1987 – The Counterpunch for a growing Soviet threat

1987 – The Counterpunch for a growing Soviet threat

When I became a Machinist Mate Chief Petty Officer in August of 1987, I celebrated having served on a fair representation of Cold War submarines and stations. The journey took me from New London to Charleston to Pearl Harbor to Mare Island. Then the trip continued in Norfolk, back to Pearl Harbor and eventually to Bangor Washington.

I started on the first class of Ballistic Missile submarines (USS George Washington SSBN 598B), the USS Halibut SSN 587 and took a short break. The next command was the USS San Francisco SSN 711 where Casper Wineberger announced a 600 ship Navy. It was one of the last boats that Admiral Rockover rode for sea trials. After sixty-four years of service, Rickover retired from the Navy as a full admiral on 19 January 1982. He died on July 8, 1986.

My next boat was the USS Ohio SSBN 726G. I was on board the oldest and newest boomer when we test fired the missiles that would prove our capability to a watching world. It was an impressive feeling to be so close to the power that protected freedom.

As I put on my Chief’s chevrons, I was well aware of the menace that was present just off of our coasts. I would serve on one more boat (Indianapolis) before changing my stripes once more to that of a Submarine Engineering Technician Chief Warrant Officer.

But in 1987, the Soviets had also reached a point of strength that was impressive. Since the 1950’s, they had built layer upon layer of submarine and surface strength to realize the dreams of a world power. The United States and her allies were the only thing standing between them and domination.

To achieve our mission, we had a mighty fleet of boats with amazing capabilities. This was our golden age. As revealed in this Navy Fact file, our attack and ballistic missile capabilities were well fortified. This was the peak of power for any nation and the submarine force stood in the gate and denied entry to anyone who tried to force their way in.


The U.S. Navy’s submarine program is based upon two key threads which run consistently throughout current overall naval strategy:

* to deter attack on the United States, our allies and friends, and to prevent coercion under threat of attack.

* if deterrence fails, to deny the enemy his war aims through full forward-pressure posture.

The Soviet Union poses the single greatest threat to maintenance of U.S. maritime superiority. The Soviets are intent on building a first rate highly capable submarine force and a competent anti-submarine force.

The U.S. submarine force must continue to ride the leading edge of technology to maintain an advantage over the Soviet Union’s numerically larger maritime forces. The Soviets have been working for more than 20 years to develop an anti-submarine warfare capability with which to counter the U.S. submarine force.

Neither current intelligence nor our own development work in the areas of acoustic and non-acoustic submarine detection indicate any dramatic advance or imminent breakthrough that would put our submarines at significant risk. The sea is opaque and the extraordinary capabilities of stealth, endurance and survivability built into U.S. submarines enable them to function as a major deterrent to war, or become a significant factor in victory should deterrence fail.

U.S. Navy Attack Submarine Force Mission

The multi-mission nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN) will play a critical role in the Navy’s full forward pressure strategy. The Navy must have complete control of undersea areas in which surface forces are operating, and has established a goal of 100 SSNs based on a need to deploy them both simultaneously and sequentially to accomplish the following missions:

* penetrate deeply into hostile seas to conduct sustained independent operations against enemy submarines and surface forces and, with the introduction of cruise missiles, to attack land targets

* protect sea lines of communication

* operate in direct support of carrier battle groups against both submarine and surface threats

* conduct covert special missions such as mining, reconnaissance, and landing of special warfare teams behind enemy lines

Attack submarines must be effective in all ocean areas of the world including restricted waters, under the ice, in the tropics and in both deep and shallow oceans. They also must be capable of changing assignments rapidly without logistical support and be able to reposition quickly.

As of November 1986, the U.S. nuclear attack submarine force consisted of:

* 34 Los Angeles (688) Class

* 39 Sturgeon (637) Class

* 13 Permit (594) Class

* 8 Pre-594 Class

* 2 former SSBNs converted to SSNs

* 96 Total SSNs

It is anticipated that the submarine force will reach 100 SSNs in 1988.

