The History of Submarines
In the year 2000, the American submarine force will celebrate the first century of service by highly skilled people in some of the most technologically advanced vessels ever built. The past 100 years have witnessed the evolution of a force that mastered submersible warfare, introduced nuclear propulsion to create the true submarine, and for decades patrolled the deep ocean front line; the hottest part of an otherwise Cold War.
Submarines in War
The U.S. Navys involvement with the submarine dates form 1888 when the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BUC&R) sponsored a design competition that brought John Holland a naval contract to build the experimental Plunger. As the new century dawned, prominent American naval leaders like Admiral George Dewey called the submarine a real threat to international surface forces, leading the Navy to acquire its first submarine in 1900. Overcoming competition from fellow American inventor, Simon Lake, Holland sold his newest model, Holland VI, to the Navy for $160,000 on April 11. This 64-ton submarine commissioned as USS Holland, or SS-1, on October 12 of the same year, was equipped with an Otto-type gasoline engine for surface running and electric motors for submerged operations.
Due to the volatility of gasoline, American submersible designs soon followed the French practice, adopting the diesel engine in 1909 with the Electric Boat Companys F class (SS-20 through 23), built at Union Iron Works in San Francisco. Combining the influence of diesel propulsion with the submersible designs of Holland and Lake, American submersibles took a familiar configuration through American entry into the Great War. Submarines of the E, H, K, L, M, N, O, and R classes and ranged in displacement form 287 to 510 tons, with the fastest boats displaying a top surface speed of barely 14 knots on diesel power.
During World War I the U.S. Navy separated these submersibles into two groups according to mission. Boats of the N and O classes, as well as some of the E type, patrolled American coasts and harbors following a defensive strategy.
Other submarines drew assignments that sent them to hostile European waters after 1917. Some K-, L-, O-, and E-class boats conducted offensive, open-sea operations from the Azores and Bantry Bay in Ireland. They supported the Allied effort to maintain open sea lanes along the European coast and in the approaches to the British Isles.
The Nay Departments plans for these vessels reflected the prevailing surface warfare thinking, which perceived the submersible as a type of destroyer or torpedo boat that should operate with the battle fleet. Thus the first foray into submarine design by the Bureau of Steam Engineering produced the faster 15-knot, 800 ton, S-class submarine in 1916 with the assistance of Electric Boat received a commission to design the three boats of the 20-knowt T, or AA class, with a normal displacement of 1107 tons. On paper these characteristics, adopted during the First World War, brought the Navy one step closer to the fleet submarine, a submersible that could keep the pace with the battle fleet.
Shaping an Identity
The German U-boats of the 1914-1918 conflict gave the American officers and designers reason for pause. Physically durable, powered by very reliable diesels, technically blessed with the very long sea legs, they provided the paradigm for American interwar development. At the same time, the 1916 vintage American S-class proved a virtual clinic for basic design mistakes, burdened with the difficult metallurgical problems and very unreliable diesels.
While Rear Admirals Harry Yarnell and Samuel Robinson, successive interwar chiefs of the Bureau of Engineering, worked to remedy the technical flaws with solutions form European and American engineering practice, the community of submarine officers struggled with a problem even more fundamental than propulsion. How should the Navy use submarines? What was their proper strategic role? During the interwar period influential officers like Captains Thomas Hart and Yates Stirling Jr., Admirals Henry Wiley and Frank Schofield, and the innovative commander Thomas Withers debated these issues with the German paradigm in mind. Unfortunately, this model did not offer easy direction. While the German commercial warfare strategy and independent patrol tactics had great effect on the war effort of the Entente and its allies, incidents like the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania painted this style of warfare with a dark brush, suggesting immorality when submersibles operated without restriction.
Only a subtle formula could help American submariners address questions of identity and mission in such a political environment. Since the state of design and propulsion technology would not permit American industry to build a submarine durable and fast enough to keep pace with the battlefleet, operating with surface ships on a regular basis seemed unlikely. This forced submarine strategists like Withers to look more closely at independent patrols and a model that approximated the World War I German experience. On isolationist postwar America, however, this option brought with it the ethical burden of unrestricted U-boat warfare and civilian casualties, something a Navy diminished by the Washington Treaties did not care to assume. Thus, American submarine strategy could not include unrestricted submarine warfare, which might turn neutral commercial vessels and innocent civilians into victims.
