine
This Soviet Charlie-class SSGN in the South China Sea was photographed
from the air in 1974. Note the shadow of the aircraft, a U.S. P-3 Orion,
on the water. Charlies were the world's first submarines able to
launch cruise missiles while submerged. Courtesy Naval Historical Center
Kilo-Class Diesel-Electric Attack Submarine
Unlike the United States, the Soviet Union continued to build diesel-electric
submarines throughout the Cold War. Shown here is one of the most recent,
a Kilo-class attack submarine photographed by a NATO aircraft.
Kilo-class boats began to enter service in 1979 and are still being
built for export. They have a surface speed of 12 knots (22 km/hr) and
can make well over 16 knots (30 km/hr) submerged.
can be effective for missions such as coastal defense, where high speed
and long range are not crucial. Operating on virtually silent electric
motors underwater, they are inherently quieter than nuclear-powered boats
with their coolant pumps. Diesel-electric submarines are also less costly
to build and maintain. Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute