The United States military possesses many submarines. There are many different types of submarines, and each type is categorized into different classes. These U.S. submarine classes offer different abilities that help them to achieve different missions that allow the United States Navy to remain the world’s most dominant naval force.
U.S. submarines provide the United States with a competitive edge, and there are a lot of different types of U.S. Navy submarines that contribute to this mission. Each of them has its own unique abilities and place in history.
Calculating U.S. Submarine Classes: How Many Submarines Does the U.S. Have?
The U.S. reportedly has 71 submarines in its fleet as of December 2022. They include:
- Ballistic Missile Submarines
- Fast-Attack Submarines
- Cruise Missile Submarines
- Nuclear Submarines
Today, the U.S. Naval Submarine Force consists of 53 fast attack submarines, 14 ballistic missile submarines, and four guided missile submarines, all of which are nuclear-powered. Among these are many different types of submarines across four currently operational classes.
What Are the Types of Submarines That the U.S. Has?
The United States has had a lot of different types of submarines in its history divided into their own classes that essentially distinguish their abilities and effectiveness in different missions. Right now, there are only four submarine classes that are operational: Los Angeles, Seawolf, Ohio, and Virginia. These four aren’t the only ones that we’ve had in all of U.S. naval history, however.
Below, we’re covering four important submarine classes that have had an impact on our nation – both past and present. Check out these awesome U.S. Navy submarines that have helped and continue to help our naval forces dominate on the waters.
1. Barbel-Class Submarines
The first on this list are Barbel-class submarines. This class was the last diesel-electric-propelled attack submarine built by the United States Navy.
Barbel-class submarines included the first “teardrop-shaped” hulls, which were tested on the USS Albacore (AGSS-569). The special design of the hull was critical, as it allowed the submarine to increase its underwater speed while being much more maneuverable.
Another notable U.S. submarine of the class, the SS-581, launched in May 1959, and it was the last non-nuclear submarine to enter service in the United States Navy. She was “truly the last of her kind.” Serving until October 1990, the SS-581 was eventually decommissioned.
The USS Blueback also played an important role in U.S. naval history, as it participated in Pacific Fleet Operations in the Panama Canal. In September 1961, this U.S. Navy submarine set a record by traveling 5,340 miles from Yokosuka, Japan, to San Diego entirely underwater! It also earned two battle stars for its service and participation in the Vietnam War.
After the decommissioning of the USS Blueback, it was sent to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where it now lies. It serves as a maritime memorial and is an interactive part of the museum.
2. Ohio-Class Submarines
Ohio-class submarines are a unique group of guided missile submarines that provide the United States Navy with the ability to pursue special operations and strike down enemies from a stealthy position. This class of U.S. submarines primarily offers stealth to the Navy’s fleet of ships.
One of the notable submarines within the Ohio class of submarines is, unsurprisingly, the USS Ohio (SSGN-726). At the time of its creation, it was the largest submarine ever built by the United States Navy.
Constructed in Ohio, the huge U.S. submarine was launched on April 7, 1979. It was the fourth ship to be named after Ohio, and this submarine spearheaded many special operations.
USS Ohio wasn’t alone in her class, as she was later joined by other notable submarines: USS Michigan (SSGN 727), USS Florida (SSGN 728), and USS Georgia (SSGN 729). The combined power of the four SSGNs represents more than “half of the Submarine Force’s vertical launch payload capacity.”
This class of subs is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and 66 personnel.
With their extreme payload capacity, dual crew deployment concept, and incorporated stealth, the SSGN submarines bring a level of mission flexibility and enhanced capabilities that our adversaries can’t match. Overall, Ohio-class submarines are a key element in the Navy’s future fighting force.
3. Los Angeles-Class Submarines
The Los Angeles class of submarines offers tons of support to the Navy. These are nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines that serve as the backbone of our submarine force.
Twenty-six ships are currently still in commission, and 34 are now retired from service. Many of the Los Angeles-class submarines were built and launched between 1972 and 1996. The submarines that were built later were improved and would contain the 688i Standard, which is why the class is also sometimes called the 688 class.
The 688-capable subs were designed to move quieter than the ones that came before them. They were also able to carry more advanced sensors and weapons systems and operate below the polar ice cap. This is made possible by the fact that their stronger sails are capable of penetrating thick ice.
U.S. nuclear submarines in this class, such as the USS Augusta and the USS Cheyenne, were both equipped with the BQG-5D wide-aperture flank array, which allows the ships to receive information on their location, target depth, and range. This is useful in combat for ships to be able to detect one another in dark oceans.
Carrying an array of weapons, such as the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, the Los Angeles submarines are more lethal and can offer extra support in special tactical operations.
Los Angeles-class submarines were used in operations in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. However, regardless of their successful time in service, they are soon to be succeeded by the next line of submarines: Virginia-class submarines.
4. Virginia-Class Submarines
The Virginia-class submarines are designed to be even better than their predecessors.
The Virginia-class submarines are the new attack submarines that are capable of successfully executing advanced stealth missions. Each submarine is heavily armed, and each boat is equipped to carry up to 37 torpedo-sized weapons, such as the Tomahawk cruise missile.
The United States Navy wanted to have an upgrade from their Los Angeles fleet that was cost-effective and slightly smaller.
In February 2013, Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) Nuclear Operations won a contract with the U.S. Navy and started to assemble the nuclear propulsion components for the Virginia-class submarines.
This class will serve as the next generation of American nuclear submarines. As the Los Angeles-class submarines retire, the Virginia class will replace them as a more efficient counterpart.
So far, only 19 Virginia-class submarines have been commissioned, and the United States Navy will continue to produce more submarines as time passes.
In optimizing the design for the Virginia-class submarines, engineers made sure that the hull contained “structurally integrated enclosures,” which means that the new design will make it easier to have things installed, repaired, and upgraded for vital on-deck systems.
Additionally, the Virginia class will be able to move silently in deep waters, as the new design allows them to achieve a low acoustic signature. This is made possible by the class’s “newly designed anechoic coatings, isolated deck structures, and a new design of propeller.”
The weapons system is also much better than that of its predecessors, as the design allows the submarines to have a vertical launching system that can launch 16 Tomahawk cruise missiles in a single command.
This is a game changer, as it pushes the boundaries of the effectiveness of a submarine. The Virginia class will overcome the power of the different classes before it and secure our dominance for the next few decades.
What’s Next for United States Navy Submarines?
The United States Navy will never stop producing the best of the best in submarines, so there’s no telling what’s next for us. What we do know is that the existing U.S. submarine classes offer different things to the U.S. Navy. To explore all of them and their capabilities, click this link to check out a slideshow from Perch Base that shows their impressive specs.
Having different American submarines working together and bringing different attack and defense styles makes the nation and our allies safer. The United States Navy has a promising future ahead of them as the U.S. submarine classes continue to dominate the seas and serve as our underwater binoculars.