American officers realized that war in all of its brutality, not peacetime politics or worthy ethical concerns, would determine the future challenges faced by the submarine force. In spite of official policy, the boats under construction in the 1930s reflected assertive, offensive strategic thinking as the country came to terms with the Depression under Franklin Roosevelt and the Bureaus of Construction and Repair and Engineering resolved the submarine engineering and propulsion slimes. The new Salmon-Sargo designs were intended for long-range independent patrols, with the requisite food, fuel, and weapons capacity. In addition, the fleet exercises and war game scenarios during the late 1930s permitted these vessels to attack warships, convoy escort ships, and even certain convoys identified as critical to enemy logistical support. By 1940, the submarine force had answered its fundamental strategic questions and had the vessels to carry out the consequent roles and missions. Thus, when Admiral Thomas Hart proclaimed unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan on December 8, 1941, it came as no surprise. the submarine force know what to do.
Employing the extremely reliable boats of the Gato, Balao, and Tench classes, the submarine force scored the most complete victory of any force in any theater of the war. In spite of a hesitant beginning due to the Pearl Harbor surprise and difficulties with the defective torpedoes, the submarine force destroyed 1,314 enemy ships for 5.3 million tons which translated into fifty-five percent of all enemy ships lost. Out of 16,000 submariners, the force lost 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men in fifty-two submarines, the lowest casualty rate of any combatant submarine service on any side in the 1939-1945 conflict.
While the Japanese advanced quickly after Pearl Harbor and the Navy struggled to recover from December 7, 1941, the submarine force brought the war to the enemy operating from Pearl Harbor, and Australian bases at Freemantle, and Brisbane. Submarines played a variety of roles in the war effort, demonstrating the versatility of stealth.
Among those allied warships regularly able to penetrate Japanese controlled areas, American submarines had extraordinary success against both Japanese merchantmen and warships. The late summer of 1942, Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Bruton in command of USS Greenling on her third war patrol destroyed 32,050 toms of enemy merchant shipping and damaged a 22,000 ton converted carrier. Bruton ended the war ranked thirteenth among the submarine forces aces.
Refining their methods of attack made American submariners the worst enemy of any ship flying the Japanese flag. In early 1943, USS Wahoo put to sea on her third war patrol under the command of Lieutenant Commander Dudley W. Morton. Morton and his executive officer, Lieutenant Richard OKane, implemented and further refined a new method of attack suggested by Admiral James Fife, commander of the American submarines operating out of Brisbane. While OKane manned the periscope and made all of the observations, Morton was left free to evaluate the entire combat situation, making possible swift, informed, and effective approach and attack decisions.
The talent of Morton and OKane as well as their new command and control procedure enabled Wahoo to sink 31,890 tons of Japanese shipping on that patrol. Morton received the first of four Navy Crosses and his ship took home a Presidential Unit Citation. Later in the war, as commanding officer of USS Tang, Richard OKane received the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the Submarine Forces leading ace of the war, credited with destroying 31 ships for 227,800 tons.
In addition, Submarines played both humane and special operations roles in their campaign against Japan. In many of the hardest fought battles of the war submarine crews rescued unlucky carrier pilots who ended up in the sea, like future president, George Bush. Fleet submarines also delivered troops tasked with special missions against Japanese Pacific strongholds. In August 1942, USS Nautilus SS-169 and USS Argonaut SS-165 delivered Marine Colonel Evans F. Carlsons Raiders to Makin Island. Upon completing their mission to reconnoiter the island and destroy its most important facilities, the two submarines picked up the Marines and returned to Pearl Harbor.
In the final months of the war, American submarines had difficulty finding targets because the Japanese had virtually no ships left the sink. Undaunted, submarine commanders pursued the enemy into his harbors and hiding places. Employing newly developed FM sonar sets, American submarines penetrated the minefields of closely guarded Japanese home waters to seek out warships and supply ships at anchor. There was no place to hide. The silent victory was complete.
Deep Ocean, Cold War
Undersea warfare underwent a revolution after World War II and the American submarine force led the way. Building on the advanced submarine designs created by the Germans during World War II, the Navy anticipated submarines of the future going deeper, staying there longer, and moving much faster. Indeed, in reports submitted in 1949 and 1950, naval and civilian advisors suggested that advanced German U-boat technology exploited by the Soviets might present the most potent postwar naval threat to the United States. No warship of the time could effectively detect and track a submarine like the German Type 21 which could sustain a 17 knot submerged speed for at least thirty minutes.
Almost immediately after the war, the submarine force began experimenting with high speed, sophisticated silencing techniques, sensitive sonic detection, and deeper diving. the result took the shape of the greater underwater propulsive power, or Guppy, conversions which changed the configuration of wartime submersibles to enhance submerged speed and hydrodynamic efficiency. The Tang class, the first truly new postwar construction, represented an initial step on a new road toward greater speed and endurance below the surface.
