Submarines became popular in naval warfare during the World War period. Steam-powered submarines were used for combat in the famous American Revolution and the War of 1812 between the US and Britain.
The earliest submarines were manually operated and extremely slow until the first nuclear-driven USS Nautilus was launched in 1955. Since then, these became the deadliest attack ships, reaching 25 to 35 knots.
Today, submarines are an essential part of any country’s naval fleet. They act as a nuclear deterrent for surveillance operations and territorial waters patrol. The top 10 submarines in the world are listed below, ranked according to their lengths.
1. Typhoon Class Russia/ Project 941 Akula Class
These nuclear giants were built by Soviet Russia in the 1960s and 70s to face the US and its allies in the ongoing Cold War. Larger than three football fields combined, they were laden with extraordinary features such as swimming pools, saunas and golf courses. Typhoon class submarines measured 566 feet lengthwise 76 m breadthwise and reached a height of 38 m with a displacement of over 48,000 tonnes.
They were decked with 20 huge R-39 ‘Rif’ intercontinental ballistic missiles, also popularly known as SS-N-20 Sturgeon. These powerful weapons were 53 feet long and 8 feet wide. Designated as the biggest submarines ever built, they were also loaded with RSM-52 missiles and an efficient magneto hydrostatic drive system for launching a silent yet powerful attack on their enemies.
They had a multihull design and nineteen compartments with a separate control room close to the missile launch equipment. They were designed at the Severodvinsk shipyard for crossing the icy waters of the Arctic. Hence, they had an ice-breaking mechanism, a strong, stern fin and a retractable system. These war machines sailed at a surface speed of 12 knots and had a maximum speed of 25 knots underwater.
Dmitry Donskoy, or TK-208, was the first submarine of the typhoon class that entered service in the early 1980s. Today, the only submarine remains functional, as the other five were removed from service. Donskoy has become a laboratory and testing ground for the latest marine technologies and Russian missiles.
2. Borei-Class Russia/ Project 955 Borei
The fourth-generation Borei was the first class of submarines constructed by Russia since the end of the Soviet Regime. They were meant to replace the old Delta III, IV and typhoon class submarines and serve the Russian Naval forces.
Designed by the Rubin Marine Equipment Bureau, they were fitted in the Sevmash Shipyard. The first ballistic missile submarine of this class was the Yury Dolgoruky, which was launched in 2008. Eight submarines with different hull designs were constructed as part of this program.
However, these are smaller in size and volume than the Typhoon class as they have a 24,000-tonne displacement and a 107-member crew capacity. Borei-class submarines are 170 m long and 13 m wide, with a submerged speed of 25 knots.
They are propelled by an OK-650 nuclear reactor, an advanced hull for reducing noise and an AEU steam turbine. Interestingly, these are the first-ever Russian submarines to use pump-jet propulsion technology. They can carry 16 Bulava-SLBM missiles and 6 SS-N-15 missiles.
3. Ohio-Class, United States
The third biggest in the world, the Ohio class submarines were commissioned for the US Navy between 1977 and 1998. Each Ohio-class submarine has 24 Trident II missiles, ranging from about 12,000 kilometres. Hence, they have more missile-carrying capacity than the Russian Typhoon and Borei class submarines. They have a displacement of 18,750 tonnes, four decks, space for accommodating 90 crew members, a Lockheed Martin sonar processing system, a pressure water reactor and two turbines.
All eighteen submarines have eight launchers, four 533 millimetre torpedo tubes and an mk118 digital fire control system. They are endowed with more than 50% of the thermo-nuclear weapons owned by the US. The torpedo range is up to fifty kilometres with a depth of 3000 feet.
These nuclear-powered vessels have a lifespan of 40 years and will be replaced by the newly developed Columbia class by the end of this decade.
4. Delta Class, Russia
The Delta Class comprises a series of ballistic missile submarines that formed the cornerstone of the Russian submarine fleet in the 1970s. It consisted of four sub-classes, namely Delta I, II, III and IV, which were 167 m long and 12.5 m wide.
The Delta I submarines carried 12 missiles and patrolled the Norwegian and Barents Sea. They were fitted with the Tobol-B and a cyclone-B navigation system to enhance their accuracy. Around 18 class submarines were constructed under the project name 667B Murena. However, all vessels of this class were decommissioned by 1998 and scrapped by 2005.
The Delta II was a refined version of the aforementioned submarine class. It was lengthened by 16 m, carried 16 missiles, and had a noise cancellation system and four additional missile launchers. All four Delta II submarines were decommissioned by 1999.
Delta III submarines were double-hulled and capable of striking different targets within a range of 7000 to 8000 kilometres. The Delta IV submarines built between 1981 and 1993 are still operational and are part of the Russian northern fleet. Their decks have an acoustic coating and a D-9RM launch system.
5. Oscar Class Russia/ Project 949 A Antey
Project 949 A Antey belongs to the Oscar class of cruise missile submarines that also constitute Project 949 Granit. They are part of the Russian northern fleet undergoing modernisation to increase their lifespan.
11 such submarines were built at Severodvinsk, measuring 154 metres lengthwise and 18 metres breadthwise, for accommodating advanced electronics systems and a noise cancellation system. It has a larger fin and seven-blade propellers than its predecessors.
