By the time of the 1970s, the West was firmly entrenched in a "Cold War" with the Soviet Union to the east. The Soviet Union rose to prominence in World War 2, particularly after the German invasion of the country through Operation Barbarossa. While the German Army came within earshot of the Soviet capital of Moscow, the Soviets managed to turn back the tide of the German onslaught through good luck and a massive outpouring of man, machine and patriotism. The Soviet Union went on to claim much of Germany's east interests and eventually captured Berlin proper, only to find a dead Adolf Hitler await them. Regardless, the war prompted the Soviet the Union to become an undisputed superpower in the modern world and a "cold" war ensued - primarily between the United States and Russia - in areas of the world that would become their battlefield (Korea in the 1950s, Vietnam from the 1950s into the 1970s).
Rumors were soon prevalent in the Pentagon that a new weapon was being built behind the "Iron Curtain" - a supposedly giant and undetectable nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (essentially real-world story behind the Tom Clancy suspense novel, "The Hunt for Red October"). The vessel was laid down on June 30th, 1976 and, in 1981, the lead boat of the "Akula", or "Shark" class, was completed at the Severodvinsk Shipyard on the White Sea near Archangel and commissioned on December 29th, 1981 as the "TK-108" (a total of six submarines in the class would be completed). Leonid Brezhnev is said to have used the word "Typhoon" to describe a new submarine so NATO aptly used this as its reporting name. When the Soviets allowed the submarine to be seen in public for the first time, she quickly became a feared weapon of the Cold War to the pro-western navies of the world. Later, TK-189 was renamed the "Dmitri Donskoi" after the Grand Duke of Moscow of 1359.
The Akula-class became the largest submarine ever built up to that point. She was quieter than any previous Russian submarine design attempt due to new "quiet" techniques developed specifically for the Typhoon boats. Additionally, she was more maneuverable than the preceding Russian Delta-class submarines. A multi-hulled design fitted no fewer than five inner habitable hulls with two large main parallel hulls. She had nineteen compartments for control rooms, missile launch tubes and electronic equipment. The superstructure was coated with sound absorbent tiles.
She was the first SSBN to have her missile launch tubes installed forward of the sail and, with twenty RSM 52 intercontinental, three-stage, solid propellant ballistic missiles, she fielded more missiles than any of her contemporaries anywhere in the world. The plan for these behemoths was to hide in the North Atlantic waters and, if war came, the class would relocate to predetermined locations under the Arctic ice shelf. She could maintain this submerged position for up to 120 days or more, waiting for the "go code" to fire her missiles towards targets across the United States. Each of the 20 missiles onboard had 10 independently targetable, multiple reentry MIRV's, each with a 100kt nuclear warhead - 200 warheads altogether. The missiles had a range of 5,157miles (8,300km) and were able to hit a target within a 1,640ft (500m) area.
The Typhoon torpedo room was built in the top part of the bow between the twin hulls. The boat was equipped with 4 x 24.8in (630mm) torpedo tubes fitted for RPK-7 Vodopad AShMs and Type 65K torpedoes and 2 x 21in (533mm) torpedo tubes using RPK-2 Viyuga cruise missiles and Type 53 torpedoes. Also onboard were 22 anti-submarine missiles - all told, a formidable amount of ordnance for any one submarine.
The boat was designed not only to travel under the ice but, if the time came to fire her missiles, she was also designed to break through the ice. The boat had an advanced stern fin with horizontal hydroplanes fitted aft of the screws. The horizontal hydroplanes in the bow section were retractable into the hull. The giant sail had a reinforced guard cover that was rounded for ice breaking purposes. The top-most systems could completely retract into the sail during ice breaking maneuvers and included two periscopes, a radio sextant, surface radar, radio antennas, and navigation masts.
The heart of the submarine was its propulsion system that allowed her to move thru the deep ocean environment and hide from the American "hunter killer" boats, speeding about to possible firing positions. This power was provided by two nuclear water reactors and two turbogear assemblies. One reactor and one turbogear assembly were fitted in each main hull. Each nuclear water reactor produced 190MW and drove 2 x 50,000 horsepower steam turbines with 4 x 3,200kW turbo-generators. 2 x 800kW diesel generators were used as standby propulsion with the system connected to the propeller shafts. The two propellers were seven-bladed, fixed-pitch and shrouded.
The revolutions across communist nations in eastern Europe were underway in 1989 and the Soviet Union herself was dissolved in 1991. In 1990, the Dmitri Donskoi was scheduled for a refit at the dry dock in Severodvinsk. Due to a lack of funds following the region-wide upheavals, the refit was postponed though, by 2002, she was back on duty with the now-Russian Navy. In 2005 she was used to launch a test "Bulava" missile while in the White Sea. She continued to perform such test missions in the North Sea into 2010, remaining in service to an extent.
Despite the fall of communism in Russia, reliable information concerning the Akula-class boats is still vague, even today. Their operation is expected to continue into the latter half of the decade based on government statements. The most accepted information is that all six completed boats of the class are currently listed as "inactive" with at least three (TK-202, TK-12 and TK-13) having been scrapped, these apparently with some US and British assistance. TK-17 and TK-20 are held in an inactive "reserve" status. A seventh boat, the TK-210, was laid down in 1986 but scrapped in 1990 before completion to shore up funding gaps following the collapse of the Soviet Union.