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Submarine, any naval vessel that is capable of propelling itself

beneath the water as well as on the water’s surface. This is a unique

capability among warships, and submarines are quite different in design
and appearance from surface ships.
Submarines first became a major factor in naval warfare during
World War I (1914–18), when Germany employed them to destroy surface
merchant vessels. In such attacks submarines used their primary weapon,
a self-propelled underwater missile known as a torpedo. Submarines
played a similar role on a larger scale in World War II (1939–45), in both
the Atlantic (by Germany) and the Pacific (by the United States). In the
1960s the nuclear-powered submarine, capable of remaining underwater
for months at a time and of firing long-range nuclear missiles without
surfacing, became an important strategic weapon platform. Armed with
torpedoes as well as antiship and antisubmarine missiles, the nuclear
attack submarine has also become a key element of naval warfare.
In 1954, with the commissioning of USS Nautilus, nuclear power
became available. Since the nuclear reactor needed no oxygen at all, a
single power plant could now suffice for both surface and submerged
operation. Moreover, since a very small quantity of nuclear fuel (enriched
uranium) provided power over a very long period, a nuclear submarine
could operate completely submerged at high speed indefinitely.
This change was revolutionary. In the typical prenuclear submarine
attack, the submarine approached the target on the surface to avoid
draining the battery and submerged only just before coming within sight of
the target. The submerged approach had to be made at very low speed,
perhaps no more than two or three knots, again to avoid wasting battery
power. The submarine commander had to husband his battery charge until
after the attack, when he would have to use full underwater power (and a
speed of perhaps seven to 10 knots) to evade the counterattack. Even
then, a full battery charge would last only about one or two hours at top
speed. This necessity of conserving battery power, which forced diesel-
electric submarines to approach their targets as quietly and slowly as
possible, meant that they could not engage most fast surface warships,
such as aircraft carriers and battleships.
Nuclear submarines were in an altogether different class. Not only
could they evade freely (that is, at top speed for indefinite periods) after
attacking, they could also operate freely before attacking and keep up with
fast surface ships. This principle was illustrated by the only instance of a
nuclear submarine’s firing of a weapon in anger. During the Falkland
Islands conflict in 1982, a British nuclear submarine, HMS Conqueror,
followed the fast Argentine cruiser General Belgrano for more than 48
hours before closing in to sink it. That performance would have been
entirely beyond the capability of any prenuclear submarine. For the first
time, a submarine commander could maneuver freely underwater, without
worrying that he was exhausting his vessel’s batteries, and fast surface
warships were vulnerable to submarine attack.
Three major trends in nuclear attack submarine design emerged in
the great Cold War confrontation between NATO and the Soviet Union. As
exemplified in the submarine forces of the United States, Britain, and the
Soviet Union, these three trends were increased speed, increased diving
depth, and silencing.

Increased speed required increased power. Since the resistance a
submarine encounters is a function of its surface area, the ideal was to
achieve greater power without increasing the volume or weight of the
power plant and, therefore, the size of the submarine. A more powerful
(and therefore noisier) engine could be silenced, but only by increasing the
size of the submarine, which in turn would lower its speed. These complex
trade-offs were illustrated by the Sturgeon and Los Angeles submarines.
Reactor power approximately doubled between these two generations, but
overall size increased enormously, from about 3,600 to 6,000 tons
surfaced. The Soviets, meanwhile, achieved very high speed (about 40
knots, compared to slightly over 30 knots for fast Western submarines) in
their Alfa class, but probably at the cost of a great deal of noise at high
Speed was prized for several quite different reasons. At first, the U.S.
and Soviet navies developed fast submarines primarily as antiship
weapons. In the 1950s the Guppy-style hull design of USS Nautilus gave it
a submerged speed of over 20 knots, which was fast enough to evade
surface ships but not to counterattack them. To make up this deficit, U.S.
submarines then under design were altered by adapting nuclear power to
the tapered “tear-drop” hull of the experimental submarine Albacore. The
resulting Skipjack class, which entered service in 1959, came up with a top
speed in excess of 30 knots.
In a spectacular demonstration of the Soviets’ fast attack
capabilities, a Soviet nuclear submarine intercepted the nuclear aircraft
carrier USS Enterprise in February 1968. The submarine was not quite as
fast as the Enterprise, but it was fast enough to keep the carrier within
weapon range while the carrier accelerated to top speed.
With the commencement of the Soviet fast nuclear program, the U.S.
Navy shifted its emphasis to dual-purpose vessels capable of attacking
submarines as well as surface ships. High speed, as achieved in the 1970s
and ’80s by the Los Angeles class, was then required to keep up with the
fast surface targets that the Soviet submarines were expected to attack.
High sustained speed also made it possible for submarines to deploy more
efficiently to distant patrol stations. Although nuclear submarines’ fuel
supplies were effectively unlimited, they were limited in their capacity for
stores and could not expect to remain at sea for more than about 60 to 90
days. The more rapidly they could reach their patrol area, therefore, the
more productive time they could spend there.
As in the case of nonnuclear submarines, higher speed was also
valued for evasion after an attack. However, when that higher speed was
bought at the cost of louder operation, submarines became easier to
detect. Also, from the mid-1950s the main antisubmarine weapons were
homing torpedoes, which became significantly faster than the submarines
they sought, and nuclear depth bombs, which might be dropped
effectively anywhere in the vicinity of a submarine. In all of these cases,
sheer speed was no longer a guarantee of evasion, although it did make
attack more difficult.