It also provided the basic hull form used for the first true submarine. USS Nautilus went to sea propelled by a pressurized water nuclear plant in January 1955 and set a new standard for this type of vessel. Its submerged endurance was limited only by the crews periodic need to see both their families and the light of day. Rather than a surface ship capable of submerging when the need arose, this submarines natural environment lay below the surface. Seawolf and the Skate class hunter-killer submarines quickly followed Nautilus and together they demonstrated the new extent of submarine effectiveness, from the deep ocean, to the shallows, to the polar regions. This was the vessel John Holland wanted to create but could not because of the limits of science and technology at the turn of the century.
Land, Sea, and Air
The advent of nuclear submarines provided the final piece to a number of promising technical puzzles. The quest for the greater submerged speed, initiated in earnest after 1945, found its way to the Navys David Taylor Model Basin just as Admiral Hyman Rickovers nuclear propulsion project succeeded with Nautilus. the research at David Taylor provided insights into the ideal hull form for high speed submarines. With the conventionally-powered experimental Albacore, submariners reached an extraordinary submerged speed. In the fast attack submarine SSN USS Skipjack the endurance of nuclear propulsion and the highspeed of the Albacore teardrop hull came together to form the new paradigm. Every American submarine since 1958 has followed the same basic formula. The attack submarines proved very effective during the Cold War in addressing the Soviet submarine threat in the north Atlantic and Northwest Pacific through surveillance and deterrence.
The Nautilus-Albacore combination also served to extend the reach of the submarine force. While the Navy experimented with launching air breathing missiles like the Regulus from submarines during the late 1950s, the mobility, stealth, and endurance of nuclear submarines on the Skipjack model proved the ideal platform for launching ballistic missiles. From the Polaris
A-1 in 1960, through multiple generations of missile submarines SSBN have provided the ultimate nuclear deterrent. As opposed to easily targeted land-based missiles easily targeted, SSBNs are in constant motion, hiding deep in the ocean, with virtually unlimited endurance, capable of reaching almost any target at the direction of the President. With the current Ohio class SSBNs the submarine force employs this is the most effective and survivable component of current American strategic nuclear defense.
Since the 1970s, the submarine force has also provided the Navy with a stealthy way of applying tactical firepower against land and sea targets. These were ballistic missile submarines. This class incorporated tremendous improvements in noise quieting, ease of maintenance and performance over earlier designs. In addition, this class introduced a more accurate and longer range missile that eliminated the need for these submarines to be homeported overseas.
Submarine Roles and Missions
The fundamental changes in the U.S. Submarine Force since the end of the Cold war involve major shifts in submarine warfighting concepts and doctrine, form the deterrence of global war to the support of U.S. national interests in regional crises and conflicts; from a primary Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) orientation against nuclear powered submarines to taking full advantage of the modern submarines multi-mission capabilities; from weapon loadouts of primarily MK 48 torpedoes to Tomahawk Land-Attack missiles or other weapons. This changing operational context has rippled through all elements of U.S. submarine operations, from peacetime presence to strategic deterrence.
The transitions in the submarine force follow directly from the transitions in the world order and the evolving nature of the U.S. Navy. The world order has shifted from bi-polar super power alignment to a multi-polar collection of interests. While the likelihood of global conflict is greatly reduced, there is an increasing chance of regional conflict. The composition and operational posture of the U.S. Navy reflects this, having changed from a blue water emphasis to a littoral emphasis. For the submarine force this has meant several changes in roles:
*Prior to the end of the Cold War, Anti-Submarine Warfare was the major role for U.S. Attack Submarines. Now U.S. submarines are more multi-mission oriented.
*Intelligence gathering has shifted from strategic to tactical reconnaissance.
*The Silent Service is no longer completely silent, but exchanges information covertly with other U.S. forces.
The submarine force is learning how to synergistically interoperate with other Navy and Joint communities for mutual mission accomplishment. This includes community alliances such as:
*Force Protection/Strike with Aircraft Carrier Battle Groups and Amphibious Ready Groups.
*Special Warfare with Special Operating Forces (such as Navy SEALs).
*Intelligence with the Surveillance community.
Although the United States is at peace, there is always the potential of regional crises threatening to erupt into armed conflict. During the past half-century, the U.S. has become involved in similar regional conflicts and crises. Recently the Navy had played major roles in the evacuation of Americans and other foreign nationals from the unrest in Liberia (Operation Sharp Edge), the liberation of Kuwait and the destruction of Iraqs offensive capability (Operation Desert Storm), and the simultaneous rescue of Americans from revolution in Somalia (Operation Eastern Exit). In peacetime the deployment of submarines in forward areas can demonstrate U.S. interest in the region. Alternatively, submarines are valuable if the President decides that interest should not be visible until a specific time. The long endurance and high transit speeds of nuclear submarines make them particularly attractive for rapid deployments to forward areas in such circumstances. Once on station the attack submarine can be highly visible-in 1991 U.S. submarines conducted more than 200 port visits to 50 cities around the world- invisible. This operational flexibility is combined with the versatile firepower of the modern attack submarine. Also, the same submarine can also be used to land small groups of special operations forces, or to conduct surveillance of an area, or carry out electronic surveillance to gain valuable intelligence. These submarines can also operate independently or in direct support of carrier battle groups, surface task forces, or with other submarines.
