How were nuclear submarines used in the Cold War?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were two main uses for nuclear submarines in the Cold War.  One was as hard-to-track launch platforms for nuclear missiles.  The other was as hunters who tried to find those launch platforms so as to be in position to destroy them if there was a threat of war.

During the Cold War, the most important weapon in the US and Soviet arsenals was the nuclear missile.  Each side felt that it needed to have the ability to strike the other with nuclear missiles.  Each side had many missiles based on land, but they were afraid that the other side could target those missile installations and destroy them in case of war.  Therefore, “boomer” submarines, those that could launch ballistic nuclear missiles from underwater, were an important weapon.  The idea was that these subs could launch nuclear missiles at the enemy even if the enemy somehow managed to destroy all of a country’s land-based missiles.  Nuclear submarines were good for this because they could stay underwater for extended periods of time.  This meant, hopefully, that the enemy could not know where they were.

The second function of nuclear submarines was to try to hunt the boomers.  If a country could keep tabs on all of the enemy’s boomers, that threat could be neutralized.  The country could then, if it chose to go to war, destroy all the enemy boomers so the enemy could not launch missiles from those subs.  Therefore, both the US and the Soviet Union had fast attack subs that tried to detect and track the boomers.

In these ways, nuclear submarines were important parts of the Cold War.