Submarines are one of the oldest and most historic vessels used by the U.S. Navy.
Ballistic Missile and Attack Submarines
Today, the U.S. Navy uses two types of submarines – ballistic missile submarines and attack submarines. Both classes of submarine are powered by nuclear energy. Ballistic submarines have one overriding mission – to carry nuclear ballistic missiles. Attack submarines have a more varied set of objectives. Attack submarines are used to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance, and attack enemy ships and submarines. Attack submarines are capable of firing Cruise Missiles.
American military forces have been experimenting with submarines since the Civil War in the 19th Century. The first submarine on record was called the "Alligator" and was designed to sink wooden boats. The first diesel powered submarines entered service in 1909 and were called "pig boats" because of their cramped, dirty living quarters.
Following the First World War, the U.S. Navy used submarines primarily as scouts and to conduct surveillance on enemy targets. However, in the Second World War, submarines were deployed widely and used to attack Japanese naval vessels in the Pacific Ocean and German naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. With their ability to operate below the water’s surface, submarines proved very effective in naval combat.
In the 1950s, the U.S. submarine program underwent a major change with the advent of nuclear powered submarines. The first nuclear submarine developed in the U.S. was called the USS Nautilus. Previously, submarines had essentially been underwater torpedo boats. With a built-in nuclear power plant, the USS Nautilus could stay submerged below water for months without having to refuel. The first nuclear powered submarine to carry ballistic missiles onboard was called the USS George Washington.
Becoming a Submariner
U.S. submarines are staffed with volunteers from within the Navy’s ranks. There are currently about 60,000 "submariners" in the U.S. Navy. Given the cramped quarters and length of time spent below water, naval personnel must undergo rigorous testing before being admitted to the submariner program.
The U.S. Naval Submarine School is based in Groton, Connecticut. Naval personnel enrolled in the school are given tests that involve underwater pressure, escaping from enclosed spaces, and psychological stress. Naval personnel who successfully complete the training are given the "Submarine Warfare Insignia," which is one of the most coveted designations in the U.S. Navy.