Surveillance and Intelligence
For the past 45 years the attack submarine has been an invaluable platform for surveillance, intelligence, and warning. This capability comes from the submarines stealth characteristic….the ability to enter an area to watch, to listen, to collect information without being seen. While satellites and aircraft are used to garner various types of information, their operations are inhibited by weather, cloud cover, and the locations of collection targets. In some situations it is difficult to keep a satellite or an aircraft in a position to conduct sustained surveillance of a specific area. And, of course, satellites and aircraft are severely limited in their ability to observe or detect underwater activity. Submarines have been employed in various forms of surveillance and intelligence collection throughout the Cold War. Continuing regional crises and conflicts will require such operations in support of U.S. and allied interests. In the future, submarines may also use Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) or drones to collect intelligence or conduct sustained surveillance of critical regions of the world. These vehicles will be sent out from a submarine to carry sensors into areas where it may not be safe or prudent for the submarine to venture. After fulfilling its mission, the AUV could return to the launching submarine, or transmit the data underwater or to a satellite. Information is vital to American political and military leaders if they are to make proper judgments, decisions, and plans. As Winston Churchill wrote: The great thing is to get the true picture, whatever it is. Submarines are important in the array of methods by which the true picture can be obtained.
Submarines have long been used for special operations; carrying commandos, reconnaissance teams, and agents on high-risk missions. Most special operations by U.S. submarines are carried out by SEALs, the Sea-Air-Land teams trained for missions behind enemy lines. These special forces can be inserted by fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter, parachute, or surface craft, but in most scenarios only submarines guarantee covert delivery. Once in the objective area, SEALs can carry to combat search-and-rescue operations, reconnaissance, sabotage, diversionary attacks, monitoring of enemy movements or communications, and a host of other clandestine and often high-risk missions. Nuclear-powered submarines are especially will-suited for this role because of their high-speed endurance and stealth. U.S. nuclear powered submarines have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to carry to special operations involving many swimmers. During exercises, which include Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps special operations personnel as well as SEALs, submarines recover personnel who parachute form fixed-wing aircraft and rappel down form helicopters into the sea, take them aboard, and subsequently launch them on missions. The Special Warfare Team Missions include:
*Combat Swimmer Attacks
*Reconnaissance and Surveillance
*Infiltration/Exfiltration Across the Beach
*Beach Feasibility Studies, Hydrographic Survey, and Surf Observation Teams in
support of amphibious landing operations.
Any U.S. submarine can be employed to carry SEALs, however, the Navy has several submarines that have been specially modified to carry swimmers and their equipment more effectively, including the installation of chambers called Dry Deck Shelters (DDSs) to house Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs). These submarines retain their full suite of weapons and sensors for operations as attack submarines. But they have special fittings, modifications to their air systems and other features to enable them to carry DDSs. The DDS can be used to transport and launch an SDV or to lock-out combat swimmers. A DDS can be installed in about 12 hours and is air-transportable, further increasing special operations flexibly. Several units of the STURGEON (SSN 637) class can carry one chamber each, while two former ballistic missile submarines can accommodate two shelters each. The DDS, fitted aft of the submarines sail structure, is connected to the submarines after hatch to permit free passage between the submarine and the DDS while the submarine is underwater and approaching the objective area. The with the submarine still submerged, the SEALs can exit the DDS and ascend to the surface, bringing with them the equipment and rubber rafts, or they can mount an SDV and travel underwater several miles to their objective area. The number of SEALs carried in a submarine for special operation varies with the mission, duration, target and other factors. One or more SEAL platoons of two officers and 14 enlisted men are normally embarked, plus additional Seals to help with mission planing in the submarine and to handle equipment. Former SSBNs employed to operate with SEALs have special berthing spaces for about 50 seals.
U.S. attack submarines carry Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles (TLAM), which provide the capability for long-range, precision strike with conventional warheads against shore targets. This combination of stealthy attack submarine and precise, long-range cruise missile has many advantages for national decision makers.