The Los Angeles class submarine was designed in the late 1960s. In the face of the expanding Soviet threat, the Navy is placing high priority on improving the SSN warfighting capability. Improvements to the Los Angeles class submarine include:

* Los Angeles class submarines (beginning with SSN 719) have been modified to include 12 vertical launch tubes which increases tactical cruise missile capacity without reducing the number of other weapons carried.

* The AN/BSY-1 Combat System, which will incorporate new sensor and computer processing capabilities will be installed beginning with SSN 751.

Although extensive improvements are being made to the Los Angeles class submarines, still more improvements will be needed to counter Soviet submarine developments. Improvements in sound quieting, better sensors, added firepower, higher tactical speed and increased operating envelope are required to address the Soviet submarine threat of the 21st century, and cannot be incorporated into the existing hull envelope of the Los Angeles class submarine.

A new design attack submarine is being developed to meet the future threat and prevail in every phase of undersea warfare. This class has been designated the SSN-21 to signify it is being designed to meet the anticipated Soviet submarine threat and high technological demands of the 21st Century.


* Driven by dramatic improvement in the Soviet fleet

* Exhaustive examination over 1982-1984 period

* Conceptual design work by top submarine technical knowledge in Navy Department

* Maximum benefit from on-going R&D programs in Navy laboratories

* Participation by industry through open contracts


* Military characteristics established which give benefits of technology and dramatic performance improvements over the 688, i.e., speed, operability, sound quieting, sensor improvements, firepower, mission employment and survivability

* Have pushed R&D programs to the maximum

* Built in growth margin

* Quietest, fastest, most heavily armed

* Designed to fight in hostile environment and survive

* Has acoustic advantage to maintain standoff


* Multiple mission capability

* Can carry weapons entering fleet today and beyond

* Uses same crew manning as 688 class

* Will replace multiple mission 637 class as they retire

* Can carry Tomahawk land attack missile

The three main weapons deployed in attack submarines are the heavyweight torpedo, the rocket boosted standoff weapon and the cruise missile. All have follow-on variants in development.

The Mark 48 heavyweight torpedo makes up the majority of submarine weapons complement. There are two programs in place to improve the Mark 48 torpedo in the near and mid-term:

  • Near Term: The program to improve the reliability of the Mark 48 is complete. In-service Mark 48s have been modified during the upgrade to provide an interim capability against the deep, fast submarine threat.
  • Mid-Term: The advanced capability program (ADCAP) is developing a major performance modification to the Mark 48. ADCAP will improve heavyweight torpedo performance in the following areas:
    •  Shallow water performance
    •  Performance in high seas
    •  Performance within strong thermal gradients
    •  Deep diving capabilities
    •  Speed capabilities
    • Changes in the guidance and control system of the Mark 48 will improve its effectiveness against threats with reduced sonar target strength and targets which present a low Doppler profile.

The anti-surface warfare (ASUW) exploder has been improved over that of the Mark 48.

ADCAP will outperform the Mark 48 in high background noise/high reverberation environments.

The submarine launched anti-submarine standoff weapons (ASWSOW), which will replace the aging SUBROC, is in its full scale engineering development phase.

* The ASWSOW will carry a newly developed Mark 50 Advanced Light Weight Torpedo (ALWT) payload and the development program includes an option for follow- on, nuclear depth bomb payload variant.

* The ASWSOW incorporates a digital guidance system — the same inertial guidance system used in the Mark 48 ADCAP.

MA 111

* The ASWSOW is capable of deep launch from a submarine torpedo tube with one of the two warhead options. The missile then is buoyed to the surface in a water-tight container where the solid propellant rocket motor ignites and delivers the weapon to the target area at supersonic speed. At a point above the suspected target area, the warhead detaches from the rocket and parachutes to the water. Upon contact with water, the torpedo warhead assumes its search and attack pattern.

