Five weeks ago, it was announced that Australia finalized a $25 billion-dollar order of anti-submarine frigates from Britain’s BAE Systems. This purchase is the latest procurement of heavy weaponry threatening to stir up the South China Sea territorial dispute.

Since 1991, five of seven countries with a claim to islands or water in the South China Sea have purchased at least one attack submarine, and all five countries that have begun or announced freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea possess submarines. As the danger of submarines in the South China Sea has grown, countries like Australia have responded by further investing in either submarines or anti-submarine equipment.

The history of submarine usage in combat dates to the American War of Independence when the “Turtle” submersible attempted to plant a bomb on a British flagship. Since then, attack submarines have since been used to disrupt trade routes, secretly deploy troops, and dodge enemy lines to gain an element of surprise. A necessary tool in interstate warfare, submarines have been used to great effect, such as when German U-Boats in World War I sank an estimated 5,000 ships.

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