First used in combat in the 1991 Gulf War, the TLAM has proven to be a highly effective weapon. The official Department of Defense report Conduct of the Persian Gulf War (1992) states: The observed accuracy of TLAM, for which unambiguous target imagery is available, met or exceeded the accuracy mission planners predicted.. When the war began on the night of January 16, 1991, the opening shots were Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. Navy surface ships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. The missiles arrived over the heavily defended Iraqi capital of Baghdad at about the same time as U.S. Air Force f-117 Stealth attack planes were the only strike aircraft to operate over Baghdad at night, and TLAMs were the only U.S. weapons to strike the city in day-light during the entire campaign. Conventional aircraft were not used in strikes against Baghdad and certain other Iraqi targets because of the heavy anti-aircraft defenses. U.S. Navy surface ships and submarines fired 288 land-attack variants of the Tomahawk during the Gulf War. Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers launched 276 of the missiles and 12 were launched form submarines-the USS LOUISVILLE (SSN 724), operating in the Red Sea launched eight missiles and the USS PITTSBURGH (SSN 720), operation in the eastern Mediterranean, launched four missiles. These launches demonstrated the ability of the submarine to operate as a part of an integrated strike force, with targets and related strike data being communicated to them at sea. In the future military operations submarines will not replace traditional carrier attack aircraft. Rather, submarine and surface ship-launched TLAM strikes will be the vanguard of such attacks, destroying early warning, air-defense, and communications facilities to reduce the threats against manned aircraft. Submarines in particular can reach attack positions without altering or provoking the intended adversary.
Attack submarines are fully integrated into Navy battle group operations. Typically, 2 attack submarines are assigned to each battle group. These submarines participate with the battle group in all pre-deployment operational training and exercises. While operating with the battle group, tactical control or command of the submarines is routinely shifted to amphibious group commanders, battle group commanders, destroyer squadron commanders, or even NATO commanders. Likewise, tactical control of NATO submarines is routinely shifter to U.S. commanders.
Stopping enemy surface ships and submarines form using the sea is an important mission for submarines. Attack submarines can perform sea denial missions in a variety of scenarios, form general war against a major maritime power, to blockages of enemy ports. Attacks against enemy surface ships or submarines can be part of a war of attrition, where the object is to destroy as much of the opposing naval fleet or merchant shipping as possible, or such attacks can be directed against specific targets. An example of the attrition campaign was the U.S. submarine operations against the Imperial Japanese merchant marine in World War II, with U.S. undersea craft sinking more than half of Japans merchant vessels, as well as a large number of warships. During the Falklands War in 1982, the sinking of the Argentine cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO by the British nuclear-powered submarine CONQUEROR caused the remainder of the Argentine surface fleet, including its aircraft carrier, to return to port.. There were no further sorties by Argentine surface warships during the conflict because of the demonstrated threat from British nuclear-powered submarines. The principal U.S. sub weapon for attacking enemy surface ships or submarines is the MK 48 torpedo, with the improved ADCAP variant now entering the service. This is a heavy-weight torpedo, with a long range and a large warhead. Advanced guidance allows it to be used against both surface ships and submarines, with the ability to engage in high-speed, maneuvering targets. Attack submarines also carry anti-ship missiles that can engage enemy surface ships at ranges beyond those of torpedoes. The Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TSAM), has the range of more than 250 nautical miles and is launched while the submarine is completely submerged. After launch, the missile travels to the surface where the jet engine starts and the missile streaks toward its target. Once launched, the missile has autonomous guidance, making it a fire and forget weapon. The Tomahawk can be carried in place of torpedoes and can be launched from torpedo tubes. Half of the submarines in the LOS ANGELES (SSN 688) class are also fitted with 12 vertical tubes that can launch TLAMs and TASMs. Submarines also carry mines to deny sea areas to enemy surface ships or submarines. Two types of mines are used by submarines, the enCAPsulated TORpedo (CAPTOR) and the Submarine-Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM). The CAPTOR can be used against submarines in deep water, while the SLMM is a torpedo-like weapon that, after being launched by the submarine, can travel several miles to a specific point, where it sinks to the sea floor and activates its mine sensors. It is particularly useful for blockading a harbor or a narrow sea passage.
Fitted at first for torpedo tube launch, the Tomahawk cruise missile has enhanced the effectiveness of the attack submarine fleet. Now capable of firing these missiles form a vertical launch system in the bow, the latest flight of the submarine forces front line Los Angeles class SSNs has proven very useful in the challenging environment of modern littoral war at sea. during Desert Storm, submarine launched Tomahawks proved their extraordinary effectiveness during the first combat use of the submarine forces new capability. Mediterranean submarine operations during the Persian Gulf conflict provides a case in point.
