5 Reasons Submarines Are Critical to Protecting Our Nation

A partially submerged submarine with workers standing on top and a helicopter flying overhead.

When we think of the military might of a nation, submarines may not be the first thing that comes to mind — though they should.

These vessels play a crucial role in safeguarding our nation's security and interests. Aside from their obvious advantage in stealth and strike capability, there are a number of surprising ways submarines contribute significantly to maintaining peace and defending the United States (US) against potential threats. 

1. Strategic Nuclear Deterrence

The U.S. military has what is known as a “nuclear triad,” enabling nuclear strike capabilities from the land, air, and sea providing 24/7 deterrence to prevent catastrophic actions from our adversaries. The US Navy’s strategic submarines (SSBNs) carry roughly 70% of our nuclear arsenal, making them the strongest branch of the nuclear triad. One SSBN carries enough firepower to make just one vessel the sixth most powerful nuclear power in the world.  But why are such a significant portion of these weapons stationed on submarines? The answer lies in their remarkable combination of stealth capabilities, extended underwater endurance without refueling, and near-impossible detection. Simply put, submarines are our military’s ideal hiding spots. 

2. Maintaining Peace

Ironically, the primary aim behind maintaining a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines is to help maintain peace. Preventing war may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Consider this perspective: if a foreign adversary contemplates attacking the US, they would likely reconsider knowing we possess a strong nuclear defense capable of swift and powerful retaliation. The Navy’s conventionally armed submarines also change the calculus in regional conflicts and deter aggression just by being present and undetectable. One Guided Missile Submarine (SSGN) can carry 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, and Attack Submarines (SSNs) patrol the depths of the seas, executing highly sensitive missions and holding adversaries at constant risk.   

3. Protecting Sea Lines of Communication 

There are specific routes and pathways used for the transportation of goods across oceans and seas known as Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). Since the vast majority of global trade is conducted through maritime routes, SLOC are vital to our nation’s economy. Submarines play a critical role in guaranteeing freedom of the seas by preventing attacks and potential seizures of ships, ensuring the safe passage of goods, and protecting our nation's economic interests during both peace and conflict.

4. Advanced Technological Innovation 

Military submarines are not put together using regular old tools and wires. Their development requires significant advancements in technology and engineering that can handle the extreme conditions where these vessels operate. The research and innovation not only enhances our military capabilities but transforms civilian industries as well. For instance, the breakthroughs in 3D printing used for intricate submarine components can be applied to automotive, aerospace, and other cutting-edge applications. These submarine-inspired technologies offer a wealth of high-tech advances across various industries.  

5. Environmental Monitoring and Research

Though a secondary use, US Navy submarines have contributed to scientific research and environmental monitoring efforts. These underwater vessels allow scientists to study marine life, underwater ecosystems, and oceanographic phenomena. Data collected from submarines has been used in seismic studies - research to study underwater earthquakes, fault lines, and tectonic activity. This research can help geologists and seismologists better understand seismic events and assess potential geohazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis. 

While US Navy submarines may be the “silent service” operating discreetly beneath the waves, their impact on protecting our nation is anything but silent. From their critical role in strategic nuclear deterrence to their global reach and versatility, submarines are indispensable assets to ensure our nation's security. Their contributions to technological innovation and scientific research further highlight their significance in safeguarding not only our nation but the well-being of our planet as a whole. 

As the threats and challenges we face as a country constantly evolve, US Navy submarines will continue to play a key role in our defense strategy for years to come.

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