New Book Examines Undersea Combat

This year the U.S. Navy celebrates its submarine centennial. On April 11, 1900, the first USN submarine was purchased in Groton, Conn., from the company that would later be known as Electric Boat.

In the past quarter-century, the range of submarine weapons moved from a few hundred meters to a few thousand miles, while warheads evolved from a quarter-ton of explosives to megatons of nuclear firepower. What lies ahead in the next century of undersea combat is the subject of a new book by Stan Zimmerman, Submarine Technology for the 21st Century. Zimmerman spent a decade as a naval correspondent based in Washington, D.C., and was on assignment worldwide on the submarine beat. What he found makes for eye-opening reading, especially for Americans unaware of submarine advances elsewhere in the world. Other books have focused on submarine history recently, such as Clay Blair's two-volume, Hitler's U-Boat War; and Sontag and Drew's expose of the Cold War, Blind Man's Bluff. Zimmerman's book looks at the fruits of current research in laboratories worldwide.

Submarines are the original stealth platform. As the German U-boats and American pig boats of World War II proved, any nation dependant on international trade may become hostage to submarines. As American dependence on foreign goods and resources continues to increase, even a handful of hostile submarines can cause havoc.

While the fall of communism took away the threat of a Russian submarine offensive against NATO convoys and fleets, that threat has been replaced by Russian submarine sales worldwide.

India, Iran and China are only three of several customers eagerly buying new Russian submarines; the Swedes, French and Germans are active exporters of combat submarines as well.

These exports, equipped with the latest equipment and weapons, would not be easy targets. In the scramble for exports, very sophisticated weapons are for sale in world markets, including the Russian rocket torpedo. The heart of the modern combat system for a submarine will fit in the trunk of a car, and exotic non-nuclear propulsion systems eliminate the need to surface for batterycharging.

Despite his arcane subject, Zimmerman makes the material approachable. With clear writing and effective use of tables and diagrams, Submarine Technology for the 21st Century makes an important topic understandable.

Other stories from June 15, 2000 issue


Maritime Reporter

First published in 1881 Maritime Reporter is the world's largest audited circulation publication serving the global maritime industry.