A recent ranking of the 49 most dangerous submarines in the world includes A-list heavy hitters, but also some of the smallest subs in service. It also features some of the most advanced submarines in the world, including the American Ohio-class guided missile submarines—each of which can blanket targets with up to 154 cruise missiles—as well as some vessels originally built during World War II and midget subs designed by Iran and North Korea.
Compiled by undersea authority H.I. Sutton at Covert Shores, the list is a rundown of the most lethal submarines operated by the world’s navies, and takes into account a submarine’s number of torpedoes, torpedo tubes, and missile tubes designed to fire anti-ship or land attack cruise missiles.
A submarine will typically carry 12 to 38 torpedoes or missiles shared between four and eight torpedo tubes. Missile tubes, meanwhile, which are typically mounted vertically on the top of the hull, carry one missile each. Later versions of the U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, for example, are armed with four 533-millimeter torpedo types for launching Mk-48 Advance Capability (ADCAP) torpedoes, some of the best guided torpedoes in the world.
A Los Angeles-class boat can carry up to 33 weapons for these tubes, including Mk-48s and the submarine-launched version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile. The submarines also house another 12 missile tubes each equipped with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles.
The U. S. Navy’s Ohio-class guided missile submarines top the new list. These subs, originally designed to carry up to 24 Trident nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, were removed from the nuclear deterrence mission as a result of a treaty limiting nuclear arms between the U.S. and Russia. Instead of retiring them, the Navy traded their Trident missile silos for the ability to carry Navy SEALs (and their underwater transports) and Tomahawk land-attack missiles. The four converted Ohio-class boats can now carry a whopping 154 Tomahawk missiles, far more than any other platform.
The list includes some new submarines, too, including Russia’s new Severodvinsk-class guided missile submarines with a total of 72 torpedoes and missiles, and the Royal Navy’s Astute class, with 44 weapons. And it features some odd selections like Taiwan’s two Guppy-class submarines, originally built during World War II. Elsewhere on the list, you’ll find smaller, non-oceangoing submarines like Iran’s Fateh.
Size isn’t everything, and some of the smallest submarines in the world made Sutton’s list. In fact, of the 49 types of subs included, only one, the diminutive Yono class, has actually sunk an enemy warship. In March 2010, one of North Korea’s five Yono boats attacked the South Korean corvette Cheonan, sinking it and killing 46 sailors.
The Yono (“Salmon”) is just 95 feet long, displaces a mere 130 tons, and is equipped with only two torpedo tubes. Nevertheless, it managed to sink a surface warship considerably bigger than it and slipped away without being detected.
Of course, sinking enemy ships isn’t a modern submarine’s only mission. Subs, which are capable of creeping close to enemy shorelines, are also excellent platforms for land-attack cruise missiles. In 2018, the Virginia-class submarine USS John Warner (No. 8 on the list) launched Tomahawk missiles against chemical weapons facilities in Syria. Royal Navy Trafalgar-class subs (No. 10) fired Tomahawk missiles against targets in Afghanistan and Libya, while Russia’s Kilo-class (No. 24) diesel electric submarines launched 3M14 Kalibr cruise missiles against targets in Syria in 2015.
The list doesn’t rank everything. For example, it doesn’t include torpedo and missile quality and effectiveness, which vary from navy to navy. It also doesn’t rank overall effectiveness: Taiwan’s two World War II-era Hai Shih-class submarines are 11th on the list, but only by virtue of their ten torpedo tubes (six facing forward, four facing backward) and 14 torpedoes. Today’s submarines typically have just half as many tubes (all facing forward), but twice as many torpedoes and missiles.
Check out the whole list of the world’s most advanced submarines at Covert Shores.