The Buzz

This Old American Nuclear Attack Submarine Could Still Take on Russia or China's Best

Although intelligence gathering has long been a role for submarines, starting in the 1990s the U.S. submarine fleet began using an Army phrase, “intelligence preparation of the battlefield,” to describe intelligence gathering in support of operations on the ground. Lacking a underwater enemy to fight, American submarines could linger off the coastlines of potential adversaries, collecting electronic data and conducting surveillance operations. The Los Angeles class was at the forefront of this effort, and USS Annapolis was refitted with a photonic mast featuring cameras instead of a traditional periscope mast.

Sixty-two Los Angeles–class submarines were built between 1976 and 1996. Not all of them served at once—some of the earliest subs were retired starting in 1995 with just seventeen years of service to avoid costly nuclear refueling costs while the production line was still running! Today thirty-eight are still on active duty. The Seawolf class, meant to provide deeper-diving submarines capable of Arctic operations, was canceled at three ships, due to cost overruns and the quest for a 1990s “peace dividend.” The true replacements for the “688” class are the Virginia submarines, currently under construction.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

This first appeared in October 2016 .