What Is a Trident Submarine?


Acquiring its common name from the class of nuclear missiles it was designed to carry, the Trident submarine is a strategic nuclear-powered submarine operated by the United States Navy. Eighteen of the submarines have entered service between 1981 and 1997, and the Tridents have been certified to fulfill a 42-year lifespan. Plans to convert some of the Tridents to non-strategic attack submarines began in the late 1990s.


  • The Tridents are officially designated as Ohio-class nuclear submarines, and they were built by General Dynamics Electric Boat Division. Each Trident is powered by an SG8 nuclear reactor, which drives two steam turbines and one propeller shaft; power output is rated at 60,000 horsepower. The boats are 560 feet long and 42 feet wide. They have a top submerged speed of 25 knots and an operating depth of more than 1,000 feet. The first eight Tridents carried 24 Trident I missiles, and the final 10 boats carried larger Trident II missiles.


  • The Tridents carry a crew of 15 officers and 140 enlisted personnel. As part of the conversion of some of the Tridents to attack submarines, the refitted subs would be capable of carrying a special operations force of up to 66 Navy SEALS or other Special Forces personnel, along with a minisub for use in special missions.


  • The Trident was conceived as the sea-based component of the United States' global offensive military strategy. Equipped with large, nuclear-armed strategic missiles, the submarines could be deployed anywhere in the ocean, where their payloads would be relatively secure, and launch of the missiles would be quick and accurate. As a result of nuclear arms reduction agreements, the Tridents' role in the country's nuclear strategy has become even more significant, and the submarines now carry half of the United States' nuclear warheads.

SSGN Conversion

  • As the military's requirements shifted from an emphasis on strategic missions to a need for tactical capabilities, a plan to convert some Ohio-class submarines (designated as SSBN subs) to a new attack sub configuration (designated as SSGN). These retrofitted subs would replace their Trident missiles with Tomahawk cruise missiles. Each submarine would carry 154 Tomahawk missiles, roughly equivalent to the armament of a traditional Battle Group. In addition, each submarine would be able to carry four platoons of Special Forces commandos.

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