Deeper diving was valued for several reasons. As in the past, it could
be combined with higher speed for better evasion. In addition, a deep-
diving submarine could make better use of its own sonar, partly because it
could operate in several quite different layers of the sea. This advantage
was reflected in a change in U.S. submarine sonars that began about
1960. Previous submarine units had been cylindrical, producing broad, fan-
shaped beams that could determine target range and bearing but not
target depth. The new sonars were spherical, producing narrow, pencil-
shaped beams that could distinguish between targets at different depths.
They could also make better use of sonar reflection off the sea bottom and
surface to achieve greater range.
Finally, greater maximum operating depth became particularly
important at high speed, when there was always a possibility that a
submarine would accidentally tip down and descend below a safe
operating depth before the downward motion could be corrected. It is no
surprise, then, that the greatest reported diving depth (about 2,800 feet)
was associated with the highest reported maximum speed (about 43
knots), in the Soviet Alfa class. (Diving depth of most other modern attack
submarines was reportedly between 1,000 and 1,500 feet.)
Greater depth required a stronger (and heavier) hull, and increased
power required a stronger power plant. Attempts to combine the two
required a larger hull (to provide enough buoyancy); that in turn added
underwater resistance, which cut the speed advantage gained from the
more powerful engine. This tension between different requirements
explains the characteristics of many modern submarines. For example, the
Los Angeles class was said to have sacrificed some diving depth in order to
achieve higher speed. In the Alfa class, weight was saved by adopting an
expensive titanium-alloy hull and a very compact power plant.

Until the late 1950s, submarines were usually detected by active
sonar; that is, by sound waves bounced off their hulls. Because these
sound waves could also be detected by the hunted submarine, they gave
it warning that it was in danger of attack. Also, because water can support
only so much sonar energy, active sonar was limited in range. Beginning in
the early 1950s, then, the U.S. and British navies began to investigate
passive sonar, in which sensors detected noises emanating from the
submarine itself. Early nuclear submarines were quite susceptible to such
detection because their machinery was very noisy. In particular, the pumps
required to circulate the coolant, which could not be turned off without
melting the reactor core, could be heard at a considerable distance.
Beginning at that time, silencing became a major thrust in
submarine design. The pumps of pressurized-water reactors were
redesigned to be quieter, and in many submarines the machinery was
carried clear of the hull on sound-absorbing mounts. All of this added to
the size and weight of the machinery and to the expense of construction;
it also added to the attraction of natural-circulation plants.
As a further step in silencing, hulls were coated with sound-absorbing
material. Even relatively simple coatings could drastically reduce the
effectiveness of homing torpedoes.
Although the majority of the world's submarines are military, there
are some civilian submarines, which are used for tourism, exploration, oil
and gas platform inspections, and pipeline surveys. Some are also used in
illegal activities.
The Submarine Voyage ride opened at Disneyland in 1959, but
although it ran under water it was not a true submarine, as it ran on tracks
and was open to the atmosphere.[41] The first tourist submarine was
Auguste Piccard, which went into service in 1964 at Expo64.[42] By 1997
there were 45 tourist submarines operating around the world.[43]
Submarines with a crush depth in the range of 400–500 feet (120–150 m)
are operated in several areas worldwide, typically with bottom depths
around 100 to 120 feet (30 to 37 m), with a carrying capacity of 50 to 100
In a typical operation a surface vessel carries passengers to an
offshore operating area and loads them into the submarine. The
submarine then visits underwater points of interest such as natural or
artificial reef structures. To surface safely without danger of collision the
location of the submarine is marked with an air release and movement to
the surface is coordinated by an observer in a support craft.
A recent development is the deployment of so-called narco
submarines by South American drug smugglers to evade law enforcement
detection.[44] Although they occasionally deploy true submarines, most
are self-propelled semi-submersibles, where a portion of the craft remains
above water at all times. In September 2011, Colombian authorities seized
a 16-meter-long submersible that could hold a crew of 5, costing about $2
million. The vessel belonged to FARC rebels and had the capacity to carry
at least 7 tonnes of drugs.[45]