Countries With the Most Submarines

By Rob Cramer on September 9 2020 in World Facts

A Russian military submarine.
A Russian military submarine.
  • North Korea has 83 submarines, which is more than any other country in the world.
  • The USS Nautilus was the US Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
  • Russia and China are working together to develop a new generation of diesel submarines.

Submarines, which are vessels that can travel both underwater and on the surface of a body of water, are indispensable to numerous Naval operations around the world. These sea-faring machines were widely used in World War I and World War II, and every major superpower in the world has a fleet of submarines at its disposal. 

The German submarine fleet that was used in World War I consisted of U-boats such as the U-139, U-151, U-127, and the U-3. Updated versions of these submarines were used by the Nazis in World War II. Germany's submarine development in the first Great War was overseen by Grand Admiral Alfred Peter Friedrich von Tirpitz. He had hoped that the German imperial Navy would rival the British Royal Navy, but his venture was unsuccessful. 

During the Second World War, the US Navy was heavily reliant on submarines, and the vessels played a huge factor in numerous decisive naval victories against the Japanese Imperial Navy. 

The US Navy managed to sink 1,314 enemy ships during the war by using 263 different submarines. Submarines in the United States Navy managed to sink as much 30% of the Japanese Imperial Navy and nearly 55% of all Japanese shipping vessels in the Pacific Ocean during the war. Here’s a look at the countries with the most submarines today.

Torpedoed Japanese destroyer seen through the periscope ofthe USS Wahoo during World War II, June 1942. Image credit: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

North Korea

North Korea has more submarines than any other country in the world, but the naval fleet at Kim Jong-Un's disposal is shrouded in mystery. There is a debate as to whether this submarine fleet could pose a significant threat in a future war.

Most experts believe that the majority of North Korea’s submarines are outdated and rusty, but the country still has many powerful submarines at its disposal. But that being said, North Korea does not have any nuclear-powered submarines at least not any that we know about.

North Korea’s Korean People's Navy submarine fleet includes Iranian-designed Yono-class midget submarines, Soviet Whiskey-class subs, and Chinese Romeo-class subs. The Korean People's Navy also has about 40 Sang-O-class shark submarines. In 2019, North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile from underwater, but it is unclear if the missile was launched from a submarine or some sort of underwater barge. North Korea has an estimated 83 submarines.

China

China is a growing global superpower that is rapidly expanding its military, so it’s no wonder that the country has so many submarines. China has an extensive naval fleet and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force consists of three fleets: North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and the South Sea Fleet. Unlike the US Navy, the PLANSF has both nuclear-powered subs and diesel-electric subs, many of which are based on Soviet designs. Chinese diesel subs include the Type 039a, Type 039, Type 035, and Kilo-class sub. Russia and China are currently pooling their resources to develop a new generation of non-nuclear subs. The two countries will combine propulsion tech and weaponry to design the ideal submarine. China has 74 subs in service, including Shang-class nuclear subs.

United States

US submarines have advanced a great deal since World War II. The 1950s saw the invention of the nuclear submarine, and nuclear subs are widely used today. Nuclear submarines have many advantages over traditional diesel-powered subs, including a much greater range. The USS Nautilus, which was the US Navy’s first nuclear-powered sub, took its first dive on January 21, 1954. The Nautilus had near unlimited range and could stay underneath the water for as long as two weeks. Today, the US Navy has 66 submarines and every single one is nuclear powered. The fleet consists of 34 Los Angeles-class attack subs, 18 Ohio-class missile submarines, 3 Seawolf-class attack submarines, and 11 Virginia-class fast-attack subs.

Russia

Early Soviet-designed submarines are still used to this day all around the world. The Russian Navy has a rich history that dates back to 1696, and today the country has 62 subs at its disposal. Russia is in expansion mode when it comes to its submarine fleet. The Russian Navy is focused on modernization and is currently building six different classes of submarines. Russia is building Borei-class ballistic subs, Khabarovsk-class ballistic submarines, Yasen-class cruise missile submarines, and Lada-class attack submarines. Russia’s naval expansion marks the greatest period of expansion in the Russian Navy since the Cold War.

The engine room of an oil-burning German submarine, WWI. Image credit: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Nuclear subs around the world

The USA, China, Russia, France, India, and the UK are the only countries in the world with nuclear-powered subs. Argentina and Brazil have nuclear-powered submarine programs in development.

Submarines evoke images of war tactics of years past, but the truth is they remain an important part of a country's Navy defence to this day. These fleets will only continue to expand in the coming years.

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