Submarines: May 3, 2005


Ohio and Oscar  Two countries use cruise-missile submarines (SSGN) the United States and Russia. These two countries guided-missile subs are reflections of their naval doctrine. These two countries each have one class of submarines designated as SSGN.

Russia got into the SSGN game early. This was a cheaper and supposedly less-risky way to carry out the mission of power projection. The first Russian guided-missile submarines were diesel-electric boats, but the Russians were quick to create SSGNs, the first being the Echo-class submarines. That force was followed by the Charlie-class subs, and then reached its ultimate version in the Oscar-class.

The Oscars are huge submarines (displacing 19,400 tons), with a powerful missile battery (24 SS-N-19/P-700 Shipwreck missiles, with a top speed of Mach 2.5 and a 550-kilometer range), and a powerful torpedo battery (4 25.5-inch torpedo tubes and 4 21-inch torpedo tubes). They also have a top speed of 55.5 kilometers per hour. Their primary mission was to attack American carrier battle groups of amphibious groups particularly with an eye towards destroying vessels like the Nimitz-class carriers (nearly 100,000 tons) and the Wasp-class landing ships (30,000 tons). These submarines would have been primary targets for NATO submarines and maritime patrol aircraft. Unlike Backfire raids, the only warning an Oscar was approaching might be when the SS-N-19 missiles are launched. That is not a good thing.

The American Ohio-class submarines are not quite as big (18,500 tons), or fast (46.3 kilometers per hour). The class is also much smaller (four subs, as opposed to the twelve Oscars Russia has available). That said, these submarines carry out a different function than their Russian counterparts. These Ohio-class SSGNs were taken out of the strategic deterrent role by the START treaty. These submarines were then given the mission of carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, while also having the ability to bunk commandos (usually Navy SEALs). Unlike the Oscar, the Ohios targets will be on land (the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile was retired in the early 1990s), but the Ohio still retains four 21-inch torpedo tubes with Mk 48 ADCAPs. Like the Oscar, the Ohio is intended to be able to park a potent punch relatively close to the target, while giving it no real warning until the missiles break the surface of the ocean.

These two subs do not outclass each other. They were built with different purposes in mind, and both are equipped to carry out their tasks extremely well. The Oscar does have issues of quality control stemming from the fact that most of these submarines were started before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the perpetual Russian shortage of maintenance funds. The problem with the modified Ohios is the fact that there are only four of them. Both of these submarines will be prowling in the ocean for the next 20 years. Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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