Living Underwater: How Submarines Work?

In all of World War Two, the world used abou 5 megatons of explosives. Now, this is a Trident II missile, capabl of carrying 12 nuclear warheads together equivalent in power to about 5 megatons of explosives. A single American Ohio Class submarine ca carry 24 Trident II missiles. A single submarine can carry a devastating catastrophic, inconceivable amount of firepower. While in reality due to arms reduction treatie and practicality these boats often carry far less than their maximum armament, submarine can still creep up anywhere, undetected, ready to unleash their firepower, more powerfu that the entire arsenal of some countries, in an instant. Submarines are different in purpose to som other elements of a navy.

While an aircraft carrier, for example, I intended to be big, foreboding, and noticeable as a means to display a nation’s power t the world, submarines are meant to to be unseen, undetected, an invisible, silent force tha could or could not be anywhere at any time. In a way, submarines almost serve a purpos of psychological warfare—an enemy can never know for sure whether a submarine is loomin off its shore. While dozens of countries operate submarines the most powerful and often largest of these boats are those capable of firing ballisti missiles carrying nuclear warheads. Only six nations are confirmed to have thes submarines—The US, UK, France, India, Russia, and China. In addition, analysts have found evidenc suggesting that North Korea and Israel also each have nuclear-missile capable submarines. Nowadays, there are essentially two differen types of military submarines with two different missions. The attack submarine, the more common kind is generally smaller and, in combat, attacks other close-range targets like ships usin torpedoes, shorter range missiles, and other armaments. The other, often larger type of submari are those ballistic missile submarines which essentially serve the purpose of being a mobile hidden launch platform for nuclear missiles The idea is that, as a stealth launch platform a country’s submarines would survive any nuclear first strike and therefore be abl to retaliate against an aggressor.

Ballistic missile submarines are therefor crucial to the idea of mutually assured destruction—if anyone attacks with nuclear weapons, assumin those attacked had nuclear weapons that woul survive a strike and they retaliated, bot the attacker and those attacked would be destroyed. Therefore, many consider these nuclear missil equipped submarines to actually be a form of nuclear deterrence—they say they reduc the likelihood of others using nukes since they assure their subsequent destruction. Considering that these submarines might surviv when a country and its government do not, they therefore need the independent authorit to use their missiles. While other operators likely have simila setups, it’s known that the UK’s four ballistic missile submarines each have a lette locked in a safe instructing their commander on what to do if the UK is wiped out by a nuclear strike. These letters are written by each prime ministe at the beginning of their term and destroyed, unread, at the end. Each PM essentially has to chose which o the four potential options they want to instruct the sub commanders to do—nothing, to plac themselves under the command of an ally like the US or Australia, for the commander t use their judgment, or to retaliate and launch nuclear missiles at the attacker. Of course, what gives submarines their stealt is the blanket of water.


American Ohio class submarines are publicly.

known to be able to go down as deep as 800 feet or 250 meters. In reality, it is believed they can go muc further. As soon as a sub surfaces, though, their stealt is lost especially in today’s era of satellite tracking. Therefore, it is important that submarine can stay underwater for long periods so that that can dive underwater on one side of th world and make their way to the other undetected. Of course, almost all of the world’s ballisti missile equipped submarines are nuclear powered meaning they have virtually unlimited range. These boat’s reactor cores only need t be swapped every few decades. In addition, most submarines have oxygen generator and desalinators so, like nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the only thing that reall limits how long they can stay deployed is their food supply. How it works on American nuclear subs, which work similarly to those of other countries, is that each boat has two fully staffed crew at any given time—the Blue and Gold crews.

The Blue crew will first man the boat whil on patrol which lasts, on average, 77 days. The different submarines different patrol are scheduled so that there are always submarines deployed. Despite this long patrol period, in the U Navy at least, submarines are actually known to have the best food of any vessel. Some say it’s because submarines are small—th chef has nowhere to hide if a meal is bad. It more likely has to do with the fact tha submarines get a higher food budget than other vessels. Food is important to morale especially considerin submarine duty is one of the Navy’s toughest jobs. Of course, fresh food can only last, at most two weeks, so the meal quality deteriorates as the weeks go by. Eventually, the only ingredients left ar canned, dried, or frozen. The sign of food quality deteriorating doe mean that the end of patrol is coming at which time the first crew, the Blue crew, woul take the boat back to either its home port or a allied overseas port. The Gold crew will then arrive and then bot crews will work to complete a turnover, restocking, and maintenance period of 25 days. Then, the Blue crew will fly home for vacatio and subsequent training before the cycle repeats again. Most crew members keep this cycle going fo years on end. Submariners even live their days in cycle as well. They work eight hours on then have sixtee off to train, conduct maintenance, work out, eat, and sleep. Now, to get a sense of the scale of the larges of these submarines, here’s a Boeing 747-400 and here’s an American Ohio-Class submarine. It is almost 2.5 times longer with a hul circumference far larger than the plane’s fuselage. But even this is not the world’s larges submarine. That title goes to slightly longer and fa wider Russian Typhoon-class submarine. These are so large that their amenities include a sauna and small pool. On American and most other submarines, th amenities are more lacking, though. It’s important that submariners have thing to do in their down-time considering they’ll spend three months without sunlight in a meta tube, but there just isn’t much space. The mess is really the only open space no devoted to work.


