Thursday, September 28, 2023

Are submarines faster than surface ships?

When it comes to naval warfare, speed can be a decisive factor. The faster a vessel can move, the quicker it can reach its destination, evade enemy fire or pursue a target. But when it comes to comparing submarines with surface ships, the answer to the question of which one is faster is not simple.

On the surface, the advantage seems to be for the surface ships. They can travel at higher speeds without experiencing the drag and resistance of water that submerges vessels have to deal with. For example, the fastest warship currently in service is the US Navy’s USS Zumwalt, which can reach speeds of over 30 knots (56 km/h or 35 mph). In contrast, most submarines have a maximum speed of around 20 knots (37 km/h or 23 mph).

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However, a submarine’s speed cannot be judged solely by its surface top speed. When underwater, a submarine can achieve what is called “silent running”, where it can move undetected through the water while evading enemy sonar or other detection measures. The key factor that allows this is the submarine’s propulsion system, usually consisting of electric motors powered by large batteries. By regulating the speed of the motors and using the shape of the hull to minimize resistance, submarines can achieve high speeds even while submerged.

For example, the Russian Navy’s Akula-class submarines are known to be capable of reaching speeds of over 30 knots while diving, making them faster than most surface ships. This makes them ideal for surprise attacks or covert operations, as they can approach their targets undetected and launch their weapons before retreating.

Another important consideration is the distance a vessel can cover in a given time. While surface ships may be faster in a straight line, submarines have the advantage of being able to travel longer distances without the need for resupply or refueling. This is because submarines can carry their own air supply and have a more efficient energy use compared to surface ships. Moreover, the ability to dive allows submarines to take advantage of underwater currents and gyres, which can facilitate travel and save energy.

The question of whether submarines are faster than surface ships is not a clear-cut one. While surface ships have higher top speeds, submarines have unique advantages that allow them to travel faster and farther in certain situations. In any case, speed is just one factor among many that determine the effectiveness of a naval vessel, and the relative pros and cons of each type of vessel depend on the mission and the circumstances of the engagement.

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