They contain a double hull and a secret emergency escape capsule accommodating 100 people. A distinguishing feature of this submarine is a bulge at its top fin. 949 A Antey submarines are equipped with 24 SS-N-19 missiles with a range of 600 kilometres. They contain ten compartments that can be separated from each other in case of accidents. With a displacement of 24,000 tonnes, these vessels have an underwater cruising speed of about 30 knots.
6. Vanguard Class, UK
The Vanguard class contains four ballistic missile submarines built for the British Navy as part of the 1994 Trident nuclear program. These vessels were constructed between 1985 and 1999 by the company Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering. Their homeport is Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, just forty kilometres from Glasgow, Scotland.
Each vessel can carry 192 warheads, containing 16 missile tubes and Trident II D5 nuclear missiles with a target range of 5000 miles. It has the finest sonar system that can detect ships over fifty miles away. However, the Dreadnought class would take over the Vanguard in the 2030s.
They have four torpedo tubes and are equipped with 16 spearfish torpedoes with a target range of up to 65 kilometres. It has three periscopes decked with thermal imaging cameras along with normal optics technology and a submarine command system specially developed for this class of submarines.
It is powered by a Rolls-Royce PWR 2 pressurised water reactor that propels its two steam turbines connected to a pump jet propulsion system.
They are 150 metres long with a displacement of more than 16,000 tonnes and a submerged speed of 25 knots. Vanguard-class submarines can carry 149 crew members and are the largest submarines manufactured in Britain.
7. Yasen/Graney Class, Russia
The Yasen, also known as the Graney class of submarines, were designed by the Malakhit Marine Engineering Bureau and constructed by Sevmash, the biggest shipbuilder in Russia. The first vessel of this class, the Severodvinsk, began operations in 2013. Two others, namely Kazan and Novosibirsk entered service in 2021. These newest class of cruise missile submarines are based on earlier designs, such as the Akula and Alfa class, but have superior combat abilities.
Five vessels of the Yasen class are under construction and will be launched by 2029. It is said that these vessels have cruise missiles for launching land attacks. Each Yasen submarine can carry 32 cruise missiles kept in ten launch pads. The first Russian submarines to contain spherical sonar are 140 m long and have a displacement of 14,000 tonnes.
Yasen class submarines have a single hull made of steel and automation systems, eliminating the need for manual control. A specially designed security system checks the proper functioning of all core devices.
The vessels have enough space for 80 people and are propelled by a fourth-generation nuclear reactor. It has a 30-year lifespan without any need for refuelling. Lastly, these vessels have a noise reduction system driven by a KTP-6 reactor. Each submarine has an estimated construction cost of over one billion US dollars.
8. Triomphant Class, France
After the six Le Redoutable class submarines were decommissioned in the 1990s, the first Triomphant class submarine was launched in 1997. Four vessels that are currently an active part of the French naval fleet were built. With their homeport in Ile Lounge, Western Brittany, these vessels are 138 metres long, 12.5 m broad and have a displacement of 14,335 tonnes. They have an underwater speed of 25 knots and an average surface speed of 17 knots. These vessels can remain submerged for nine weeks.
The first three vessels of this class are endowed with 16 M45 ballistic missiles and a TN-71 thermonuclear warhead with five MIRVs having a range of over 8000 kilometres. The fourth submarine called the Le Terrible, began operations in 2010 and contains the advanced M51 missile type, possessing a wider targeting range.
As per reports, this class will be gradually replaced by the third generation of high-tech submarines by 2035. The sonar system for the upcoming class of submarines is being designed by the native company Thales.
9. Sierra Class, Russia
The Sierra class comprises four attack submarines constructed under Project 945 Barrakuda and Project 945 A Kondor. Built during the Cold War period, they were refurbished in the 1990s and were known for their lightweight titanium hull, which allowed the vessels to attain a maximum speed of 35 knots. Equipped with better weapons, they were 112 metres long and displaced 10,500 tonnes.
Driven by an OK-650 water reactor, they could reach greater underwater depths than their American counterparts. Sierra Class I vessels had six tubes for launching 40 torpedoes and anti-submarine missiles. The Sierra Class II contained double the number of tubes, along with a fully mechanised reloading system.
However, they were difficult to construct and quite costly. The MGK-500 Shark Gill sonar was their only weak point as though it was still new in Russia, more accurate sonars were fitted in American submarines of the time.
10. Akula Class, Russia
Ten submarines of the Akula class were launched by Russia in 1986. These attack submarines are double-hulled, offering greater buoyancy than other western subs. They have a unique wake detection system for catching temperature changes. The attack ships can use Type 53 and Type 65 torpedos and are armed with four launch pads on each side. Measuring 110 metres, they have an underwater displacement of 13,700 tonnes.
They are quieter than other soviet submarines and contain a secret rescue chamber capable of accommodating 90 people. While nine vessels are a part of the Russian Northern and Pacific fleet, one submarine, the INS Chakra, was leased to India in 2012. Although the Akula submarines can carry 28 cruise missiles with a 3000-kilometre striking range, INS Chakra only has a target range of 300 kilometres. This is because bigger missiles cannot be exported as Russia is a signatory of the MTCR Treaty.
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Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.