As previously covered, the USS Seawolf recently made a stop off the coast of Tromsø, Norway to pick up personnel. The stop was significant due to Tromsø’s proximity to Russian waters, which was timed to coincide with a joint American-Norwegian bomber and fighter flyover of the same area, and was interpreted as a challenge to Russia.
Open source data recently identified the same USS Seawolf, the lead of the class, off the coast of Scotland. Exactly what the USS Seawolf was doing there is not known for certain. The submarine was near Faslane, the site of a large Royal Navy naval base. The Royal Navy calls Faslane the “core of the Submarine Service,” and houses the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent submarines, and hunter-killer subs.
Not much is known about the Seawolves themselves either. They’re only three hulls in number but they are thought to take part in intelligence gathering missions. Here’s what is known.
The Seawolf-class are nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines. Originally laid down in the late 1980s, the class was intended to strike targets on land and at sea using Tomahawk cruise missiles. Thanks to an advanced nuclear reactor and a very quiet pump-jet propulsion system, the Seawolf-class also specialized in hunting Soviet submarines.
The last of the class, the USS Jimmy Carter commissioned in 2005, is extensively modified and features a 100 foot hull extension presumably for housing U.S. Navy SEALs, underwater drones, and equipment for sensitive espionage missions. Thrusters at fore and aft and retractable landing skis aid the large submarine’s maneuverability during missions like tapping underwater communications cables. More about these specialized intelligence gathering submarines can be read about in this previous piece.
Back to the Future
Originally the Navy wanted to buy nearly thirty of the advanced submarines, but the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent end of the Cold War meant that the justification for buying more of the infamously expensive submarines just wasn’t there anymore. Despite the class’ small three-hull number, they remain relevant, especially as tensions—and temperatures—near the Arctic quite literally heat up.
In a U.S. Navy press release last month, Rear Admiral Anthony Carullo, Commander, Submarine Group 8 commented on the USS Seawolf’s overseas deployment, stating that “the arrival of Seawolf compliments our already robust undersea warfare capabilities and demonstrates our continued commitment to providing maritime security and deterrence throughout the region.”
As a class, the Seawolves are not large, but fill an important role as some of the United States’ deadliest submarines. The USS Seawolf’s two European sightings in one month sends a message of assurance to North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and to Russia—the U.S. Navy moves with impunity.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.