Submarines: Ohio Goes Looking For Trouble

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November 3, 2007: The U.S. Navy has completed the conversion of the first of four Ohio class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), to cruise missile submarines (SSGN). After four years of work, the USS Ohio (PHOTO), has begun operating in the Pacific. The other three boats are being readied for service. Each of these boats now carries 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and provides space (for living, working and training) for 66 commandos (usually SEALs) and their equipment.

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 U.S. 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 appealing. The Ohio SSGNs can also carry a wide variety of electronic sensors and other data collecting gear. Thus 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.

The Ohio will be based in Washington State, but will operate from Pacific bases for the next 14 months. As when it was an SSBN, it will have two crews (each with 159 personnel, not including commandoes), which will switch places in the boat every 3-4 months, flying out to places like Guam for the swap. The Ohio, and the other four SSGNs, will apparently spend most of their time on intelligence collecting missions. As such, it may be a while before you hear any details. The second SSGN will enter service next year, and be based in Georgia state.

 


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