* The existence of ASWSOW complements the capabilities of the Mark 48 ADCAP torpedo by providing a standoff option whereby an enemy submarine can be incapacitated from a distance well beyond the maximum engagement range of the Mark 48 ADCAP torpedo.

Attack submarines are capable of carrying Harpoon anti- ship cruise missiles and are being given the capability of carrying the Tomahawk cruise missile in its many variants. Tomahawk cruise missiles will supplant Harpoon.

* Harpoon missiles, which complement the Mark 48 torpedo, have performed extremely well.

* They will provide a capable, reliable weapon system of enormous significance and with much improved range over Harpoon.

* The Tomahawk anti-ship variant (TASM) has been introduced into attack submarines.

* The nuclear capable, land attack Tomahawk was introduced into the fleet in mid-1984.

The conventionally armed, land attack Tomahawk (unitary warhead) was introduced into the fleet in March 1986. The conventionally armed land attack Tomahawk (sub munition dispenser) will be introduced into the fleet in September 1987.

SOURCE: Department of the Navy (OP-02PA) Washington, DC 20350-2000 (202) 697-8704


MISSION: Deterrence of war has been the sole mission and fundamental reason for the existence of the fleet ballistic submarine since its inception in 1960. This is among the Navy’s highest priority programs and is the cornerstone of the national security policy functioning as a survivable and dependable leg of the strategic deterrent Triad.

COMMENTARY: The Navy presently has 36 strategic submarines in the force, including 28 submarines of the Lafayette, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin classes (listed below) and eight Trident l C-4 configured Ohio class submarines. Twelve ships of the earlier classes have been converted to carry the Trident l missile.

The Trident submarine is a state-of-the-art replacement for aging fleet ballistic missile submarines built during a short period in the 1960s. Each Trident submarine is far more capable than the Poseidon submarine it replaces, both in number of missiles carried and destructive capability. Deployment with the Trident l missile has markedly enhanced the survivability of the Poseidon submarines. The increased-range capability of the Trident l missile provides the Poseidon submarines with a far more expansive operating area and allows them to cover targets shortly after leaving U.S. ports. Poseidon submarines will reach block obsolescence and will be replaced by the Trident submarines during the mid-1990s.

The Navy plans to maintain a building rate of one Trident submarine per year throughout the five year defense plan. The ultimate force level objective is undetermined.

The first eight Ohio class ships (Trident) are configured to carry 24 Trident l C-4 submarine launched ballistic missiles. Beginning with the ninth Trident submarine, Tennessee (SSBN-734), all new construction ships will be equipped with the Trident II missile system as they are built. Trident II will deliver significantly more payload than Trident l with a major improvement in accuracy. Trident II full load range will be comparable to or greater than the Trident l with an option to configure for greater ranges with fewer reentry vehicles. Trident II will substantially improve the strategic submarine contribution to the Triad by providing an extended capability against the full spectrum of targets.

In the early 1990s, the Navy plans to begin to reconfigure the first eight ships to carry the Trident II missile. Eventually, all Trident submarines will be configured to carry Trident II missiles.

In 1987, the Navy requested $1,193.7 million for the 15th Ohio class submarine plus $137.1 million for long lead materials for the 1 7th ship. The FY 1 989 budget includes full funding for the 16th Trident submarine and advance procurement funds for the 18th ship.


Displacement: 18,700 tons submerged Length: 560 feet

Beam: 42 feet

Speed: 20 plus knots

Power Plant: One nuclear reactor, two geared turbines, one shaft


Armament: 24 tubes for Trident missiles, four torpedo tubes

Compliment: Builder: General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division