With their stealth quiet manner, endurance, diverse weapons array, and ability to detect threats while effectively communicating with the fleet at great range, American submarines conduct both independent tactical and strategic patrols as well as operations in support of carrier battle groups. The effort to integrate the submarines more thoroughly with air and surface forces suggests that naval warfare of the future will require a flexible mix of assets designed for a future filled with constantly changing defense demands. Always on the cutting edge, the submarine force will help the Navy sustain the adaptability necessary to control tomorrows battlespace.
Just prior to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, the U.S. Navy’s 34 ballistic missile submarines carried some 45% of the almost 12,000 nuclear warheads in the nations strategic offensive forces. The other components of the U.S. Triad of strategic forces, the land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and land-based bombers, carried some 20% and 35% of the warheads, respectively. The significance of the Navy’s SSBN force was cited by General Colin Powell, U.S. Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a ceremony in April 1992 marking the completion of the 3,000th deterrent patrol. General Colin Powell told the submariners, “But no one-no one- has done more to prevent conflict, no one has made a greater sacrifice for the cause of Peace, than you. America’s proud missile submarine family. You stand tall among all our heroes of the Cold War.” Strategic deterrence remains a fundamental element of U.S. defense strategy, just as conventional deterrence has become increasingly important since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nuclear-powered submarines will be the principal component of the future U.S. strategic posture. Land-based bombers and intercontinental missiles are being reduced; the SSBN force will be the only Triad element still deploying missiles armed with Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry vehicles (MIRVs). The future submarine component of the Triad will consist of 18 modern OHIO (SSBN 726) class SSBNs, each capable of carrying 24 long-range TRIDENT missiles with up to eight warheads per missile. A review of SSBN warheads is being made by the United States as part of the reduction of strategic weapons directed by the President. Still, the submarine force will provide the overwhelming majority of U.S. strategic weapons – the burden of future strategic nuclear deterrence will be squarely on the submarine force.
The United States entered World War I with a total of 24 diesel powered submarines. They did not see a great deal of action, and in the small number of encounters with the enemy they were unable to confirm a single victory. The U-boats of Germany, however, were to demonstrate the vital role of the submarine in any future conflict.
After the war the Navy continued to build up its submarine force and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire became one of the largest submarine builders in America. Between 1924 and 1929 the Portsmouth yard designed and built five 381-foot, V-class submarines and between 1932 and 1941, an additional 22 submarines in the 1500-ton category. It was during this period that the first all-welded submarine, USS Pike, was completed. The welded hull allowed Pike to submerge to much greater depths than her predecessors and at the same time provided greater protection against depth-charge attacks.
Radar and sonar were World War II innovations. Both were developed by the English to combat German U-boats, but were incorporated into the submarine to warn of airplane attack and counterattack from the surface vessels. Sonar has become the most important of the sub’s senses. Hydrophones listen for sounds from other ships and the echoes of sound waves signaled the submarine itself.
Toward the end of World War II, the Germans perfected a snorkel device which had been invented by the Dutch years before. This device permitted the running of diesel engines while the ship was submerged. The best storage batteries discharged rapidly and limited submergence time. The snorkel greatly increased underwater endurance, but protruded above the surface and could be detected by radar. Although the U.S. Navy still had a relatively small number of submarines when World War II broke out, this fact did little to dampen the spirits of submariners, and the tales of their successes fill countless pages of history books. When the figures were finally tabulated it was found that American submarines sank five and one-half million tons of Japanese shipping during the war which included over half of the entire Japanese merchant fleet. Another significant fact is that U.S. submarines accounted for about 60% (over 1,300 ships) of all Japanese tonnage sunk, yet the submarine strength at that time comprised less than 2% of the entire U.S. fleet.
Such advancements as sonar, radar and the snorkel came about as a result of the pressures of World War II, and the U.S. Navy was quick to improve these systems and incorporate the lessons of the war into its modern submarine force. One of the first results of this scientific and technological advance was the conversion of WW II Fleet submarines to Guppy types.
As part of this conversion, the guppies were streamlined to give them more speed and they were fitted with more modern radar and sonar systems. Then with the introduction of nuclear power, the submarine of old became a true submarine – a ship with greater endurance than its human engineers. Many records have already been chalked up by the nuclear powered submarine, and many more are still to come.
The first American submarine is as old as the United States itself. David Bushnell, a Yale graduate, designed and built a submarine torpedo boat in 1776. The one-man vessel submerged by admitting water and surfaced by pumping it out with a hand pump. Powered by a pedal-operated screw and armed with a keg of powder, the egg-shaped Turtle gave Revolutionary Americans high hopes for a secret weapon – a weapon which could destroy the British war-ships anchored in New York Harbor.
