We've visited the United States Navy Carrier Strike Group and the Expeditionary Strike Group, each of which have attack submarines among their escorts. I touched upon Israel's plans with their small fleet of Dolphin class conventional boats in Israel's Nuclear Option and now I'll round out this line of thinking with an examination of America's submarine fleet.
72 boats, four different classes, and one very sneaky modified Seawolf class. Everything from bluewater strategic missile platforms to brownwater covert operations. All nuclear powered. No combat losses since WW II. No operational losses since 1968. Let's submerge into their world and take the fleet tour.
The most common and oldest of boats in our inventory are the forty five surviving Los Angeles class attack boats. Seventeen of the original sixty two have been retired. The final twenty three of the remaining boats have extensive improvements over their sister ships including diving planes mounted at the waterline rather than on the sail. This permits them to surface through arctic ice if their mission requires such activities. The final thirty one boats in this production run have vertical launch tubes for conventional cruise missles.
I write about this sort of thing more than anyone else on DailyKos, but I'm just a competent lay person. It was news to me that there was an external pod for carrying navy SEAL teams. I'll do some digging and maybe produce a diary on special forces operations ...
The second most common boats are the Ohio class. The eighteen bluewater ballistic missile boats are split into two duties – the fourteen labeled SSBN bear strategic nuclear weapons, while the four labeled SSGN carry conventional weapons. The SSGN boats are retreads, repurposed at the end of the cold war due to limits on the number of nuclear weapons we are allowed by treaty. This doctrinal change is a very good move – the converted Ohio class, twice the displacement of our most potent surface ship, the Ticonderoga class guided missile cruise, packs 154 cruise missiles. The cruiser only holds 122. And unlike the cruiser nobody knows where an SSGN might be lurking.
U.S.S. Michigan SSBN-727
Here's a submarine interest tidbit. Propeller designs are kept very secret because knowing their shape would permit an opponent to make educated guesses about how to detect the boat. It's all well and good until an open source intel person finds a satellite photo of an uncovered Ohio class boat's stern. This cat is already well out of the bag and I imagine there are now rules about 24x7 coverage of boats brought into dry dock.
Military acquisition is a glacial process, but the navy turned rather quickly at the end of the cold war. The Seawolf class was envisioned as the replacement to the aging Los Angeles class. Twenty nine total were planned but only three were actually built before the realities of the collapse of the Soviet union reduced concerns over the Typhoon class boats these were planned to hunt.
The most interesting of these three is the Jimmy Carter SSN-23. This boat was lengthened by a hundred feet to make room for navy SEAL teams and other special cargo. Special positioning thrusters permit the boat to precisely position – which is needed for tapping undersea fiber cables.
Like the later Los Angeles class boats, the Seawolf is built to penetrate Arctic ice.
The newest boats of the fleet are the six active (thirty planned) Virginia class submarines. This has to be the most useless Wikipedia entry I've ever seen – I'll paraphrase from other sources. This boat bears the same dozen vertical cruise missile launch tubes found in the later Los Angeles class and four tubes for the Mark 48 torpedo.
U.S.S. Virginia SSN-774
Modern smart torpedoes do things differently than the way Hollywood represents them. Instead of impacting the target they dive under it, explode, and the resulting steam bubble first lifts the ship and the middle, then it falls back into the void left behind, but the ends are still supported. This breaks the keel of the vessel, often tearing smaller ships in half. This short non-English video is the best representation I've found as to the particulars of such an attack.
Given the tensions in the Persian Gulf what do you guys want me to do next? Iranian navy ships and missiles?