US launches ‘most advanced’ stealth sub amid undersea rivalry

Washington (CNN)Touted as the world’s most technologically advanced fast attack submarine, the USS South Dakota is set to join the US Navy fleet amid a growing threat to American undersea dominance from several foreign rivals.

Operating beneath the ocean’s surface, a submarine’s strategic value is often tied directly to its ability to navigate in or near enemy waters without being detected to conduct reconnaissance or attack missions.

For years, the United States has maintained a technological edge over the submarines developed by rival nations, but recent advances made by Russia and China have sparked concerns of an emerging threat to American undersea superiority.

Christened earlier this month , the nuclear-powered USS South Dakota marks the US Navy’s latest effort to maintain that edge and provides a technological blueprint for future development.

The Navy’s 70-boat submarine fleet is made up of three major types of boats: ballistic-missile submarines, attack submarines, and cruise-missile submarines. The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Hampton surfaces through Arctic ice in March 2014. The Los Angeles-class is the biggest in the Navy’s sub fleet, with a few dozen in commission. These subs displace 6,900 tons and are 360 feet long. The class was introduced in 1976. Photos: U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet Photos: U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet A dolphin swims in front of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS John Warner during its sea trials in May 2015. Virginia-class subs, displacing 7,800 tons and at 377 feet long, “are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and special operation forces (SOF); carry out inntelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support battle group operations; and engage in mine warfare,” according to the Navy.

The USS Seawolf, shown here in support of European operations in June 2015, is the lead vessel in the three-boat Seawolf class. The Seawolf and the USS Connecticut, the second boat in the class, displace 9,138 tons and are 353 feet long. Click to the next slide to learn more about the third sub in the class, the USS Jimmy Carter.

The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter is moored in a Washington state facility that reduces a ship’s electromagnetic signature in 2006. The Jimmy Carter is 100 feet longer than the first two subs in its class. The extra space is for a “multimission platform,” the Navy says. “This hull section provides for additional payloads to accommodate advanced technology used to carry out classified research and development and for enhanced warfighting capabilities.”

A dolphin swims in front of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS John Warner during its sea trials in May 2015. Virginia-class subs, displacing 7,800 tons and at 377 feet long, “are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and special operation forces (SOF); carry out inntelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support battle group operations; and engage in mine warfare,” according to the Navy.

The USS Seawolf, shown here in support of European operations in June 2015, is the lead vessel […]