THE ability of technology to alter the international balance of power was mentioned recently by no less a commentator than Nikita Khrushchev, who declared in a note to President Eisenhower that the "heyday of surface navy power is over. In the age of nuclear and rocket weapons . . . these once formidable warships are fit for nothing but courtesy visits, gun salutes and as targets for . . . rockets." Surface ships are, in fact, fit for these functions, and for a few more which submarines are still not ready to fill adequately. Yet it is true that the submarine is already playing a far more important role in sea power than it has in the past; and it is likely to become the dominant naval vessel in the future.
The principal reason for the submarine's rise to prominence is its sudden emergence as a device for strategic bombardment. This development is the result not of any new property of the submarine but of a combination of technological advances in other fields. One is the creation of relatively light nuclear warheads; the other is the over-all advance in the guidance and propulsion of long-range rockets--particularly the development of efficient solid fuel propellants having large thrusts. The marriage of a relatively simple, nuclear-armed missile to the most stealthy and hidden of naval craft has created a new threat to the world's populations--the ballistic missile submarine.
The submarine's new capability should not, however, blind one to its limitations, which recent developments such as nuclear power plants and new inertial navigation devices have not removed. If the submarine is to be considered as a major naval vessel rather than an auxiliary, then it must establish its ability to carry out a wide variety of military tasks. The variety of missions which a modern navy may be called on to perform is reflected in the multitude of vessel types it possesses. That submarines have relatively few types is an indication that they have not as yet taken over many naval
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