What is an Attack Submarine and Why are They Important?
An attack submarine is a type of submarine that is designed to attack and sink other submarines, surface ships, and merchant vessels. They are also capable of launching cruise missiles, deploying special forces, conducting intelligence and reconnaissance missions, supporting battle group operations, and engaging in mine warfare.
Attack submarines are also known as hunter-killer submarines or multi-purpose submarines. They are powered by either nuclear reactors or diesel-electric engines. They are equipped with advanced sensors, stealth features, and weapons systems that give them an edge in the undersea domain.
In this article, we will explore the history, features, and roles of attack submarines in modern naval warfare.
History of Attack Submarines
The concept of attack submarines dates back to World War II, when submarines were used to disrupt enemy shipping and naval forces. The most advanced submarine design of that era was the German Type XXI U-boat, which had a streamlined hull, high battery capacity, and high submerged speed. The Allies captured several Type XXI U-boats after the war and used them as a basis for their own submarine development.
The first post-war attack submarines were the US Navy’s GUPPY conversions and the Tang class, which were based on the Type XXI design. They were followed by the Soviet Navy’s Whiskey class and Zulu class, which were also influenced by the German U-boats.
The advent of nuclear power revolutionized submarine propulsion and performance. The first nuclear-powered attack submarine was the US Navy’s USS Nautilus (SSN-571), which was commissioned in 1954. The Nautilus broke several records, including the first submerged transit of the North Pole in 1958. The Soviet Navy launched its first nuclear-powered attack submarine, the November class (Project 627), in 1958 as well.
Since then, both superpowers have built numerous classes of nuclear-powered attack submarines with various capabilities and missions. Some of the most notable ones include the US Navy’s Los Angeles class (SSN-688), Seawolf class (SSN-21), and Virginia class (SSN-774), and the Soviet/Russian Navy’s Victor class (Project 671), Akula class (Project 971), and Yasen class (Project 885).
Some navies also operate diesel-electric attack submarines, which are cheaper and quieter than nuclear-powered ones but have limited endurance and speed. Some examples are the German Type 212/214/216 class, the French ScorpÃ¨ne class, and the Chinese Yuan class.
Features of Attack Submarines
Attack submarines have several features that make them effective in their roles. Some of these features are:
- Torpedo tubes: Attack submarines have four to eight torpedo tubes that can fire torpedoes, anti-submarine missiles, anti-ship missiles, or mines. Torpedoes are self-propelled underwater projectiles that can track and destroy targets with explosives. Anti-submarine missiles are launched from underwater and fly in the air to deliver a torpedo or a depth charge near an enemy submarine. Anti-ship missiles are launched from underwater or on the surface and fly in the air to strike enemy surface ships with warheads. Mines are explosive devices that are laid on the seabed or suspended in the water to damage or sink passing ships or submarines.
- Vertical launch system (VLS): Some attack submarines have vertical launch tubes that can fire cruise missiles or ballistic missiles. Cruise missiles are low-flying guided missiles that can hit land or sea targets with precision. Ballistic missiles are high-flying rockets that can deliver nuclear or conventional warheads over long distances.
- Sonar: Sonar is a system that uses sound waves to detect, locate, classify, and track objects in the water. Attack submarines use both active and passive sonar. Active sonar emits sound pulses and listens for echoes from targets. Passive sonar listens for sounds emitted by targets or other sources. Sonar can be mounted on the hull, towed behind the submarine, or deployed as an array on the seabed.
- Periscope: Periscope is a