During the Cold War, the United States invested heavily in submarine technology
to counter a much larger Soviet submarine force. Technological superiority
proved a winning but expensive strategy. How expensive is hard to say.
Determining the cost of any advanced military technological system produced
in relatively small numbers raises complex problems. There are no price
lists for nuclear-powered submarines. A 1998 study estimated that the
United States spent $2 trillion in 1996 dollars (to account for inflation)
on all strategic nuclear forces throughout the Cold War. Submarines took
about one-third the total: $320.5 billion for the ballistic-missile submarine
program, plus $97 billion for the missiles; $46 billion for the submarine
share of naval nuclear propulsion research, development, testing, production,
and operations; and $220 billion for attack submarine construction, weapons,
and related systems.
also took almost one-third of the Navy's shipbuilding funds between 1952
and 199119% for fast attacks, 12% for boomersand, at peak strength,
comprised just under one-third of the U.S. Navy's fighting fleet. Although
submarines cost relatively more than surface ships to buy, they are cheaper
to operate. Not only do submarines have smaller crews, the purchase price
includes the cost of fuel. Nuclear-powered submarines steam for years
between refuelings while conventionally powered warships must refill their
fuel tanks every few days.