After three years of work, the conversion of the ballistic missile submarine Ohio (SSBN 726) to a cruise missile submarine (SSGN), has been completed. The Ohio just completed it's sea trails, and will enter service early next year. The Ohio now carries 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and provides space for 66 commandos (usually SEALs) and their equipment. The second of four SSBNs to be converted, the USS Florida, will be ready for service later in 2006. The other two subs to be converted will begin work in 2005 and 2006. The idea of converting ballistic missile subs, that would have to be scrapped to fulfill disarmament agreements, has been bouncing around since the 1990s. After September 11, 2001, the idea got some traction. The navy submariners love this one, because they lost a lot of their reason for being with the end of the Cold War. The United States had built a powerful nuclear submarine force during the Cold War, but with the rapid disappearance of the Soviet navy in the 1990s, there was little reason to keep over a hundred nuclear subs in commission. These boats are expensive, costing over a billion each to build and over a million dollars a week to operate. The four Ohio class SSBN being converted each have at least twenty years of life left in them.
The idea of a sub, armed with 154 highly accurate cruise missiles, and capable of rapidly traveling under water (ignoring weather, or observation) at a speed of over 1,200 kilometers a day, to a far off hot spot, had great appeal in the post-Cold War world. The ability to carry a large force of commandos as well was also attractive. In one sub you have your choice of hammer or scalpel. More capable cruise missiles are in the works as well. Whether or not this multi-billion dollar investment will pay off remains to be seen. But it's certainly a bold move, and the navy already knows that Tomahawks and SEALs work.