Once upon a time, I lived and worked on the very first ballistic missile submarine known as the USS George Washington (SSBN 598). It was a unique experience that allowed me to become a submariner and experience things that most never will. The GW was already about 14 years old by the time I got to her and she had many miles under her keel. So my experience was filled with opportunities to learn how to adapt and overcome problems. The boat was a kind of hybrid since it began life as a Fast Attack submarine. The USSR had launched Sputnik and was making rapid advances in many weapons technologies so the US needed a game changing technology. The result was that a new type of underwater missile program was developed and the hull of the original Scorpion was cut roughly in half to accommodate a new missile compartment. The hull was renamed George Washington and she became the first boomer.
I only did four patrols on board her but they were filled with so many experiences. Submarines are not invulnerable to typhoons and we had a horrendous experience that could have meant her loss. The crew and the Captain saved the boat that night but it has left me with many nightmares in the years since. We also got to shoot some missiles in practice and it remains another of my night time dreams.
Later in my career, I got one more chance to experience the boomer life.
I was assigned to the Gold Crew of the USS Ohio. She was still a full-fledged boomer and I did four patrols on her as well. But talk about a difference. It would be like going from a Model T car to a full blown modern Cadillac. All of the bells and whistles and space beyond measure. I also got to do a missile shoot on the Ohio and the difference was indescribable. It would also be the last time I rode a submarine to sea. My final assignment before commissioning as a Chief Warrant Officer would be to the USS Indianapolis that was having a great deal of trouble getting out of Pearl Harbor Naval shipyard.
Before I left the Bangor Submarine Base however, I had one sad duty. I was invited to the decommissioning of the George Washington in the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. It was like closing an important chapter of my life.
Today, FBM submarines still perform the same mission they have since the first time the 598 boat went to sea. The Navy’s ballistic missile submarines, often referred to as “boomers,” serve as an undetectable launch platform for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). They are designed specifically for stealth and the precise delivery of nuclear warheads.
Each of the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs originally carried up to 24 SLBMs with multiple, independently-targeted warheads. However, under provisions of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, each submarine has had four of its missile tubes permanently deactivated and now carry a maximum of 20 missiles. The SSBN’s strategic weapon is the Trident II D5 missile, which provides increased range and accuracy over the now out-of-service Trident I C4 missile.
SSBNs are specifically designed for extended deterrent patrols. To decrease the amount of time required for replenishment and maintenance, Ohio-class submarines have three large-diameter logistics hatches that allow sailors to rapidly transfer supply pallets, equipment replacement modules and machinery components, thereby increasing their operational availability.
The Ohio-class design allows the submarines to operate for 15 or more years between major overhauls. On average, the submarines spend 77 days at sea followed by 35 days in-port for maintenance. Each SSBN has two crews, Blue and Gold, which alternate manning the submarines and taking them on patrol. This maximizes the SSBN’s strategic availability, reduces the number of submarines required to meet strategic requirements, and allows for proper crew training, readiness and morale.
General Characteristics Ships:
USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) Bangor, Washington
USS Alabama (SSBN 731) Bangor, Washington
USS Alaska (SSBN 732) Kings Bay, Georgia
USS Nevada (SSBN 733) Bangor, Washington
USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) Kings Bay, Georgia
USS Pennsylvania (SSBN 735) Bangor, Washington
USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) Kings Bay, Georgia
USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) Bangor, Washington
USS Maryland (SSBN 738) Kings Bay, Georgia
USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) Bangor, Washington
USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) Kings Bay, Georgia
USS Maine (SSBN 741) Bangor, Washington
USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) Kings Bay, Georgia
USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) Bangor, Washington
Class and type Ohio-class
16,764 long tons (17,033 t) surfaced
18,750 long tons (19,050 t) submerged
Length 560 ft. (170 m)
Beam 42 ft. (13 m)
Draft 38 ft. (12 m)
1 × S8G PWR nuclear reactor
2 × geared turbines
1 × 325 hp (242 kW) auxiliary motor
1 × shaft @ 60,000 shp (45,000 kW)
Speed Greater than 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Test depth Greater than 800 feet (240 m)
24 × Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles (Modified to 20 by SALT)
“The COLUMBIA Class SSBN is the nation’s future Sea Based Strategic Deterrent, is the Navy’s number one acquisition priority, and will provide the most survivable leg of the Nation’s strategic triad. It replaces the currently serving OHIO Class SSBNs and must be constructed and delivered on schedule beginning in FY2027 to meet United States Strategic Command requirements.
Representing a generational recapitalization of the SSBN force, COLUMBIA class will ensure continuous sea-based strategic deterrence into the 2080s. The COLUMBIA class will be the largest, most capable and most advanced submarine produced by our nation.”
Until mankind learns how to live together without the inherent conflict that has existed since the beginning of time, the need for a way to prevent conflict will probably always exist. The West won the First Cold War because we demonstrated the capability to rain unlimited destruction down on the enemy if they were foolish enough to fire first. I still pray that we never find out what would actually happen if the did.