Ranked: The U.S. Navy's Top 5 Submarines Ever

May 7, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyNavyMilitaryDefenseSubmarinesSSNSSBBSSGN

Ranked: The U.S. Navy's Top 5 Submarines Ever

The U.S. Navy fields the most powerful arsenal of nuclear attack and missile submarines on the planet. All subs are nuclear powered and many carry nuclear weapons. 


The U.S. Navy's 5 Best Submarines Ever, As Ranked By a Military Expert: The U.S. Navy encompasses a wide array of military capabilities- ranging from fighter jets and aircraft carriers to submarines and destroyers. While each component active in the service plays a significant role in America’s sea-based strategy, the role of the submarine is particularly essential.

5 Best U.S. Navy Submarines Ever 

Below is an overview of the Navy’s top submarines to ever sail: the Los Angeles-class, Seawolf-class, Virginia-class, Ohio-class and Columbia-class.


The Los Angeles-Class Submarine:

A product of the intensifying Cold War arms race between the USSR and U.S., the American-made Los Angeles fast attack submarines were designed with the latest technologies when first introduced to service.

The Los Angeles ships incorporated many of the same weapons and sensors as the preceding Sturgeon-class submarines, however, they measured roughly 50% larger in size and were enhanced with stealth speed.

Each ship in the Los Angeles class can sport more than two dozen torpedo tube-launched weapons, in addition to Mark 67 and Mark 60 CAPTOR mines. Initially, these submarines were equipped with a Raytheon CCS Mark 2 combat data system, which was replaced down the line with the Raytheon AN/BYG-1 Combat Control System.

Los Angeles-Class Submarine

The vast majority of the 60+ Los Angeles ships that were constructed over the years are the Flight I variants. To this day, several of these Cold War-era subs remain important components of the Navy.

The Seawolf-Class SSNs:

The Seawolf-class submarines were designed as faster and better armed replacement SSNs for the Los Angeles ships. These nuclear-powered fast attack submarines were also a product of the Cold War arms race.

Originally, a fleet of 29 Seawolf subs were planned to be built over a decade, however, budgetary constraints and the collapse of the Soviet Union limited the class to just three boats. While this class size may be small, the Seawolf ships are still a formidable force.


Each hull was constructed from HY-100 steel, a stronger material than the steel incorporated in previous classes that allows the platform to withstand greater water pressure at greater depths. Armament wise, the Seawolf ships can sport both the land-attack and anti-ship version of the Tomahawk missile- which can be fitted with a nuclear warhead.

The Seawolf-class submarines are widely considered to be the most robust vessels to ever “run silent, run deep,” according to the service.

The Virginia-class Submarines:

The Virginia-class submarines were also envisioned as a Los Angeles successor. Built to be a less expensive alternative to the Seawolf submarines, the Virginia ships were notably the first U.S. warships designed using 3D visualization technology like computer-aided engineering, computer-aided manufacturing and product lifecycle management.

While each Virginia variant is imperative to the Navy’s strategy, able to conduct an array of mission sets ranging from anti-submarine warfare and intelligence gathering to littoral operations and reconnaissance, the upcoming Block V variant is particularly cutting-edge.


The addition of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) will give the submarine an extended mid-body section to store additional Tomahawk cruise missiles and other munitions. Additionally, the VPM will allow for seabed operations that will help set apart this submarine iteration from its predecessors.

The Ohio-Class SSGNs:

While the Navy’s fleet of Ohio-class SSGNs may be retired over the next decade, these ships remain an instrumental (and unique) part of the service’s fleet. Four Ohio-class SSBNs were converted into SSGNs following the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review signed by the U.S. and USSR.

Ohio-Class Submarine

While these four appear similar to their SLBM counterparts, they carry 154 tomahawk missiles instead of 20 Trident Is. Additionally, they have the capability to house a platoon of special operations forces and other equipment.

The Columbia-Class Submarines:

As the latest U.S. submarine to enter service with the Navy, the Columbia-class ships arguably represent the most sophisticated vessels of their kind to ever set sail across the globe. These submarines are designed to replace the 14 existing Ohio-class nuclear-powered boats that are nearing the end of their service lives.

Columbia-Class Submarines

In terms of weapons, each Columbia submarine will be equipped with 16 missile tubes for launching 16 Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

An upgraded D5LE2 ballistic missile will be installed from the ninth Columbia-class ship onwards. This class will also feature the latest and greatest technologies, including a large aperture bow sonar system designed to improve the transfer of acoustic signals.

About the Author: Maya Carlin 

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

All images are Creative Commons.