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SSN vs. SSBN — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on October 30, 2023
SSN refers to nuclear-powered attack submarines, while SSBN denotes nuclear-powered submarines equipped with ballistic missiles.
SSN vs. SSBN — What's the Difference?

Difference Between SSN and SSBN


Key Differences

In naval parlance, both SSN and SSBN relate to types of submarines, but they serve very distinct roles and are equipped differently. An SSN, standing for "Submersible Ship Nuclear," is a nuclear-powered attack submarine. Its primary objective is to locate and neutralize enemy sea vessels, especially other submarines. On the contrary, SSBN stands for "Submersible Ship Ballistic Nuclear." This describes a nuclear-powered submarine that is armed with ballistic missiles, often with nuclear warheads.
Both SSN and SSBN rely on nuclear propulsion, which allows them to remain submerged for extended periods, often limited only by the crew's endurance. However, the SSBN's ballistic missiles are strategic assets with a primary function of nuclear deterrence. Their presence ensures a nation's capability to retaliate in case of a nuclear first strike, making an adversary think twice before launching an attack.
The SSN, on the other hand, has a more tactical role. It can engage in various missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence gathering, and surveillance. Conversely, SSBNs typically operate with stealth, staying hidden to maintain the credibility of a second-strike capability.
In essence, while both SSN and SSBN are crucial assets in naval warfare, their roles are fundamentally different. The SSN actively hunts and engages, whereas the SSBN remains a silent and concealed force, providing a strategic nuclear deterrent.

Comparison Chart

Full Form

Submersible Ship Nuclear
Submersible Ship Ballistic Nuclear

Main Role

Attack submarine
Ballistic missile submarine


Torpedoes, mines, anti-ship missiles
Ballistic missiles (often nuclear-tipped)

Strategic vs Tactical


Typical Missions

Anti-submarine warfare, intelligence, anti-surface warfare
Nuclear deterrence, second-strike capability

Compare with Definitions


Submarine designed for various tactical missions.
The Navy deployed the SSN for a reconnaissance mission.


A nuclear-powered submarine carrying ballistic missiles.
The SSBN is a crucial part of the nation's nuclear triad.


Primary tool for anti-submarine warfare.
The SSN was tasked with neutralizing the threat of enemy submarines.


Vessel with a primary role of second-strike capability.
In case of a first strike, the SSBN can still launch its missiles.


A nuclear-powered attack submarine.
The SSN patrolled the area for enemy vessels.


Stealthy, silent operator in naval waters.
The SSBN remained hidden, ensuring its missiles were always ready.


Vessel that can stay submerged for extended durations.
Thanks to nuclear propulsion, the SSN remained underwater for months.


Potent platform for long-range nuclear missiles.
The SSBN's ballistic missiles can reach targets thousands of miles away.


An agile, fast-moving underwater craft.
The SSN swiftly maneuvered to avoid detection.


Submarine offering strategic nuclear deterrence.
The presence of the SSBN ensures a retaliatory capability.

Common Curiosities

Can an SSN carry ballistic missiles like an SSBN?

Typically, SSNs are not equipped with long-range ballistic missiles.

What is the main role of SSBN?

It serves as a ballistic missile submarine.

How do nations use SSBNs in terms of strategy?

As a silent deterrent against nuclear attacks.

Can SSNs engage surface ships?

Yes, they are equipped for anti-surface warfare.

Why is stealth important for SSBN?

To maintain a credible second-strike capability.

Which submarine type primarily engages in anti-submarine warfare?


Which is more tactical, SSN or SSBN?


What does SSN stand for?

Submersible Ship Nuclear.

Do SSNs typically carry nuclear warheads?

No, their primary weaponry is torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.

What powers both SSN and SSBN?

Nuclear propulsion.

Which submarine type is more active in naval operations?


How do SSBNs contribute to nuclear deterrence?

By ensuring a retaliatory strike capability.

What is the significance of the ballistic missiles on an SSBN?

They often carry nuclear warheads for strategic deterrence.

How long can SSBNs remain submerged?

Potentially months, limited mainly by crew endurance.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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