Science and technology are not my bailiwicks. The Humanities – literature, history, philosophy, art, etc. – are where my teaching life was centered, but that does not mean that I am indifferent to the wonders and capabilities of science and technology. Science and technology are often sources of real fascination and awe to me.
The short video that accompanies this article is about the science, technology, and engineering behind the missiles that are the centerpiece of modern submarine warfare capabilities.
According to the video, the idea of being able to launch missiles from submerged submarines began shortly after WWII. On January 20, 1960, the first successful ballistic missile fired from a submerged submarine was carried out by the US Navy submarine, the USS George Washington. It fired a Polaris A1 missile that had the capacity to carry a single, one-kiloton warhead over a distance of 1,400 nautical miles.
Since that time, both submarines and missile technologies have advanced exponentially, and the modern Ohio-class submarine can carry up to 24 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, each of which can carry from 8-14 independently targeted warheads up to 6,500 nautical miles.
The means for launching these ballistic missiles is the main point of this video. If you have ever seen videos of missiles being launched by a submarine, you may have noticed that they do not come out of the water with their engines firing; they ignite after they have broken the surface of the water. This video explains and shows visually how these launches are carried out. It is about air pressure, not ignition. You will see how that has been engineered in this video.
The modern submarine can launch these missiles through 40 meters of water. That is the equivalent of a little over 131 feet of water. The injected air pressure system that launches them can send them through that much water at some 40 mph. It is not until the missile rises above the water surface that its engines ignite and carry it to its target.
Well, now you know what these modern submarines are capable of doing with their weapons systems and how they work. It is no wonder why they are perceived as powerful deterrents to war. We hope that such weapons systems will never be deployed. Such a scenario would be far too apocalyptic to imagine.
It is clear that human beings have developed and possess an immense, practical genius for scientific and technological reasoning and engineering of incredible complexity. It is not so clear that human beings have developed the even more important virtues of moral genius and self-discipline, which are necessary for solving humanity’s material, social, political, economic, and philosophical differences peacefully, before the question or reality of war arises.
It is the sincere prayer and hope of every veteran who has seen the horrors of combat that their sons and daughters will never have to experience those things themselves. Let’s hope and pray that the time comes soon when we are able to resolve our differences through the genius and power of our “better angels.”