Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes, and everything fast are his passion, and he writes about them on many sites.
Unlike my other fastest in the world articles, this specific one is a bit tricky, especially if you understand the dynamics of a submarine. So, what are we talking about? Military submarines, as a concept, need to be silent underwater so that they could sneak up on an enemy or run away from an enemy without being detected. Now speed underwater does the opposite of silent, it makes the submarine noisy and hence easy to detect. So, why would we want to have fast submarines, if being slow serves the purpose?
The answer is simple. You see, in a war-like scenario, it does not make sense to be extra silent and not reach the spot where the submarine is needed the most, in good time. Or for that matter, when a torpedo is fired at a sub, it should be capable of outrunning it or outsmarting it; the latter approach is the launching of flares or its equivalent obstructing the approaching missiles.
Considering the points mentioned in favor of fast attack submarines, it is, therefore, possible that we do have fast ones around. In this list, we will also include futuristic submarines along with the current and past ones, with the usual caveat of including only the information available in the public domain. Let’s get started then.
List of Fastest Submarines
China's Supercavitation Submarine
~6,440 kmph [4,000 mph or 3,477 knots] [Estimated]
Soviet K - 222 Papa Class Submarine
82.8 kmph [51.4 mph or 44.7 knots]
Soviet Alfa Class Submarine
76 kmph [47 mph or 41 knots]
U.S. Seawolf Class Submarine
64.8 kmph [40.25 mph or 35 knots] [Maximum Speed]
British HMS Ambush
55.5 kmph [ 34.5 mph or 30 knots] [Maximum Speed]
1. China's Supercavitation based Submarine
China has a penchant to bring in the fastest of its kind in various spheres of operation and submarines are the newest area. It is worthwhile to note that it already holds the record for the fastest trains in the world.
You can read about the fastest trains in the world here
China will rely on the concept of supercavitation to build the fastest submarine that the world has ever seen. Supercavitation, itself, is not a new concept. The Russians were the first to build missiles using the concept which allowed the missiles to move at breathtaking speeds in the water towards enemy craft (ship or submarine). The idea behind supercavitation is to build air bubbles around the moving missile, thereby, reducing the water drag and allowing the missile to reach speeds comparable with missiles flying in the air. China intends to use the same concept in building the next generation submarines. What will amaze you is the numbers that are estimated. Take a look.
- Submarine: Supercavitation based Sub
- Country: China
- Speed: ~6,440 kmph [4,000 mph or 3,477 knots] [Estimated]
- Record created: Expected concept
What makes this unreal is that the second submarine in the list has a top speed of 82 kmph. See the difference? Or for that matter, the fastest military aircraft did a 7,385 kmph flight. So, a submarine doing a near Mach 6 does not sound plausible, but then again, we can’t discount it either. After all, Elon Musk came and showed the world that trains could travel at the speed of sound, an impossible proposition until then. So, let’s watch this space.
You can read about the world’s fastest military aircraft here
2. Soviet K - 222 Papa Class Submarine
This is the true record holder being the fastest of all the operational submarines. The K – 222, originally christened as K – 162, was the fastest at 82 kmph and boasted of a titanium hull. What made it interesting was that it carried lethal weapons and could outrun torpedos of that time, if need be. The K-222 belonged to the Papa class submarine. It was commissioned in 1969 and decommissioned in 1999. For the record which stands to date, we would have thought that the sub would have made it to some kind of a museum; however, fate was not so kind with the K-222. It was scrapped in 2010 and only its operational history stands as a reminder of the once fastest ship under the sea.
- Submarine: K – 222 Papa Class
- Country: Russia
- Speed: 82.8 kmph [51.4 mph or 44.7 knots]
- Record created: 1968 under trial
Now after going through the details of the first submarine in the list, we would obviously wonder what is so great about the speed of the K-222, but remember that this is the real speed achieved while China’s submarine is still in the concept stage. The next obvious question is what’s so great about 80 kmph? Let’s look at that too - the normal cruising speed of most cars around the world is 80 kmph and this submarine does the same underwater. Do you see the muscle it needs to do it? On a road running parallel to the sea, the submarine can keep up with your car and that too while submerged in water. How’s that for speed?
3. Soviet Alfa Class Submarine
The Soviet Alfa (NATO name) class submarine was the originally fastest nuclear-powered submarines built to counter the U.S. The K-222 was the only submarine which went faster than the Alfa class, barring that, none-to-date are as fast. That puts two Russian creations in the list of the fastest. They were in service from 1977 to 1996.
- Submarine: Alfa Class
- Country: Russia
- Speed: 76 kmph [47 mph or 41 knots]
- Record created: 1970s under trial
Now, the Alfa class had a major challenge which I mentioned in the introduction section and that was the noise. The flipside of speed back then was noise and noise could be deadly. Deadly because the submarine can be easily detected by the enemies and once that happens, speed was hardly an advantage.
4. U.S. Seawolf Class Submarine
A list dominated by Russian and Chinese subs, this is the first American sub (can you believe that?). The Seawolf class succeeded the Los Angeles class, the original U.S. counter to the Soviet’s Alfa class. The Los Angeles was not known for its speed as much as its silent run, but the Seawolf did have decent speed and attack capabilities.
- Submarine: Seawolf class
- Country: United States of America
- Speed: 64.8 kmph [40.25 mph or 35 knots] [Maximum Speed]
- Record created: 1980s under trial
The Seawolf class was commissioned in 1997 and is on active duty even today. So, in theory, now that the Russian subs are in action no more, the Seawolf class technically becomes the fastest subs in the world. That said, going back to our caveat, speed is not of essence in this race.
5. British HMS Ambush
The HMS Ambush belongs to the Astute class and the speed we speak about is more or less for the entire class. The Ambush was one of the recent introductions being commissioned in 2013. It is a nuclear attack sub with attack missiles so powerful and SONAR so strong that it could put any competing sub to shame. Not to mention, sneak up on the competition, before putting it to shame. Here are the impressive stats:
- Submarine: HMS Ambush
- Country: United Kingdom
- Speed: 55.5 kmph [ 34.5 mph or 30 knots] [Maximum Speed]
- Record created: Late 2000 under trial
Below 30 knots is what most of the submarines of the world will be operating at, so the list hereon will be more inclusive and therefore, we will consider the HMS Ambush as the last in the exclusive club. That said there are many submarines whose speed still remains unknown, especially those made by French DCNS, and supplied to India and Australia or the Chinese current ones. We don’t know if that is going to be any different than the speeds of 25-30 knots or faster. Whenever we get information on the same and if it is fast, rest assured, it would be updated here.
Back to the Surface
Barring the supercavitation submarines, by today’s standards, any submarine doing 25-30 knots and remaining super silent with super-lethal missiles are the preferred choices. In such a world, the above-mentioned subs were in a class of their own.
© 2018 Savio Koman