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The world’s top nuclear submarines

8 August 2012




As India’s INS Arihat enters sea trials and the UK orders new reactors, nuclear submarines are entering a new era. Naval-technology.com profiles the world’s leading nuclear submarines.


Nuclear submarines are entering a new era

As India's first indigenously-developed submarine enters sea trials and the UK enters the first tentative steps towards the design and development of a new class, interest in nuclear submarines has once again stormed to the forefront.

Shaped by previous disasters, economic concerns and universally-accepted mandates such as the START II treaty, an increasing number of nations are equipping themselves with a submersible nuclear deterrent.

Having established itself as a leader in the nuclear submarine front, Russia is now making considerable progression in the development of its Borei-Class fleet, and the UK is already concerned with the long-term sustainment of its Trident programme, issuing contracts for the design of submarines that aren't expected to enter service until 2030-2040.

Details of China's nuclear submarine fleet, fuelled by rumour and inconsistent satellite imagery, remain sketchy, with a number of submarines alleged to be under construction and in development. India has become the latest nation to equip itself with nuclear submarine capability with the development of the INS Arihant.

Arihant Class

Prior to the vessel's commissioning, INS Arihant will undergo extensive sea trials for at least two years

Prior to the vessel's commissioning, INS Arihant will undergo extensive sea trials for at least two years


India's historic first nuclear-powered submarine, the indigenously-developed INS Arihant, was launched at the Indian Navy's dockyard in Visakhapatnam, home to India's Eastern Naval Command.

Constructed at a cost of $2.9bn, the submarine was jointly developed by the Indian Navy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), with assistance from Russian designers.

Five further submarines are planned, with the hulls for the second and third submarines alleged by the Indian Express to have already been constructed. Prior to the vessel's commissioning, INS Arihant will undergo extensive sea trials for at least two years.

Astute Class

UK Royal Navy's Astute Class submarine

Of the seven Astute Class submarines ordered, two have been completed with four in various stages of construction


The service life of the UK Royal Navy's Astute Class submarines, designed to replace the Swiftsure Class submarines launched between 1973 and 1977, began with the commissioning of HMS Astute in August 2010.

Of the seven Astute Class submarines ordered, two have been completed with four in various stages of construction.

HMS Ambush is expected to be commissioned by 2013, followed by HMS Artful and HMS Audacious in 2015 and 2018.

HMS Anson and HMS Agamemnon are expected to enter into service in 2020 and 2022 respectively. Although the seventh submarine, HMS Ajax, has been confirmed, no order date has been set.

Vanguard Class

The first of the Vanguard Class submarines, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned in 1993

HMS Vengeance set to become the last Astute Class submarine to enter the programme


Vanguard Class submarines became all-important for the UK Royal Navy following the decommissioning of RAF WE.177 free-fall nuclear bombs, as the vessels became the only remaining platform for the UK's nuclear weapons.

The first of the Vanguard Class submarines, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned in 1993, followed by HMS Victorious in 1995, HMS Vigilant in 1996 and HMS Vengeance in 1999.

The vessels have undergone a Long Overhaul Period and Refuel refit conducted by Babcock, with HMS Vengeance set to become the last Astute Class submarine to enter the programme following HMS Vigilant's completion in 2012.

Ohio Class

Commissioned between 1981 and 1997, the US Navy possesses 18 Ohio Class submarines

Commissioned between 1981 and 1997, the US Navy possesses 18 Ohio Class submarines


Commissioned between 1981 and 1997, the US Navy possesses 18 Ohio Class submarines split between the nation's Pacific and Atlantic fleets. Four of the 18 submarines have since become conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines following the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The treaty capped the number of strategic missile submarines at 14, after which Electric Boat contracted to complete the conversion of USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia.

As part of the conversion, the submarines have been refitted with up to 154 Tomahawk TLAM or Tactical Tomahawk missiles and will be capable of conducting special operations missions.

Virginia Class Attack Submarine

NSSN Virginia

Cost-saving measures have brought the cost per boat of Virginia-class submarines to approximately $2bn.


Designed to be a less expensive alternative to the Cold War-era Seawolf Class attack submarines, the Virginia Class submarines have been in service with the US Navy since 2004. Of the 30 that are planned to enter into service, nine are currently active with a further five under construction.

The US Navy opted to install a number of commercial-off-the-shelf components aboard the Virginia Class submarines which, coupled with improvements in manufacturing technologies, resulted in savings of approximately $1.8bn per submarine over the expensive Seawolf Class vessels.

Further cost savings have been found by constructing the vessels in four sections rather than 10, saving approximately $300m per vessel. The overall cost per submarine has subsequently fallen to $2bn per boat.

Barracuda Class

The six Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarines will replace the four Rubis submarines

The first submarine, named Suffren, is expected to be delivered in 2016 and commissioned in 2017


France's fleet of six Barracuda Class submarines has been designed to replace the nation's four Rubis submarines and two Amethyst Class submarines, with the fleet considered a key element of the Force Océanique Stratégique Navy Command.

Constructed at a unit cost of approximately €1.45bn, of the six planned vessels, two are currently under construction.

The first submarine, named Suffren, is expected to be delivered in 2016 and commissioned in 2017, with the remaining vessels to be delivered every two years through to 2026. The entire cost of the Barracuda programme has been estimated at €8.7bn.

Borei Class

The Borei Class is intended to replace the aging Delta III and Typhoon Class submarines

To date, just two Borei-Class submarines have been completed, with the Alexander Nevsky joining the Yury Dolgoruky in sea trials


Russia's first new-generation Borei Class submarine, the Yury Dolgoruky, is the first submarine launched by Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and will be deployed in the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy.

The fourth-generation vessels have been in development since 1996 and are intended to replace the Delta III and Typhoon Class submarines.

To date, just two Borei-Class submarines have been completed, with the Alexander Nevsky joining the Yury Dolgoruky in sea trials.

Two further submarines, the Vladimir Monomakh and the Knyaz Vladimir, are currently under construction, with a further six vessels planned.

A conceptual image of the INS Arihant.
Seven Astute Class submarines have been ordered, with two completed.
The first of the Vanguard Class submarines, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned in 1993.
An Ohio Class submarine undergoing a refit to conform with the START II treaty.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stands alongside the Yury Dolgoruky.