The nuclear cruise/ballistic missile submarine in the East

The way followed by the Soviet Union towards the possession of a fleet of strategic ballistic submarines was different to that followed by western nations, for in a first moment were built submarines of conventional propulsion, armed with a few missiles whose launchers where emplaced in the conning tower. The first of these SSB (Submarine Service Ballistic) carried only two missiles SS-N-4 which had to be launched while in surface. The first class of Soviet SSBN entered service in 1961; however the missiles carried were six as much and they were still emplaced in the conning tower.

In another order of things, during the 1950s the Soviets developed some cruise missiles, one of which, the SS-N-3, was destined to be used onboard submarines. This missile had a range of about 740 kilometers and could be fitted with a nuclear warhead. The first submarines that were designed from scratch to operate with the SS-N-3 were those of the Echo I class, built between 1958 and 1962. The following Echo II class had a somewhat longer hull to accommodate eight missiles instead of the six found in the Echo I.

The problem was that these submarines had to emerge to launch the missile, which required mid-course guidance, bringing great vulnerability to the submarine. Another weakness of the project was the profusion of cavities in the hull, which made these submarines to be noisy and hence easily detectable. All of these problems were rectified in the following class of cruise missile submarines, the Charlie I. With a much "cleaner" hull they achieved a high speed of 30 knots while submerged, instead of the 20 knots of the Echo class, and with a much lesser acoustic signature. The missile SS-N-7 adopted for these submarines did not require mid-course guidance and could be launched while in immersion, but it was limited by its very short range: up to 65 kilometers.

Soviet missile submarines Echo II, Yankee and Charlie I
The Yankee class, formed by 33 vessels, entered service from 1968 and it represented the first Soviet SSBN comparable to western counterparts. The sixteen launchers, which stored the missiles SS-N-6 in the first group (Yankee I) and SS-N-17 in the second group (Yankee II), were emplaced in the hull with a low superstructure behind the conning tower. The Yankee class was built until 1974 and during the 1980s it was seen that these ballistic submarines were being converted to the new class Yankee Notch, able to threaten Europe or North America with its nuclear cruise missiles of 3000 kilometers in range.

Yankee Notch class nuclear cruise missile submarine
The Yankee class was followed by the Delta class, which was built in four variants for a total of about 40 units. The launchers, twelve in the first group and sixteen in the others, were allocated similarly as in the previous class but in a bulkier superestructure fitted with an anechoic cover. The missiles carried comprise the SS-N-8 used by the first models, the SS-N-18 and the SS-N-23 used in the fourth group. These submarines have as well four 533-millimeter torpedo tubes capable of launching cruise missiles SS-N-15.

The propulsion system comprises two reactors, two steam turbines and two shafts, and two emergency engines in the goups II, III and IV. The utilization of twin shafts has been a characteristic of Soviet designs, while in western ones a single shaft has been usual. The first vessel of the class was commissioned in 1972 and the last one in 1992. As 2016, only the vessels of the fourth group remain in active service and, perhaps, a few of the third group.

Delta IV class nuclear ballistic missile submarine
The submarines of the Typhoon class are the largest ones ever built. They are marginally longer than those of the Ohio class, but about 80 percent wider and 50 percent heavier. They were built with multiple pressure hulls, which simplifies internal design but makes the vessel much wider than a normal submarine. Two long pressure hulls run parallely along the external hull, and a third smaller pressure hull is placed above them and protrudes from the main body, being the conning tower emplaced atop it. Other two secondary pressure hulls house the torpedo room and the steering gear. This internal subdivision should increase survivability greatly for the 150 crewmen onboard. The propulsion plant is of duplex type, with one reactor, turbine and shaft in each of the main pressure hulls, developing a total outuput of 80000 horsepower and a speed of 25 knots while in immersion.

Typhoon class nuclear ballistic missile submarine
Also unusual is the placement of the armament; twenty launchers housing missiles SS-N-20 are located in front of the conning tower. These missiles have between six and nine warheads MIRV and a range of 8300 kilometers. There is also a battery of six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes capable of launching cruise missiles SS-N-15 or laying mines. Very rounded shapes, reinforced rudders and retractable hydrofoils would allow these submarines to emerge without problems through ice floes of up to three meters in thickness. The first of the six Typhoon completed entered service in 1981 and the last one in 1989. The first unit built remains in service as 2016, serving as test platform for the new missile SS-N-32, while other two are in the reserve and the rest were scrapped.

Typhoon class nuclear ballistic missile submarine
The Typhoon class represents the pinnacle of the Soviet submarine weapon, something that had never been seen and probably would never be seen again. The following graphics correspond to the order of things in 1989, at the end of the Cold War, regarding the SSBN and SLBM in service then with the two superpowers. Since then not so many things as one could expect have changed in this field of military inventive, because of the tighter defense budgets of the last decades and the general decadence of public economies that has softened the arms race.

Soviet and American SSBN
Soviet and American SLBM
Currently the most modern Russian class of submarines is the Borey, whose dimensions and appearance resemble, to a degree, those of the Ohio class. These submarines, of which three have been completed as 2016, are fitted with a single reactor, turbine and propeller. The sixteen or twenty missile launchers (in Borey II class), which house missiles SS-N-32, have been returned to their usual emplacement behind the conning turret. There are also six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes capable of launching cruise missiles SS-N-15.

As we can see, these new submarines are as powerfully armed as those of the Typhoon class, and they are able to reach higher speeds (of up to 30 knots while in immersion) thanks to their slender hull. The complement is only 107, which reflects a policy on cutting expenses. This intention is reflected as well in the general simplicity of the design in respect of the ambitious Typhoon class, fitted with duplex propulsion plant and multiple pressure hulls. The first unit started to be built in November 1996 but budget constraints delayed her completion until 2007.

On the other hand, in October 1982 the People's Republic of China launched for the first time a SLBM from a submerged submarine. The test was a success. The missile, which specialized press described as similar to an early Polaris, effectuated a travel of 1600 kilometers. It was an expected event, for it was known since some years ago that China had a submarine fitted with three missile launchers, whose obvious purpose was to experiment with SLBM. This way China became the fifth country in the selected club of nuclear deterrence, after United States, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and France, in that very order.

The first SSBN deployed by China, armed with twelve missiles JL-1A, was commissioned in 1987. She was a very conventional design with nuclear propulsion, a single propeller and missile launchers placed after a very forward conning tower. To this vessel followed other four SSBN of similar design but somewhat larger, with a length of 135 meters and a maximum displacement of 11000 tonnes, armed with twelve missiles JL-2, which however began to enter service twenty years later. As 2016 these seem to be the only active SSBN in the Chinese Navy, but another four units are in project. There are also rumors of a new and much more powerful class armed with 24 missiles, but currently any news are just speculation.

Finally, during the most recent years a new candidate for the fearsome Group of Five has appeared, being this one India. As 2016 only one of the three SSBN projected by this country has been completed and she could enter service this very year. She is a vessel of 112 meters in length with a standard displacement of 6000 tonnes, fitted with four missile launchers which can house either twelve missiles K-15, with a range of 750 kilometers, or four missiles K-4, with a range of 3500 kilometers. There is also a battery of six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes capable of firing cruise missiles or laying mines. These first Indian SSBN are based in the Akula class of Russian attack submarines.

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