This Undersea Predator is Silent, Aware...and Strikes Without Warning!
On this day, a new kind of vessel, a Confederate submarine, the Hunley, snuck into Charleston Harbor during the height of the American Civil War. Towing a mine, the Hunley targeted the Union warship USS Housatonic and closed the distance.
The Hunley, hidden from view under the waves, smashed its mine into the hull of the unsuspecting ship, sending it to the depths in short order. This was the first recorded combat kill of a submarine in history.
A small victory that didn't impact the outcome of the war. The Union side won. After all, it was a sign of things to come.
Since that day, the submarine as technology has changed beyond all recognition and was a major factor in the larger world wars of the early 20th century. Throughout the "Cold War," these amazing pieces of technology would roam the world's oceans, carrying some of the most destructive weapons our species has ever devised.
A role some still provide today.
And that brings us to the United States' latest and most modern submarines, the Virginia class. A fourth-generation submarine, the class incorporates the latest in subaquatic stealth technology to make them even more difficult to find and track than submarines already are.
The role of submarines, like the Virginia class, has changed a lot since their early days, with the latest subs tasked with anti-ship combat and striking ground-based targets with long-range missiles or providing covert special operation roles.
The replacement for the aging and expensive Seawolf class of submarines, the Virginia class is scaled back, yet still deadly, attack submarine. The first of the class, the USS Virginia, entered service in 2004 and was the first submarine to be developed using 3D visualization technology like CATIA, a computer-aided design software.
Another innovative part of their design is the integration of as many off-the-shelf components as possible. They are also modular by design, making them cheaper and easier to upgrade over time.
They also integrate cutting-edge technology that will future-proof them for some time to come. One example is their use of photonic sensors instead of a periscope to help them hunt without giving away their position.
But, like any large object, they are still susceptible to being discovered using things like radar. However, they are designed to reduce their signature as much as possible using special anechoic coatings, isolated deck structures, and a new propulsor design to achieve a low acoustic signature.
They are also heavy hitters armed with a variety of the latest torpedoes and a suite of Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles.
The USS Montana joined the existing fleet of submarines on June 25, 2022, to bring the total up to 21. Thirty-eight are scheduled for construction.
Virginia-class submarines are expected to remain in service until at least 2060, with later versions expected to remain into the 2070s.