The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
The Five Nuclear Navies
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
July 18, 2004
The nuclear attack submarine (SSN) is one of two vessels that signify a country is a major naval power (the other being the aircraft carrier). To date, five countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China) have these vessels in service, while at least one country (India) is looking into deploying them.
The United States has three classes of SSN. The mainstay of the American submarine force is the Los Angeles-class SSN. Sixty-two of these submarines were built, fifty of which remain in front-line service, making it probably the largest class of nuclear submarines that will ever be built. With four 21-inch (533-millimeter) torpedo tubes, it carries twenty-six weapons (either the Mk 48 ADCAP, the UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, or the BGM-109 Tomahawk). The last 31 Los Angeles-class SSNs add the Mk 45 vertical-launch system (VLS), which carries another twelve Tomahawks, making them closer to guided-missile submarines (SSGN).
The United States deploys two other classes. The Seawolf-class of nuclear attack submarines stopped at three from a planned class of twenty-nine. The Seawolf was designed as a super-submarine, designed to fight the Soviet Navy at its height. Carrying fifty weapons, and with eight 26-inch (660-millimeter) torpedo tubes, the Seawolf was designed for maximum performance. It delivered, posting a top speed of 35 knots – and remaining much quieter than the Los Angeles-class submarines. Reportedly, it is quieter at twenty-five knots than the Los Angeles-class submarines are at pierside. With the cutback of the Seawolf to three ships, the Navy has gone with the Virginia-class submarine. Less-capable than the Seawolf (it is much like the Los Angeles-class attack subs, but with a lot of the more-advanced systems from the Seawolf-class subs, particularly the quieting and sonar systems), it was supposed to be less expensive. The Virginia-class submarines are estimated to have a unit cost of $2.1 billion, but found a way to get the first six built for a total cost of $8.7 billion ($1.45 billion each). Like the Los Angeles-class, the Virginia-class submarines will be improved as the class is built.
The British SSN is the Trafalgar-class. This class of seven boats is considered on par with the Los Angeles class. Armed with five 21-inch torpedo tubes, the Trafalgar carries Spearfish torpedoes, along with the Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles. The Trafalgar-class subs (and the Astute-class, an evolved Trafalgar design) are much smaller in number, however, their edge lies in the training of their commanding officers. The British “Perisher” course is arguably the best training for a submarine commander in the world.
France’s SSN, the Amethyste class, is a small submarine (2400 tons, compared to the 6900 tons of a Los Angeles class). The crew is half that of the American Los Angeles-class as well (66 compared to 133). The submarine is slower than the American submarines (28 knots compared to the 35+ of the Los Angeles and Seawolf-classes). It carries L5 torpedoes and submarine-launched Exocet anti-ship missiles.
The Akula is the top-of-the line SSN in the Russian Navy. With eight torpedo tubes (four 650-millimeter and four 533-millimeter), it carries a variety of torpedoes. The Russian SSNs do not carry anti-ship missiles. However, the Type 65 torpedo has a range comparable to the Exocet (50 kilometers at 90 kilometers an hour/100 kilometers at 54 kilometers an hour), and is a wake-homing torpedo. The torpedo gives the Akula a one-shot kill capability against any naval vessel short of an aircraft carrier due to its huge warhead (1,984 pounds).
The Chinese SSN, the Han-class, is a much older (first unit built in 1974) and slower (25 knots) design. With six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes, it carries a decent punch, but primarily has older weapons (the SET-65E torpedo). Unlike Russian SSNs, the later units (403, 404, and 405) can carry the C-801 anti-ship missile.
Which of these navies has the best submarine? In a one-to-one matchup with another SSN, the British Trafalgar probably has the edge due to the high quality of its crews and sensors. British SSN commanders have much more tactical training than their American counterparts (mostly due to what some consider an overconcentration on engineering caused by the influence of Hyman G. Rickover). However, the United States Navy,
through sheer volume of numbers and solid training (albeit not as good as the British) probably has the best force overall. – Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
|Los Angeles||USA||6,900||50 (12 retired)|
"+" indicates the number under construction. Displacement is in tons.