The keg of powder was to be attached to an enemy ship’s hull and detonated by time fuses. However, a boring device which was operated form inside the oak-planked Turtle failed to penetrate the copper-hulled vessel. Since the keg could not be attached, the project was abandoned, but not before an actual attempt was made to blow up HMS Eagle.
Then came another American, Robert Fulton, who successfully built and operated a submarine (in France) in 1801, before turning his talents to the steamboat. Fulton’s cigar-shaped Nautilus had a kite like sail for surface power. It also carried flasks of compressed air which permitted the two-man crew to remain submerged for five hours. Today, nuclear powered submarines carry compressed oxygen to help renew the air supply during underwater periods.
William Bauer, a German, built a submarine Kiel in 1850, but met with little success. Bauer’s first boat sank in 55 feet of water. He opened the flood valves to equalize the pressure inside the submarine so the escape hatch could be opened. Bauer had to convince two terrified seamen this was the only means of escape. When the water was at chin level, the men were shot to the surface with a bubble of air that blew the hatch open. Bauer’s simple technique was rediscovered years later and modern submarines have escape compartments which operate on that principle. The USS Skate was the lead ship of the first production class of four nuclear propelled submarines and was the first submarine to surface at the North Pole.
The USS Triton was the first submarine ever built with two reactor plants. In addition, until the commissioning of the Ohio-Class Ballistic Missile Submarines, the Triton was the longest submarine ever built by the U.S. Navy.
The USS Halibut, the first submarine designed and built for the specific purpose of serving as a platform to fire guided missiles.
The USS Skipjack was the first nuclear-powered submarine built with the Albacore hull design. It also was the first nuclear submarine with a single propulsion shaft and screw. Another first was mounting bow planes on the sail which reduced flow noise at the bow-mounted sonar. Deep-diving and high speed capabilities were the result of HY-80 construction and a new reactor design, the S5W. This reactor became the U.S. Navy’s standard until the Los Angeles class joined the fleet in the mid-1970’s.
In 1956, Admiral Burke, then CNO, requested that the Committee on Undersea Warfare of the National Academy of Sciences study the effect of advanced technology on submarine warfare. The result of this study, dubbed “Project Nobska” was an increased emphasis on deeper-diving, ultraquiet designs utilizing long-range sonar. The USS Tullibee incorporated three design changes bases on Project Nobska. First, it incorporated the first bow-mounted spherical sonar array. This requited the second innovation, amidships, angled torpedo tubes. Thirdly, Tullibee was propelled by a very quiet turboelectric power plant.
The Permit class was also based on Project Nobska’s recommendations. Hull streamlining, reduction in sail dimensions by approximately 50%, quieting of the S5W reactor plant and an increase in test depth all lead to a dramatic advance in submarine operational capabilities and stealth. The lead ship of this class, the USS Thresher (SSN 593), was lost at sea during post-overhaul trials. Lessons learned from this tragedy resulted in major design and shipboard operational improvements which still influence the submarine force.
The USS George Washington (SSBN 598) was the world’s first nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine. Arguably, it can be considered the submarine that has the most influenced world events in the 20th Century. With its entry into the service in December 1959, the U.S. instantly gained the most powerful deterrent force imaginable – a stealth platform with enormous nuclear firepower.
The Sturgeon class was an extension and improvement on the Permit design. This class of 37 submarines became the workhorse of the fleet form the mid-1960’s through the 1980’s when the Los Angeles class entered the fleet in large numbers.
The USS Narwhal (SSN 671) was built as the prototype platform for an ultra-quiet natural circulation reactor design. This allows for operation with the large water circulating pumps, a major source of radiated noise, secured. It is similar to the Sturgeon design in other respects.
The USS Glenard P. Lipscomb (SSN 685) was the U.S. Navy’s second prototype design using a turbo-electric power plant similar to the Tullibee. While this design is quieter, it is heavier and larger than conventional drive trains. Those disadvantages, along with reliability issues led to the decision not to utilize this design on a wide scale.
The Los Angeles class currently serves as the “backbone” of the submarine fleet and is likely to remain so well into the 21st Century. These submarines are faster, quieter, and far more capable than any of their predecessors. Later ships in the class have incorporated design improvements especially in sonar and electronics areas as well as the addition of external cruise missile launch tubes.
Another consideration in the early 1920’s was the use of a submarine to forward deploy aircraft. Submarine S-1 was the first U.S. submarine fitted out and extensively tested with a small scout plane.
The Cuttlefish was basically an Americanized U-boat. This design incorporated the first complete double hull in a U.S. submarine and had a 11,000 nm radius at 19 kts..
