Nuclear deterrence continues to be a major function of the submarine force, but the role of fast attacks has diversified to include a range of littoral (near shore) activities. Among the missions now receiving new or expanded emphasis are intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; planting improved mobile mines; striking land targets with Tomahawk cruise missiles; and serving as covert platforms for the delivery of special operations forces. Many prospective missions remain classified.

In 1998 the independent Defense Science Board reported to the Department of Defense on "The Submarine of the Future." The Board concluded that "SSNs are a key and enduring element of the current and future naval force," advising that "more, not fewer," will be required, given the increasing vulnerability of surface and air forces to ever-improving sensors and precision weapons. Subsequent study by the Chairman of the Joint Staff projected the need at 68 SSNs by 2015.

Tomahawk Missile Launch

SEALs launch a SEAL delivery vehicle (SDV) while submerged. Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute

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