The One U.S. Submarine That Could Completely Destroy North Korea
While other branches of the military may be deployed in reaction to the crisis of the day, the nuclear submarines maintain a steady routine of patrols, and communicate infrequently so as to remain as stealthy as possible. Each Ohio-class submarine has two crews of 154 officers and enlisted personnel, designated Gold and Blue, who take turns departing on patrols that last an average of seventy to ninety days underwater—with the longest on record being 140 days by the USS Pennsylvania. An average of a month is spent between patrols, with resupply facilitated by three large-diameter supply hatches.
Currently, nine boomers are based in Bangor, Washington to patrol the Pacific Ocean, while five are stationed in Kings Bay, Georgia for operations in the Atlantic. The end of the Cold War, and especially the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, resulted in the downsizing of U.S. nuclear forces. However, rather than retiring some of the oldest boats as originally planned, the Navy decided to refit four of the eighteen Ohio-class subs to serve as cruise missile carriers to launch conventional attacks against ground and sea targets—starting with the USS Ohio.
Meanwhile, the New START treaty which came into effect in 2011 imposes additional limits on the number of deployed nuclear weapons. The current plan is to keep twelve Ohio-class subs active at time with twenty Trident IIs each, while two more boomers remain in overhaul, keeping a total of 240 missiles active at a time with 1,090 warheads between them. Don’t worry, restless hawks: that’s still enough to destroy the world several times over!
The Ohio class will serve on until the end of the 2020s, and may even receive some additional acoustic stealth upgrades until they are replaced by a successor, tentatively dubbed the Columbia class. With estimated costs of $4–6 billion each to manufacture, the next-generation boomers may be fewer in number and will use new reactors that do not require expensive overhauls and refueling, allowing them to serve on until 2085.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
This first appeared in January and is being reposted due to reader interest.