Some of the most guarded military facilities in the world are the homes to nuclear missile submarines. These bastions of nuclear warfighting power represent the homes of the most powerful weapon systems ever conceived. It should be noted that only operational bases will be discussed herein; support facilities, construction yards, and other facilities are outside the scope of this article.
An SSBN is a nuclear-powered submarine designed to carry and launch a number of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. SSBNs act as the seagoing component of their operators nuclear deterrent force. The advantage of an SSBN lies in its inherent survivability through stealth. SSBNs are notoriously hard to locate when in their patrol areas and are the perfect counterforce weapon in a nuclear conflict. The mere presence of an SSBN at sea may be enough of a deterrent to ward off a nuclear exchange, as a retaliatory strike is all but guaranteed. A modern SSBN using depressed-trajectory weapons can also provide a legitimate first-strike capability, bestowing little or no warning on a targeted nation and increasing the odds that a crippling, decisive first strike can be a successful nuclear warfighting option. It should come as no suprise that the five nations employing SSBN fleets are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The United States operates two SSBN facilities, one serving each coast. The Pacific coast facility is located at Bangor, Washington, with the Atlantic coast facility being located at Kings Bay, Georgia.
The Bangor, Washington SSBN facility consists of five main dockside areas. The southernmost facility, the KB docks, are only used to service and house support craft which service the SSBNs. SSBNs themselves tie up pierside at either the Delta Refit Pier, or the Marginal Wharf. Weapons loading is carried out at a dedicated covered dock, and a degaussing facility is also present.
The following annotated image depicts the locations of the relevant facilities at the Bangor SSBN base:
The following image depicts the Delta Refit Pier, where three Ohio-class SSBNs can be seen:
The following image depicts an Ohio-class SSBN returning to the Bangor facility via the Juan De Fuca Strait:
The Kings Bay SSBN facility consists of four main dockside areas. There is a primary pier for supporting submarines in port, a drydock facility, and a degaussing facility. There are also two weapons loading facilities, in contrast to the Bangor SSBN base, which only has one.
The following annotated image depicts the Kings Bay SSBN facility:
The United Kingdom's SSBN force, consisting of four Vanguard class SSBNs, is based at HMS Neptune in the northwestern part of the nation. The facility is referred to as HMS Neptune due to the Royal Navy's practice of commisioning shore facilities as vessels in Her Majesty's Navy. Outside of military circles, however, the facility is more commonly known as Faslane.
The following image depicts the Royal Navy's SSBN facility at HMS Neptune, with two of the Vanguard class SSBNs visible pierside:
France's Force Oceanique Strategique controls French SSBNs, which are based at I'lle Longue, near the port of Brest. The M4 L'Inflexible class SSBNs have given way to the new SNLE-NG Le Triomphant class SSBNs, with three of the latter having been commissioned as of the end of 2007, with a fourth due in 2008.
The following image depicts the French SSBN facility, with one of the old L'Inflexible class SSBNs visible in port:
Russia's SSBN force has shrank considerably since the end of the Cold War. The recent withdrawl from service of Delta I and Typhoon class SSBNs leaves only the Delta III and Delta IV still serving until the new Borey class vessels are ready for duty. One Typhoon is still active in support of the Bulava SLBM test program out of Severodvinsk, but is no longer on active duty with the Northern Fleet. The withdrawl of the Typhoons means that Litsa Guba is no longer an active SSBN facility, leaving the Russian SSBN force with two operating locations: Gadzhiyevo in the Northern Fleet, and Rybachiy in the Pacific Fleet.
Gadzhiyevo, located on the Kola Peninsula, is the home to the Russian Northern Fleet's SSBN force. Both Delta III and Delta IV class SSBNs are operated.
The following image depicts the Gadzhiyevo submarine base, with two SSBNs annotated:
A second Delta IV can be seen at nearby Olenya Bay, a facility which has been associated with the Gadzhiyevo SSBN fleet in some circles:
Rybachiy, located near Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula, is the home to the remainder of Russia's operational Delta III SSBN fleet. Rybachiy is divided into two main areas, a port facility where operational SSBNs and SSNs are docked, and a maintenance facility with a floating drydock for upkeep of the Pacific Fleet submarine force stationed there.
The following image depicts the Rybachiy submarine base; closer examination of the imagery will reveal two Delta III SSBNs in residence:
There are three primary SSBN facilities serving the PLAN, Qingdao, Xiaopingdao, and Yulin. The Qingdao facility is located near the port city of the same name, while the Xiaopingdao facility is located near the port city of Dalian. Yulin is located much farther south, on Hainan island.
Qingdao was the first SSBN facility to be constructed in China. It currently serves as the homeport for China's sole Type 092 Xia-class SSBN, as well as a number of SSNs. The only currently identified structure known to service the Type 092 SSBN is a large drydock facility.
The following image depicts the Qingdao SSBN base:
The following image depicts the Type 092 in drydock at Qingdao:
Xiaopingdao is a relatively new SSBN facility associated with the new Type 094 Jin-class SSBN currently being fielded. Jin-class SSBNs have been identified at this facility in the past, and Xiaopingdao is also home to the PLAN's sole Golf-class SSB. The Golf-class SSB is employed as an SLBM test vehicle, and is currently likely supporting JL-2 SLBM trials for the Type 094 fleet. The transitory nature of Jin-class SSBN presence at Xiaopingdao, as well as the Golf-class SSB's presence, suggests that Xiaopingdao may not be home to any operational SSBNs, but may instead be a trials base where new SSBNs and SLBMs are trialled before entering operational service.
The following image depicts the Xiaopingdao SSBN facility, where the Golf-class SSB can be seen along with a Type 093 Shang-class SSN:
The following image depicts a Jin-class SSBN pierside at Xiaopingdao, from October of this year:
Yulin is the latest naval facility to be associated with the PLAN's SSBN force. In December of 2007 images appeard on the internet of a Jin-class SSBN pierside at the Yulin submarine facility. Until this point Yulin had never been visited by nor been the home port to a Chinese SSBN. While it is possible that this represents a port of call by a new Type 094 SSBN making a long-distance sortie in Chinese waters, it is also possible that the vessel sighted there will now call Yulin home, giving China two separate operational SSBN port facilities, with both the North Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet having an SSBN contingent.
The following image depicts the Yulin submarine base:
-All satellite imagery from Google Earth