Development Of The Submarine

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Development of the SubmarineThroughout history, navies have made significant impacts in the technologicaldevelopment of human kind. These impacts range from improvements in metaltechnologies made while perfecting the cannon to the advent of cybernetics, which allowed more precise targeting of weaponry. One of the more sophisticateddevelopments in naval history has been the invention of the submarine. Thesubmarine was born in 1620 as a leather-covered rowboat built by CorneliusDrebbel. After Robert Fulton came up with a more modern prototype in 1800, themilitary advantages of a nearly invisible warship were quickly divined.

However, they remained unrealized for quite a while. Although Fulton probably foresawthat his invention would be used for war, he hardly could have envisioned itlaunching projectiles with the capability to level entire countries. However, after a series of innovations in nuclear missile and submarine designs, thesubmarine-launched ballistic missile has become an integral part of our navalweapons arsenal. To understand the need for the development of nuclear missile submarines, there is a need to examine the political climate of the world in the era afterWorld War II. The realignment of the superpowers after the war resulted in aunique situation

The two major naval powers of the day, Great Britain and theUnited States, were now allied against the greatest land power in history in theSoviet Union. In the period from 1955 to 1965, the advantage was heavily infavor of the U. S. As the United States had developed the atomic and hydrogenbombs first, they obviously gained a head start which developed into a decisivenuclear advantage. This advantage acted as an effective deterrent to any Sovietmovement into Western Europe. However, as the Soviet nuclear arsenal expanded(mostly during the Kennedy administration), it became necessary to effect abalance in the area of conventional warfare or to make more inroads in nuclearweapons development. Before this could be accomplished, however, advancements insubmarine technology had to made as well.

The submarines of World War II, although effective in their roles, wererather primitive. A noisy, slow, shallow-diving sub would hardly be a capablemissile submarine as it could be easily detected and destroyed. Even so, beforethe end of the war, there were intelligence reports in America that the GermanNavy had developed a U-boat capable of towing or carrying V-2 rockets to launchsites near the U. S. east coast. Although these reports turned out to be false, the Germans had been developing a type of submersible barge to tow V-2s.

Thisscare prompted the American development of ballistic missile submarines. Experiments in submarine design had concentrated mainly on improving thequality of power plants (usually diesel or electric engines), achieving bettermaneuverability through new hull designs, and developing quieter propulsionsystems that achieved better top speeds. A nuclear reactor power plant wouldmeet all of these objectives, but the development of a nuclear-powered submarinewas not without obstacles. As the U. S. and the Soviet Union expanded their land-based nuclear arsenals, the weapons-grade uranium needed for missiles wasbecoming quite scarce. In America, the Air Force actually fought against usingnuclear material for Naval submarine reactors, as it would cut into theproduction of the nuclear missiles that they controlled.

After the USSR leveledthe playing field by expanding its number of missiles, however, the nuclearsubmarine desperately needed to be built to tip the balance of power backtowards the West. In 1955, the most advanced submarine in terms of these nucleardevelopments was the USS Nautilus. With excellent maneuvering facilitated by herAlbacore hull design, the Nautilus had virtually unlimited range thanks to hernuclear power plant. In fact, the Nautilus became the first submarine tonavigate under the polar ice cap in 1958. It could be said that the range of anuclear submarine was now only constrained by the physical limits of her crew. In 1960, the USS Triton, a larger version of the Nautilus, circumnavigated theearth, becoming the first ship to accomplish this feat underwater. Like the submarine, the missiles that would eventually be launched fromtheir hulls underwent a similar development history.

The first submarinemissiles were simple cruise missiles mounted on the hull. These missiles, likethe Loon and the Chance-Vought Regulus, were really nothing more than convertedV-1 buzz bombs. Friedman calls these projectiles 'the direct predecessors of thecurrent fleet ballistic missiles.' The only problem with these missiles wastheir nearly complete lack of guidance systems. V-1 rockets, and the improvedLoon and Regulus missiles, were terminal guidance rockets. The V-1 had aCircular Error Probable (CEP) rating of eight nautical miles.

When the rocketreached the area of its target, its engine would be shut off by a timer. Thehigh CEP meant that the missile could detonate anywhere in an eight mile circlearound the target. Obviously, this kind of accuracy was unacceptable. With theLoon and the Regulus, this problem was combated by placing a second guidancesource on another submarine closer to the intended target. The Loon missile hada device which would allow the second submarine to blow off the missile's wingsand tail and cause it to fall 'in a more predictable trajectory.. lowering CEP tohalf a mile.' The Regulus bettered this with the addition of steeringcomponents for the terminal guidance submarine. As these missiles became moresuccessful, a vigorous development program was planned by the U. S. Navy. However, the invention of the Polaris missile precluded this.

With the development of the hydrogen bomb, the U. S. and othersuperpowers had a weapon with 1000 times the power of the bombs dropped atHiroshima and Nagasaki. However, the size of these missiles made them availablefor use only on B-36 or B-52 bombers. The Polaris missile changed this. TheAmerican Polaris class missile submarines, first launched in 1960, incorporatedthe new, smaller missile design. The first of these subs to launch a ballisticmissile was fittingly called the George Washington, but it was her sister ship, the Ethan Allen, that was the first submarine to launch a nuclear missile with alive warhead in 1962.

With nuclear missiles now a fixture in the United States Navy, laterdevelopments focused on making them lighter and more powerful. The Poseidonmissile, first launched in 1968, accomplished these goals. A two-stage rocketwith many more multi-impact reentry vehicles (MIRVs) than its predecessor, thePoseidon also had a feature that made the U. S. rush it into active service. Specifically, fleet submarines of the now outdated Polaris class could launchthe Poseidon from their Polaris tubes with minimal modifications. In the quest to develop even better submarine-launched missiles, thenext installment was the Trident missile.

The Trident is a larger missile thanboth the Polaris and Poseidon and it is also several times more powerful. Perhaps the most important innovation on the Trident missile is its guidancesystem. The Polaris and Poseidon, while quite powerful, required heavy hardwarepackages to guide their MIRVs to various targets. The new Trident guidancepackage is much lighter. The system has the ability to sight on a star whiletracking towards the target, which gives the Trident two advantages over thePoseidon. First, the missile meets its predecessor's accuracy objectives whileachieving a greater range. Second, the lesser weight of the Trident guidancepackage allows for more powerful warheads. The Trident I missile carries eight100 kiloton MIRVs, and its newer relative, the Trident II carries eight 475kiloton warheads.

Obviously, these missiles are some of the most powerful inservice with the United States military at this time. The Trident missile is most commonly used aboard the Ohio classsubmarines of the U. S. Navy. This massive boat bears very little resemblance tothe first Nautilus designed by Fulton. As large as a World War I battleship, theOhio class submarines carry 24 Trident missiles. On top of this firepower, theOhio is one of the quietest submarines in the oceans with its nuclear powerplant.

As of the early 1990s, the United States had 32 fleet ballistic missilesubmarines in service with seven more being built or converted. These numbersinclude both the Ohio class Trident submarines as well as older classes equippedwith the Poseidon missile. Even with the massive destructive capability of the submarines discussedhere, further developments are being tested even now. Specifically, the newSeawolf class submarine is the latest United States offering, though it has madeslow progress due to budget cuts. It remains to be seen if the future holds aneven more powerful submarine launched ballistic missile. Also, it is impossibleto tell which nation will be the first to develop it.

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