Speaking of naval weapons, we always think of aircraft carriers. But to say that the most lethal and deterrent weapon in the navy is a strategic nuclear submarine. The main weapon it uses is a submarine-launched ballistic missile. If it is equipped with a nuclear warhead, its lethality is very terrifying.
For instance, let’s consider the Trident II-D5LE ballistic missile used by the U.S. Navy. It has a maximum range of 12,000 kilometers, allowing it to reach both the South and North Pole when launched from a specific point on the equator. If launched from east to west, it can cover a distance of 16,000 kilometers along the equator.
By deploying a strategic nuclear submarine on the equator, both east and west, its missiles can effectively cover the entire surface of the Earth.
Now, let’s talk about the warheads. Modern nuclear missiles consist of multiple guided nuclear warheads. The Trident II-D5LE can carry up to 12 of these warheads. This means that a single Trident II-D5LE missile can potentially attack 12 targets simultaneously.
Typically, the targets for submarine-launched nuclear missiles are medium-sized or larger cities. Therefore, ensuring that the warheads possess sufficient explosive yield is crucial. U.S. nuclear warheads can have an explosive yield of up to 480,000 tons, which is more than enough to destroy a medium-sized or larger city.
If all the missiles on a nuclear submarine are fired in a salvo, it can essentially destroy an entire continent. To illustrate this, let’s consider the Ohio class submarines as an example, where a single submarine has 24 missile launchers.
Certainly! In addition to their destructive power, strategic nuclear submarines provide a unique advantage in terms of stealth and mobility. These submarines operate in the ocean’s depths, making them difficult to detect and track.
This stealthiness gives them a strategic edge by enabling them to remain hidden while being capable of launching devastating surprise attacks from virtually anywhere in the world’s oceans.
Furthermore, the mobility of strategic nuclear submarines allows for flexibility in deployment. They can move freely and rapidly to different regions, making it challenging for adversaries to predict their locations and effectively counter them. This mobility enhances their overall effectiveness as a deterrent and ensures that they can maintain a constant presence and readiness, even in the face of evolving threats and changing geopolitical scenarios.
The combination of stealth, mobility, extensive range, and destructive power makes strategic nuclear submarines and their submarine-launched ballistic missiles an integral part of a nation’s nuclear deterrence strategy.
Their presence significantly influences global security dynamics, as their mere existence serves as a deterrent against potential aggression and is crucial in maintaining strategic stability among nations.
Nuclear submarines armed with missile systems are incredibly powerful. If all the missiles on a nuclear submarine are fired together, they can potentially destroy an entire continent. For example, a single Ohio-class submarine with 24 missile launchers has this capability.
The U.S. Navy used to have 18 Ohio-class submarines, but they later reduced the number to 14, with 4 converting them to carry cruise missiles instead of strategic missiles. The new-generation Columbia-class submarines will have a reduced missile capacity of 16, as carrying too many missiles was considered excessively powerful.
The United Kingdom relies mainly on sea-based nuclear forces, specifically the 4 Vanguard-class strategic missile submarines. These submarines use Trident missiles provided by the United States, which means the British nuclear system is tied to the U.S.
France also focuses on sea-based nuclear forces and uses the four Triumph-class strategic nuclear submarines. France maintains the independence of its nuclear weapons and does not use missiles made in the United States. The Triumph-class submarines are equipped with 16 missile launchers, considered a standard configuration worldwide.
France uses the M51 ballistic missile, which has a more than 11,000 kilometers range and can carry 12 sub-guided warheads but is usually equipped with 6. Each warhead has an explosive equivalent of 150,000 tons and can strike a distance of 350 kilometers. , Targets within a range of 150 kilometers wide.
The main target of the British and French nuclear forces was Russia, and in addition to dealing with Britain and France, Russia also had to deal with the United States.
Russia is currently developing the Borei-class strategic missile nuclear submarine, which uses the Bulava strategic missile. The Bulava strategic missile is a three-stage solid ballistic missile; it is 11.5 meters long, 2 meters in diameter, and has a launch mass of about 36.8 tons. The warhead of the missile weighs 1150 kilograms; bait); range 10,000 km.
Although its performance indicators are not as good as the Trident of the United States, the nuclear submarines it can assemble can operate in the Arctic Ocean region and can effectively threaten the United States and Europe. However, the test status of the Bulava missile is unstable, and it will take time to mature.
Compared with land nuclear arsenals that are easily damaged by a second nuclear counterattack, nuclear submarines are difficult to detect, especially when they go deep into the ocean. It can be said that as long as a nuclear submarine enters the ocean, the possibility of being discovered is almost zero.
Nuclear submarines equipped with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) have a significant advantage in range. In many cases, they can remain within their own “fortress waters” and still threaten target areas due to the extended range of SLBMs.
Operating in fortress sea areas allows nuclear submarines to receive support from other military assets, enhancing their chances of survival. This combination of nuclear submarines, SLBMs, and their inherent deterrence capability, has led major powers to invest heavily in this field.
For instance, the United States‘ latest Columbia-class nuclear submarines, consisting of 12 ships, are estimated to cost over $120 billion in total. Russia is committed to investing in the latest Borei-class strategic nuclear submarines despite economic constraints.
India, too, has allocated billions of dollars to nuclear submarines. In their pursuit of understanding submarine principles, they have even rented Russian nuclear submarines at a cost of $100 million per year, although these are not yet strategic submarines. It is worth noting that India has developed its own domestic nuclear submarines.
Apart from India’s offerings, the underwater nuclear arsenals of global military powers possess substantial strength. They are formidable weapons and highly effective means of nuclear deterrence. As technological capabilities improve, both strategic nuclear submarines and strategic nuclear missiles will continue to enhance their performance and lethality.