Ballistic missile submarine

Ballistic missile submarine
The French SNLE Le Redoutable at Cité de la Mer museum

A ballistic missile submarine is a submarine equipped to launch ballistic missiles (SLBMs).



Artist concept of an SSBN launch

Ballistic missile submarines are larger than any other type of submarine, in order to accommodate SLBMs such as the Russian R-29 or the American Trident. Although some early models had to surface to launch their missiles, modern vessels typically launch while submerged at keel depths of usually less than 50 meters (164 feet).


Ballistic missile submarines differ in purpose from attack submarines and cruise missile submarines; while attack submarines specialise in combat with other naval vessels (including enemy submarines and merchant shipping), and cruise missile submarines are designed to attack large warships and tactical targets on land, the primary mission of the ballistic missile is nuclear deterrence. Accordingly, the mission profile of a ballistic missile submarine concentrates on remaining undetected, rather than aggressively pursuing other vessels. Ballistic missile submarines are designed for stealth, to avoid detection at all costs. They use many sound-reducing design features, such as anechoic tiles on their hull surfaces, carefully designed propulsion systems, and machinery mounted on vibration-damping mounts.

Ballistic missile submarines equipped with nuclear warheads serve as the third leg of the nuclear triad. The invisibility and mobility of submarines offer both a reliable means of deterrence against an attack (by maintaining the threat of a second strike), and a surprise first-strike capability - particularly given the range of the weapons they carry.


United States

SSBN is the United States Navy's hull classification symbol for a nuclear-powered, ballistic nuclear missile-carrying submarine.[1] The SS denotes a "submersible ship", the B denotes "ballistic missile," and the N denotes "nuclear powered." In US naval slang, ballistic missile submarines are called "boomers". They operate on a "Gold" and "Blue" two-crew concept. The current fleet of ballistic missile submarines in the United States Navy consists of Ohio class submarines.

United Kingdom

In Britain, they are also known as SSBNs. (Ballistic missile submarines are referred to as "boomers".) The two crews are called "port" and "starboard" crew. Britain's nuclear deterrent is the Vanguard SSBN, which replaced the Resolution class submarine. A new project is under way to replace the Vanguard class submarine, under the designation Trident replacement.


The French Navy commissioned her first ballistic missile submarines as SNLE, for Sous-marin Nucléaire Lanceur d'Engin (lit. "nuclear-powered device-launching submarines"). The term applies both to ballistic missile submarines in general (for instance "British SNLE" occurs [2]) and, more technically, as a specific classification of the Redoutable class. The more recent Triomphant class is referred to as SNLE-NG (Nouvelle Génération, "New Generation").

The two crews used to maximise the availability time of the ships are called 'blue' and 'red' crews.

Soviet Union

The Soviets called this type of ship RPKSN[3] which is translated as "Strategic Purpose Missile Cruiser Submarine". This designation was applied to the Typhoon class. Another designation used was PLARB[4] which translates as "Nuclear Submarine with Ballistic Missiles". This designation was applied to smaller submarines such as the Delta Class.

Active classes

Classes under development

Undergoing sea trials


Retired classes

USS Sam Rayburn showing the hatches for her UGM-27 Polaris missiles in a billiard ball livery
France France
Soviet Union/Russia SovietUnion / Russia
United Kingdom United Kingdom
United States United States


  1. ^ "SECNAVINST 5030.8" (PDF). United States Navy. 21 November 2006. Retrieved 10 September 2008. 
  2. ^ SNLE-NG Le Triomphant,
  3. ^ РПКСН Ракетный подводный крейсер стратегического назначения (Raketny Podvodnyy Kreiser Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya)
  4. ^ «ПЛАРБ» - подводная лодка атомная с баллистическими ракетами)
  5. ^ Nuclear submarine all set to enter waters
  6. ^
  7. ^ Chang, Andrei (3 March 2008), Satellite Images Provide Insight Into Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Capabilities,, archived from the original on 30 Aug 2008, 
  8. ^ "Q&A: Trident replacement". BBC News. 11 November 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  9. ^ "The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent". Ministry of Defence. 4 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  10. ^ Weinberger, Sharon Weinberger Sharon (11 May 2010). "Five Big-Ticket Pentagon Programs in the Cross Hairs". Aol news. AOL Inc.. Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Chavanne, Bettina. "Gates Says U.S. Navy Plans Are Unaffordable". The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  12. ^ Deep impact

External links

  • Video showing various SSBNs in action.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Fleet ballistic missile submarine — The United States Navy s Fleet ballistic missile submarine force is composed of Ohio class submarines armed with Trident missiles …   Wikipedia

  • fleet ballistic missile submarine — A nuclear powered submarine designed to deliver ballistic missile attacks against assigned targets from either a submerged or surfaced condition. Designated as SSBN …   Military dictionary

  • fleet ballistic missile submarine — noun a submarine carrying ballistic missiles • Hypernyms: ↑submarine, ↑pigboat, ↑sub, ↑U boat * * * a nuclear submarine fitted with launchers to fire ballistic missiles either underwater or from the surface. Cf. SSBN …   Useful english dictionary

  • fleet ballistic missile submarine — a nuclear submarine fitted with launchers to fire ballistic missiles either underwater or from the surface. Cf. SSBN * * * …   Universalium

  • Submarine-launched ballistic missile — A Trident II D5 nuclear missile. It is capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads up to 8,000 km. They are carried by 14 US Navy Ohio class submarines and 4 Royal Navy Vanguard class submarines A submarine launched ballistic missile… …   Wikipedia

  • Ballistic missile — Diagram of V 2, the first ballistic missile. A ballistic missile is a missile that follows a sub orbital ballistic flightpath with the objective of delivering one or more warheads to a predetermined target. The missile is only guided during the… …   Wikipedia

  • Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile — Trident II beim Start von einem untergetauchten U Boot Eine Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile („SLBM“, deutsche Bezeichnung: U Boot gestützte ballistische Rakete) ist eine ballistische Rakete verschiedener möglicher Reichweiten, die von… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ballistic Missile Early Warning System — The United States Air Force Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was the first operational ballistic missile detection radar. The original system was built in 1959 and could provide long range warning of a ballistic missile attack over… …   Wikipedia

  • ballistic missile — noun Ballistic missile is used before these nouns: ↑submarine …   Collocations dictionary

  • Cruise missile submarine — This article is about guided missile submarines. For the Special Service Group of Pakistan (SSGN), see Special Service Group Navy. USS Florida, a U.S. Navy Ohio class submarine. A cruise missile submarine is a submarine that can launch… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”