Development of the Submarine

Throughout history, navies have made significant impacts in the technological
development of human kind. These impacts range from improvements in metal
technologies made while perfecting the cannon to the advent of cybernetics,
which allowed more precise targeting of weaponry. One of the more sophisticated
developments in naval history has been the invention of the submarine. The
submarine was born in 1620 as a leather-covered rowboat built by Cornelius
Drebbel. After Robert Fulton came up with a more modern prototype in 1800, the
military advantages of a nearly invisible warship were quickly divined. However,
they remained unrealized for quite a while. Although Fulton probably foresaw
that his invention would be used for war, he hardly could have envisioned it
launching projectiles with the capability to level entire countries. However,
after a series of innovations in nuclear missile and submarine designs, the
submarine-launched ballistic missile has become an integral part of our naval
weapons arsenal.
To understand the need for the development of nuclear missile submarines,
there is a need to examine the political climate of the world in the era after
World War II. The realignment of the superpowers after the war resulted in a
unique situation. The two major naval powers of the day, Great Britain and the
United States, were now allied against the greatest land power in history in the
Soviet Union. In the period from 1955 to 1965, the advantage was heavily in
favor of the U.S. As the United States had developed the atomic and hydrogen
bombs first, they obviously gained a head start which developed into a decisive
nuclear advantage. This advantage acted as an effective deterrent to any Soviet
movement into Western Europe. However, as the Soviet nuclear arsenal expanded
(mostly during the Kennedy administration), it became necessary to effect a
balance in the area of conventional warfare or to make more inroads in nuclear
weapons development. Before this could be accomplished, however, advancements in
submarine technology had to made as well.
The submarines of World War II, although effective in their roles, were
rather primitive. A noisy, slow, shallow-diving sub would hardly be a capable
missile submarine as it could be easily detected and destroyed. Even so, before
the end of the war, there were intelligence reports in America that the German
Navy had developed a U-boat capable of towing or carrying V-2 rockets to launch
sites near the U.S. east coast. Although these reports turned out to be false,
the Germans had been developing a type of submersible barge to tow V-2s. This
scare prompted the American development of ballistic missile submarines.
Experiments in submarine design had concentrated mainly on improving the
quality of power plants (usually diesel or electric engines), achieving better
maneuverability through new hull designs, and developing quieter propulsion
systems that achieved better top speeds. A nuclear reactor power plant would
meet all of these objectives, but the development of a nuclear-powered submarine
was not without obstacles. As the U.S. and the Soviet Union expanded their land-
based nuclear arsenals, the weapons-grade uranium needed for missiles was
becoming quite scarce. In America, the Air Force actually fought against using
nuclear material for Naval submarine reactors, as it would cut into the
production of the nuclear missiles that they controlled. After the USSR leveled
the playing field by expanding its number of missiles, however, the nuclear
submarine desperately needed to be built to tip the balance of power back
towards the West. In 1955, the most advanced submarine in terms of these nuclear
developments was the USS Nautilus. With excellent maneuvering facilitated by her
Albacore hull design, the Nautilus had virtually unlimited range thanks to her
nuclear power plant. In fact, the Nautilus became the first submarine to
navigate under the polar ice cap in 1958. It could be said that the range of a
nuclear submarine was now only constrained by the physical limits of her crew.
In 1960, the USS Triton, a larger version of the Nautilus, circumnavigated the
earth, becoming the first ship to accomplish this feat underwater.
Like the submarine, the missiles that would eventually be launched from
their hulls underwent a similar development history. The first submarine
missiles were simple cruise missiles mounted on the hull. These missiles, like
the Loon and the Chance-Vought Regulus, were really nothing more than converted
V-1 buzz bombs. Friedman calls these projectiles "the direct predecessors of the
current fleet ballistic missiles." The only problem with these missiles was
their nearly complete lack of guidance systems. V-1 rockets, and the improved
Loon and Regulus missiles, were terminal guidance rockets. The V-1 had a
Circular Error Probable (CEP) rating of eight nautical miles. When the rocket
reached the area of its target, its engine would be shut off by a timer. The
high CEP meant that