Submarines tend to have gym equipment but it’s not usually consolidated in one room—more often it’s just spread out in differen nooks and crannies. On large Ohio-class submarines, a submariner tiny bunk is their only true personal space. On smaller submarines, like the American Virginia-class the number of sailors exceeds the number of bunks so the most junior sailors will ha to share bunks—while one works the other sleeps and vice versa—and there’s no tru personal space. Compared to many surface Navy ships, which have phones, frequent mail deliveries, and even internet, communication to the outsid world is limited on submarines. Each submariner is given an email addres that their family can send messages to. When the submarine is able to receive communications all these messages are then sent electronically. Onboard, the messages are all reviewed b a dedicated crew member. They check through to be sure that no informatio is being sent that they don’t want known by the sailor. For example, they might choose to not pas on information of a family death in order to not affect crew morale. There’s often no way to get sailors off anyways, so many believe it’s better to leave that news for the end of the patrol. How submarines communicate, though, is complicate because they do, of course, spend months underwater. Almost all radio waves can’t travel throug salt water but submarines do need communications to receive orders. Very low frequency radio waves, though, d penetrate water to an extent. That’s why VLF radio forms the core of submarin communication systems. Different navies have large VLF transmitters—fo example, the US has ones in Maine, Washington, Hawaii, and elsewhere; India has one on it southern coast; and Australia has one in Western Australia. These VLF signals are able to penetrate th ocean and be picked up by a submarine as deep as 60 feet or 20 meters.

 One major disadvantage of VLF, though, I that it is very low bandwidth. It can’t even transmit real-time audio signals—th most it can do is about 700 words per minute in text. When deeper, some submarines also have th capability to launch buoys to shallower depths to receive signals. Submarines also typically can’t respon with VLF frequencies since they don’t have large enough transmitters so they have t raise to shallow depths so they can have antennas sticking out of the water to respond. It’s at this depth that modern submarine will often have quick transmissions with satellites in order to download and upload information. There are a few other techniques used les commonly, some new technologies under development, and some separate systems designed for us when the main systems are compromised, but VLF radio forms the bulk of communication with most submarines. But the fact that submarines spend their tim underwater in stealth also makes another crucial element difficult—navigation. Both GPS and Radar don’t work underwate since they use higher frequency waves that can’t make their way through any depth o water. What does work underwater is Sonar where th submarine essentially generates a sound and then listens to when and how the sound come back to map out its surroundings but emitting this sound makes it quite easy for other to track a submarine. Therefore, when operating in stealth conditions submarines can’t use active sonar. Rather, they use an inertial navigation system. These are essentially systems of accelerometers and gyroscopes that take the last-known accurate GPS position of a submarine and then track the submarines movements relative to that. It uses this to estimate position but of course as time goes on from the last reliable reading, the accuracy of this system diminishes.

 24 hours after the last reading, these wil drift to only about 1.15 miles or 1.85 kilometers of accuracy. Now, this technique combined with the consultatio of maps is usually fine since most of the time the ocean is a big, wide open space bu there are a few objects floating below the surface that submarines could collide with—submarines. Some modern submarines are so well cloake that another submarine just feet away might not be able to detect it. That’s what happened on the night of Februar 3rd, 2009 when the British Navy’s HMS Vanguard submarine felt a resounding bump while sailin in the East Atlantic ocean. It had collided with the French submarin Le Triomphant seemingly just by chance. Luckily they were going at low speed and ther were no injuries but, considering both these subs were both equipped with nuclear warheads one can only imagine the potential consequences of a more damaging collision. Submarines are dangerous—even in peacetime. They are designed to disappear so, after somethin does go wrong, they often do just disappear.

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