Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ocean's 5: An overview on underwater nuclear missiles

Ocean's 5: An overview on underwater nuclear missiles

Ever since the first submarine-launched missiles were fired by the Germans in World War-II, underwater missiles have remained weaopns of high strategic importance. Unlike thier aerial and terresterial counterparts, underwater nuclear missiles are not prone to the first strikes of the enemy, which makes them a tremendously potent proposition.

Ocean's 5: An overview on underwater nuclear missiles

A Tomahawk cruise missile is seen emerging from the ocean after being launched from the USS Florida, a 560-foot missile submarine based out of Norfolk.

The era of the Cold War witnessed the Americans and Russians making enormous investments in nuclear science research. Significant breakthroughs were made in the field of underwater nuclear missiles during this time. Later, other superpowers and emerging superpowers followed suit and joined the race. Now, with the development of Shaurya, which can carry a one-tonne nuclear warhead over a distance of 750 kms, India too have made its own strong statement.

In this section, we take a look at the five of the best and the deadliest underwater nuclear missiles in the business.

The Trident Missile-USA

Trident II D-5 is the sixth generation member of the U.S. Navy's Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) program which started in 1956. A sophisticated submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) designed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in the United States with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, the Trident is armed with nuclear warheads and is launched from nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)

Trident I (designated C4) was deployed in 1979 . It was later phased out in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Trident II (D5) was first deployed in 1990, and was planned to be in service for the thirty-year-life of the submarines, until 2027. Trident missiles are also provided to the United Kingdom under the terms of the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement. the agreement was modified in 1982 for Trident.

R-29RM Shtil-Russia

The R-29RM is a three-stage liquid-propellant missile carrying four or ten MIRV. Compared to the R-29R the missile has a larger launch weight (40.3 to 35.5 Tons) providing a heavier payload (2800 kg to 1650 kg) to a greater maximum range (8300 to 8000 km).

It is designed to be launched from the Russian Delta IV submarine, each of which is capable of carrying 16 missiles. It carries four 100kT warheads and has a range of about 8,500 kilometres. A derivative, the R-29RMU Sineva, entered service in 2007.

RSM-56 "Bulava", also known as Bulava-30, is expected to be in service in 2009. The missile has suffered repeated test failures, the latest being in December 2009.


The M45 SLBM, the French Navy's submarine launched ballistic missile, is the fourth missile in the MSBS (Mer-Sol-Balistique-Strategique) family which comprises a number of submarine-launched, intermediate range missiles.

The M-4 missile entered service in 1985. The current MSBS force is based on nuclear-powered submarines SNLE (Sous-marines Nucleaire Lanceur d'Engins balistique), each able to carry 16 missiles. Presently, there are 16 (one boat load) M-4A missiles and 48 (three boat loads) M-4B missiles in service.

M51 SLBM is under development and is expected to enter service by 2010.

Ocean's 5: An overview on underwater nuclear missiles

The US Navy launches a Trident II, D-5 missile from the submerged submarine USS Tennessee in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.


The JL-2 is a Chinese second generation intercontinental-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). JL-2 has a two-stage, solid-liquid fuelled propulsion design. Though accurate specifications are unavialable, missile is considered to be able to deliver its payload(s) up to a range of 7,200 km, (4,500 miles) to 8,000 km (5,000 miles) and could carry either single or multiple warheads (conventional or nuclear).

The JL-2 missile is expected to provide China with its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. The expected operational range of the missile (up to 8,000 km or 5,000 miles) will allow it to reach Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Russia, and India but not the continental United States from Chinese littoral waters (Bohai Sea or South China Sea).


India's undersea deterrent had so far revolved around the K-15 ballistic missile, built with significant help from Russia. The K-15 was to equip the INS Arihant, India's lone nuclear-powered submarine, which is being constructed in Visakhapatnam. But now, after rigorous underwater testing, the Shaurya is expected to be the mainstay of Arihant's arsenal. Shaurya can carry a one-tonne nuclear warhead over 750 kilometers, and is specially designed to be fired from Indian submarines. If launched from a submarine off the China coast, it could hit several Chinese cities like Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai.

Before Shaurya entered the fray, India's underwater nuclear missile was Sagarika. Capable of a range of 700 kilometres, Sagarika formed part of the triad in India's nuclear deterrence, providing retaliatory nuclear strike capability.

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