USS Ohio (SSBN-726); Bangor, WA

USS Michigan (SSBN-727); Bangor, WA

USS Florida (SSBN-728); Bangor, WA

USS Georgia (SSBN-729); Bangor, WA

USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730); Bangor, WA

USS Alabama (SSBN-731); Bangor, WA

USS Alaska (SSBN-732); Bangor, WA

USS Nevada (SSBN-733); Bangor, WA



Displacement: 8,250 tons submerged

Length: 425 feet

Beam: 33 feet

Speed: 20 plus knots

Power Plant: One nuclear reactor, two geared turbines, one shaft Armament: 16 tubes for Poseidon or Trident missiles, four torpedo tubes Complement: 139

Builders: SSBNs 616, 617, 623, 626, 628, 631, 633, 640, 643, 645, 655, 657, 659, General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division, 619, 624, 629, 634, 642, 658, Mare Island Naval Shipyard; 620, 636, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; 622, 625, 627, 630, 632, 635, 641 , 644, 654, 656, Newport News Shipbuilding

USS Benjamin Franklin (SSBN-640); Newport News, VA USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641); Portsmouth, NH USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642); Groton, CT USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643); Charleston, SC USS Lewis and Clark (SSBN-644); Charleston, SC USS James K. Polk (SSBN-645); Portsmouth, NH USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654); Groton, CT USS Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655); Charleston, SC USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656); Groton, CT USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657); Charleston, SC USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658); Charleston, SC USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659); Groton, CT


USS Lafayette (SSBN-616); Groton, CT USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617); Groton, CT USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619); Groton, CT USS John Adams (SSBN-620); Charleston, SC USS James Monroe (SSBN-622); Charleston, SC USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624); Charleston, SC USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625); Charleston, SC USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626); Groton, CT


USS James Madison (SSBN-627); Charleston, SC USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628); Newport News, VA USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629); Newport News, VA USS John C. Calhoun (SSBN-630); Charleston, SC USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631); Portsmouth, NH USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632); Charleston, SC USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633); Charleston, SC USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634); Charleston, SC

SOURCE: Department of the Navy (OP-02P) Washington, DC 20350 (202) 697-8704

The Cold War ended in more of a whimper than a roar.

I suppose we can’t complain considering the alternative. The Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union just began to unravel. The ensuing years would show that much of the danger was still there in the former Soviet states as well as China. But the Cold War as we knew it was over.

The Navy never did make 600 ships. The killer boats called the SSN 21 were no longer needed and other classes have followed. I’ll talk about them some time in the future. If we are all still here.

I’m just glad to have had a front row seat to so much submarine history. Sometimes I still wonder if it was all real.

Mister Mac


10 thoughts on “1987 – The Counterpunch for a growing Soviet threat

  1. Very interesting
    A great message.
    I was fortunate to have served on the John Marshall SSBN 611 for two years out of Holy Loch.
    I joined a submarine reserve unit in Long Beach Ca. In 1962. After going active duty in 1963 I attended Sub school in New London and check volunteer FBM because I was told it was a Nuclear Sub. I got my wish and as a seaman I was assigned to the this Sub not knowing what a FBM really was. I was the lowest ranked sailor and a Quartermaster striker.
    I served two years with the Gold crew with a great group of guys and will always remember those two years of Sub service.

  2. I have a fond memory of our subs in the Holy Lock Scotland. Husband was Ships Sup and worked double time when his boats were in for short time, As a Navy Vet mysel, and as President of Chief’s Wives Club (active in Scottish-American relations for 3 years) I often found myself sewing appropriate flags for various boats and sending presents back to crew’s loved ones back in our Great USA. This reminds me so clearly of Navy boats missionsunder the seas as the P3s watchful eyes in the skies.
    Thank you for this detailed site.

    1. Marsha, thank you for your service to our great country and the free world. Most people will never know all of the sacrifices made in their honor. I hope the web site can shed a little light on some of the things done during that long period of time.

  3. Very informative piece! I really didn’t know much about the armaments and the subs we were guarding or this level of the mission. MARDET AS33 Simon Lake, Holy Loch, Scotland.

    1. Thanks Fred. I am trying to get my book through the editing process and hope to have it done soon. The articles are a way of sharing some of my stories


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