400 Years of Subs
Introduction | 1580-1861 | 1861-1900 |1900-1918
1939-1945 | 1945-1972 | 1972-2000
Development was underway on the next-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile, Trident, C-4, which had twice the range of the C-3. A C-4-equipped submarine could launch at the most logical targets in the Cold War world while sitting in New York harbor. The U.S. would no longer need to maintain overseas submarine bases in Scotland, Spain, and Guam, and the Navy closed those bases when the C-4 became operational. The C-4 missile first flew in January 1977.
The C-4 did pose some problems for the people who design submarines. Too large to fit in any extant sub design, Trident required a new, very large class of submarine: Ohio, 560 feet long, 42 feet wide, 16,674 tons.
USS Ohio, SSBN-726. The Navy has built 18 of this class, the first of which entered service in 1981.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency attempted to raise a Soviet Golf-class diesel-powered boat, K-129, which sank in 1968. The agency did so under cover of a deep-ocean mineral recovery effort using a ship built for the purpose, the Glomar Explorer. The submarine apparently broke apart and the stern half fell back to the bottom.
During the Falklands War, two British ASW carriers, more than a dozen other surface warships, five submarines (four of them nuclear), and even patrolling aircraft became occupied at certain times in protecting the force against two badly maintained, poorly manned Argentine submarines. One was a post-World War II Guppy and the other an eight-year-old German boat that, in the end, had nil effect upon the war.
Be not deceived by this comic-opera vignette, however. For the British, the submarine war was deadly serious. With two World War II-vintage torpedoes, the British submarine Conqueror sank the World War II-era Argentine cruiser Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix), killing 368 sailors.
Planning began for the next-generation American attack submarine: another Seawolf, SSN-21. The Navy adjusted the hull number (the next in the series would have been 774) to celebrate Seawolf as the "submarine of the 21st Century." It features the most sophisticated systems imaginable. Size: 353 feet long, 40-foot diameter, 8,000 tons. Top speed: probably in excess of 35 knots. According to one program manager, when underway at quiet speed, Seawolf would be as quiet as a Los Angeles boat sitting at the pier. Quiet speed may be in excess of 20 knots.
On October 6, a Soviet Yankee-Class nuclear-powered missile boat, K-291, sank in the Atlantic 680 miles northeast of Bermuda, from an explosion in a missile tube.
Soviet submarine Komsomolets sank in the Norwegian Sea. Most of the crew abandoned ship, but while waiting for rescue in the frigid waters, 34 of them died from hypothermia, heart failure, or drowning. This accident prompted the Russians to develop individual escape survival suits rated to a depth of 328 feet, and led the U.S. Navy to adopt the Mark 10 British-designed Submarine Escape Immersion Module. This provides individual full-body thermal protection and has been tested to 600 feet.
The USS Seawolf, SSN-21, on sea trials in 1996.
Seawolf joins the fleet.
In preparation for development of the next submarine class (Virginia), the U.S. Navy elected to create a one-fourth-scale, unmanned submarine to test new and emerging technologies before they are committed to full-scale ships. Designated the Large Scale Vehicle (LSV) 2 and named after a species of trout, Cutthroat, the 111-foot boat is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in the spring of 2001.
The U.S. Navy is testing Avenger, a 65-foot mini-submarine with a closed-cycle engine powered by diesel fuel and liquid oxygen. Intended for use by SEALs, the Navy's clandestine amphibious assault teams, Avenger can carry 18 troops and a crew of six.
The Russian missile attack submarine Kursk, K-141 sank while on maneuvers in the Barents Sea. Placed in service in 1995, the 510-foot Oscar II-class Kursk had a surface displacement of 14,700 tons and speed in excess of 30 knots. On August 12, the sound of at least two explosions reached the Norwegian Seismic Service and five other ships operating in the area, including two American and one British submarine shadowing the exercises. The cause of the accident remains unknown, although Kursk had radioed for permission to launch an exercise torpedo about an hour and a half earlier.
Kursk went down in about 350 feet of water with 118 men. Although the boat bore several escape systems, including individual escape-survival suits, none was used. Efforts to reach Kursk were hampered by bad weather. Eventually, during recovery of bodies, search teams determined that at least 23 sailors survived the initial explosion, only to perish later. Russia has contracted with several firms to help remove crew remains, and plans for raising Kursk are under discussion.
The ill-fated Russian missile attack submarine Kursk.
In this year of the 'official' 100th anniversary of the submarine (dating from the U.S. Navy purchase of the Holland in 1900), some 47 nations operate more than 700 submarines, almost 300 of them nuclear-powered. A host of countries, including the United States, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Japan, are pursuing new designs. In short, the submarine appears to be in the best of international health.
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© | Updated November 2000