The S-class boats were used as the test platforms for range of sonar designs tested in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Higher frequencies and small trainable transducers allowed for narrow beam width and exclusion of natural sea noises and other interference.
The Porpoise (SS-172) class was the first all-electric drive submarine, and the precursor to the World War II fleet submarines. With its new diesel engine this design had a maximum surface speed of 19 kts. Auxiliary diesels avoided the need to drain the battery while operating surfaced. This reduced battery charging cycles form 150/year or 30/year, greatly extending battery life.
Gato (SS 212) provided the prototype design for the World War II vintage submarine. Construction of this class was accelerated in 1940 due to the escalation of the war in Europe. In order to increase production capability the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in Wisconsin was contracted to build submarines under license from Electric Boat.
The advent of the submarine bathothermograph (SBT) in 1942 provided the submarine force with an important tool for covert patrol operations and attacks. Herring (SS-233) was an early example of the successful application of the SBT.
Within two years of the end of the war, the U.S. Navy had a functional snorkel mast on an operational, high-speed submarine – the Irex (SS 482).
The Tang was the first submarine designed for underwater performance rather than surfaced speed and handling. Key features included removing the deck guns, streamlining the outer hull, replacing the conning tower with a sail, installing new propellers designed for submerged operations, installing more air conditioning and a snorkel mast, and doubling the battery capacity.
In 1951, the submarine force achieved another important milestone. Guavina (SS 362) used an experimental searchlight sonar to distinguish the sound of signature of Seacat (SS 399) and the fleet tug Salinian (ATF 161) at ranges of 9-10 nm.
The experimental submarine Albacore (AGSS-569) introduced the distinctive teardrop shape hull, which has influenced all follow-on submarine designs. This design provided for major advances in noise reduction, underwater speed and the use of low carbon (HY-80) as a structural steel. It also tested the first fiberglass sonar dome, installed in 1953.
The first warships built with a teardrop shape hull were the Barbel (SS 580) class. This class was also the first to incorporate a centralized arrangement of ship controls and combat operations, or “attack center”.
The USS Nautilus represented a watershed for the U.S. Navy’s submarine program. This was the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, a design improvement which allowed for a dramatic increase in range and operational flexibility. The Nautilus is also credited with forcing the shipbuilders to develop an improved quality control program.
The USS Seawolf was the first and only submarine built with a liquid metal nuclear reactor. The liquid metal (sodium) provided a more efficient power plant, but posed several safety hazards for the ship and crew.
Only a submariner realizes to what great extent an entire ship depends on him as an individual. To a landsman this is not understandable, and sometimes it is even difficult for us to comprehend, but it is so!
A submarine at sea is a different world in herself, and in consideration of the protracted and distant operations of submarines, the Navy must place responsibility and trust in the hands of those who take ships to sea.
In each submarine there are are men who, in the hour of emergency or peril at sea, can turn to each other. These men are ultimately responsible to themselves and each to the other for all aspects of operation of their submarine. They are the crew. They are the ship.
This is perhaps the most difficult and demanding assignment in the Navy. There is not an instant during his tour as a submariner that he can escape the grasp of responsibility. His privileges in view of his obligations are almost ludicruously small, nevertheless, it is the spur which has given the Navy its greatest mariners – the men of the Submarine Service.
Dolphins, the insignia of the United States Navy Submarine Service, identifies the wearer as “qualified in submarines”. The enlisted insignia is a silver pin, while the officer’s insignia is a bronze gold-plated pin. Both signify completion of approximately on year of rigorous qualification.
The submarine insignia, designed by Capt. Ernest J. King, was adopted in March 1924. It is a bow view of a submarine proceeding on the surface with bow planes rigged for diving, flanked by dolphins in a horizontal position with their heads resting on the upper edge of the bow planes. The dolphins on this insignia are symbolic of a calm sea and are the traditional attendants of Poseidon, Greek God of the sea.
In more recent times, insignias for specialist officers in the submarine force have been developed. These include the Engineering Duty dolphins, Medical Officer dolphins, and Supply Corps dolphins. Regardless of the pin or the insignia at the center, dolphins are worn with pride by members of the Submarine Force.
Following the tradition of the “World War II” patrol pin, the silver Polaris Patrol Pin is worn by SSBN crews both officer and enlisted. It recognizes their sacrifice and hard work in completing strategic patrols. On gold star marks each patrol completed. A silver star marks five patrols. Upon completion of 20 patrols, a gold patrol pin is authorized.
The person on active duty, officer or enlisted, with the most deterrent patrols is presented with the Neptune Award. That person retains the award until someone else attains more patrols than the current holder or until he retires and it goes to the member with the next highest number of patrols.