Nuclear-powered ships are faster and have greater endurance. Diesel-electric submarines have to charge their batteries at intervals, which risks being detected by an adversary and reducing their own ability to detect others. Ever since the USS Nautilus (SSN-57) set sail in 1954, nuclear power has been the defining characteristic of the U.S. UU.
The performance advantages of nuclear submarines over conventional diesel-electric submarines are considerable, yet force structure, procurement and fiscal sustainability have created challenges for total dependence on nuclear energy. Meanwhile, rapid strategic and technological changes, such as the shift to coastal conflict or the extreme stealth of independent air propulsion (AIP) submarines, have eroded nuclear advantage. The Navy would do well to consider increasing its current submarine strength with quiet, economical and highly capable diesel-electric submarines. The nuclear reactor on board a submarine allows it to operate at high speed for long periods of time with an unlimited range.
In comparison, diesel submarines run on electric batteries and can only remain submerged for a few days at low speed, or a few hours at maximum speed. Speed is an important tactical factor, as it determines maneuverability and the ability to rapidly change depth with flow over hydrofoils. Nuclear power provides attack submarines with a sustained submerged speed of more than 30 knots, considerably higher than any contemporary diesel submarine. 3 Superior speed, range, stealth and endurance make the nuclear submarine a very effective offensive weapon, capable of projecting power and taking the fight against the enemy.
However, for several reasons, the nuclear advantage is eroding. The high cost of nuclear technology means that relatively few nations have deployed nuclear submarines, making a nuclear fleet an important technological and economic statement. That's why the reasoning that nuclear power is cheaper, as taught to future submarine officers in the U.S. Naval Academy, it's not fiscally rational.
Such a high cost for a nuclear-powered fleet makes it impossible to keep up with nearby competitors in producing large quantities of capable submarines. Currently, Russia and China have a large number of incoming submarines, and the United States must keep up with its competing peers. The industrial base is at its peak in the construction of two Virginia-class rapid attack submarines per year. Previous plans even dropped as little as one per year with the start of the Columbia-class program.
Even with current talks to increase to three per year, the Navy anticipates a deficit of rapid-attack submarines that will span the years 2025 to 2041, as the Los Angeles class reaches the end of service. Allies play an important role in combating adversaries' underwater threats. In other areas of war, the United States uses its industrial power to trade, selling military equipment, from firearms to combat aircraft. However, when it comes to submarines, the United States does not export nuclear technology for safety reasons, and information about the program is classified at the top secret level.
However, these restrictions are removed with diesel submarines. In addition, the market for conventional submarines is strong, with many Asian nations seeking to establish and modernize their submarine fleets to curb Chinese aggression. The Bush administration, Taiwan were offered eight diesel submarines, but the deal languished when no foreigner or American. Shipbuilder was willing to build an independent class without also selling it to the U.S.
Navy, 9 With a domestic diesel program, the Navy would strengthen its forces, as well as those of its allies. While nuclear-powered submarines can maintain operational excellence and meet mission requirements, diesel technology is catching up. Today's diesel submarines are not those of the days of the USS Nautilus. They run much quieter on next-generation diesel engines with advanced batteries.
AIP technology has significantly improved the stealth performance of a new generation of submarines at a fraction of the cost of a nuclear-powered vessel. When powered by batteries, AIP-equipped submarines are almost silent, and the only noise comes from the shaft bearings, propeller, and flow around the hull. 10 Nuclear submarines require large reduction gears and a robust cooling system to maintain safe reactor operation. Noisy pumps circulate cooling water around the reactor core at all times, and then pump the same cooling water back to the ocean, leaving nuclear submarines with a much larger infrared heat signature.
Virginia-class innovations, such as fly-by-wire ship control to provide better ship handling in shallow waters and the delivery of special operations forces, echo this coastal approach. However, Virginia's nuclear propulsion system does not reflect the change to the coastal zone. Due to the need to cool the reactor, nuclear-powered submarines prefer to stay in deep and cold waters unless operating in a station. 12 On coastlines, such as the South China Sea, diesel submarines could be a versatile asset.
With naval bases in Okinawa, Singapore, Subic Bay and Guam, reach and resistance become less of a concern. For naval combat within the first island chain, fighting with a purely nuclear fleet is a waste of assets. Conventional submarines would be beneficial in coastal waters that would compensate for their limited operational resistance. In addition, not all submarine missions require nuclear power.
As the current strength increases, there are a wide variety of missions that diesel-electric submarines could accomplish without the need for the range or resistance of a nuclear submarine. Diesel submarines could be used for coastal defense and anti-submarine warfare, a particular need at a time when Russia boasts that it can approach the U.S. Diesel submarines could be launched into regional areas of concern in the event of a conflict in the South China Sea, the Korea Sea, the Black Sea, the baltic sea or the Sea of Japan. Diesel submarines operating from advanced bases would represent a very cost-effective and stealthy means of carrying out the Navy's sea control and denial missions.
If the Navy has no plans to return to diesel-electric technology in flagship submarines, there may be a return in the emergence of unmanned submarine vehicles (UUVs). Manned submarines must support the crew and act as multi-mission platforms; UUVs, on the other hand, can be built and optimized for very specific tasks, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or mine warfare. The submarine force is already integrating and deploying large diesel-electric UUVs; the Orca extra-large unmanned submarine vehicle from Boeing and Lockheed Martin is capable of operating completely independent of a ship or submarine, unlike smaller UUVs that require a manned ship to be nearby to serve as host, and may be limited by other factors. Nuclear submarines have proven to be one of the most effective platforms in the U.S.
UU. Since the launch of the Nautilus, but this does not mean that the Navy has to be restricted to one platform to fulfill numerous missions. Diesel submarines are highly capable platforms that could complement a nuclear-powered fleet to perform specific mission sets. They are cheaper, have less risk and could be produced faster, allowing the United States to grow the fleet quickly in the current time of need.
The nation should reevaluate its submarine strategy and employ a combination of nuclear and conventional submarines, which would give the Navy more submarines for less money and with a greater range of capabilities. Read 1 in 5 free Proceedings articles this month. Diesel-electric submarines are quieter when operating in electric mode, but at some point they must surface or lift a snorkel to run their diesel engines and recharge batteries. When diesel engines are running, these submarines are noisier than nuclear-powered submarines.
Nuclear submarines also generate noise from the reactor, including coolant pipes, turbines and steam generation. The biggest benefit of nuclear-powered submarines is that they can stay submerged and stay stealthier for much longer. Conventionally powered boats do not have the same range without being exposed to detection when surfacing. Nuclear-powered submarines can carry enough fuel for up to 30 years of operation and only need to return to port for maintenance and supplies.
The Soviet Union soon followed the United States in developing nuclear-powered submarines in the 1950s. BAE, which builds submarines for the Royal Navy at its Barrow-in-Furness site in Cumbria, north-west England, is in a prime position. Australia originally opted for diesel-electric submarines to replace its own fleet of conventionally powered Collins-class ships. Virginia-class submarines in the United States typically use highly enriched uranium (EMU) that does not need to be replaced during the life cycle of each submarine.
Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia does not have a domestic nuclear power industry, which could provide a highly skilled workforce of nuclear engineers and physicists. One of the advantages is that diesel-electric submarines tend to be smaller and can run quietly by turning off the diesel engine and relying on battery power. Nuclear submarines still tend to be larger than other models because they need more built-in anti-radiation layers, more distance between crew and reactor. The main difference between conventional submarines and nuclear submarines is the power generation system.
Diesel-electric submarines snorkel frequently to eliminate exhaust from the operation of their diesel generators and charge their batteries. With fewer moving parts than a diesel model, nuclear submarines are also famous for being quiet, perfect for stealth missions behind enemy lines. Being able to park a battery of nuclear missiles off the coast of its rivals to compete with great powers is not an exaggeration, but this does not mean that ships powered by diesel engines are useless, or even obsolete. Due to the need to cool the reactor, nuclear-powered submarines prefer to keep the water cold and deep unless they operate at the station.