USS Jimmy Carter Is the U.S. Navy's Secret Seawolf-Class Spy Submarine

USS Jimmy Carter Seawolf-Class Submarine
December 27, 2023 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: USS Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterSeawolf-ClassSubmarine

USS Jimmy Carter Is the U.S. Navy's Secret Seawolf-Class Spy Submarine

The USS Jimmy Carter even received a Presidential Unit Citation – but the specifics of the citation, which was awarded after completing the mysteriously named “Mission 7,” remain unclear.


The USS Jimmy Carter is a Seawolf-class submarine is a vestige of the Cold War that, appropriately, has been used to conduct secret missions.

The Cold War Submarine Race

Competition between the Americans and the Soviets fueled submarine development throughout the Cold War.


The two great superpowers competed to gain an advantage beneath the sea, responding to the designs of one another, hoping to beat their counterpart.

Each nation was especially fixated on fielding nuclear-powered submarines, which could operate indefinitely – and which could fire nuclear warhead-tipped missiles. “The Soviet Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines – starting with the November-class attack submarine – could dive twice as deep as most of their American counterparts and often had higher maximum speed. But they had a conspicuous flaw: they were a lot noisier,” Sebastien Roblin wrote in these pages years ago.   

To address the weaknesses of the November-class, the Soviets collaborated with the Norwegians and the Japanese to produce the Akula-class submarine. The Akula featured a hushed seven-bladed propeller and was substantially quieter than the November.

The Akula captured the attention of the Americans, given that the Akula appeared to have an advantage over the American’s cornerstone submarine, the Los Angeles-class.

Sensing that their advantage was waning, the Americans did what countries do when they believe they are locked in a global conflict with existential implications – they expended vast resources to regain the advantage.

The result of the expenditure was the Seawolf-class submarine, the third and final of which was designated the USS Jimmy Carter.

The Seawolf-class Submarine 

The Seawolf-class is a nuclear-powered, fast attack submarine. Price tag: $5 billion per unit.

Designed to counter the Soviet Akula-class, and to replace the American Los Angeles-class, the Seawolf is impressive – bigger and faster and quieter than its predecessor.

“The U.S. Navy had builders cram all kinds of goodies into the Seawolf submarine,” Dr. Brent M. Eastwood wrote in a recent analysis piece on the Seawolf-class.

Naturally, given that the Seawolf was designed during the Cold War, the submarine is loaded with weapons; the Seawolf can carry up to 50 UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

For guidance, the Seawolf relies upon an ARCI Modified AN/BSY-2 combat system with an impressive spherical sonar array, a towed-array sonar, and a wide aperture array.

Whereas the Seawolf’s predecessors were built from HY-80 steel, the Seawolf was built from the stronger HY-100 steel, allowing the submarine to dive to depths of 490 meters. In addition to making deep dives, the Seawolf can also cruise efficiently.

Using an S6W pressurized water reactor, the Seawolf has an impressive top speed of 35 knots. And unlike the November-class, the Seawolf can operate quietly. The Seawolf’s “propeller-less pump-jet propulsion system allowed it to maintain acoustic stealth even when cruising a brisk 20 knots, whereas most submarines are forced to crawl at 5-12 knots to remain discrete,” Eastwood wrote.

But because of the Seawolf’s exorbitant price tag, only three were ever made – the last of which was the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23).

The Jimmy Carter: The Ultimate Spy Submarine? 

The USS Jimmy Carter was commissioned in 2005 and, appropriately, was named after the only US President ever too serve aboard a submarine. Before Carter was president, or Governor of Georgia, or a peanut farmer, he was an officer aboard a nuclear submarine during the 1950s.

The Jimmy Carter is the only submarine named for a living president and only the third submarine in the US Navy to be named for a living person.

The submarine, SSN-23, has been so heavily modified that she is often considered a subclass of the Seawolf. “Though Seawolf-class subs are known as some of the most sophisticated attack subs ever,” Business Insider reported, “Carter stands out among the three subs of the class.”

So how does the Navy use such an elite submarine? ‘Larger and more advanced than the other two Seawolf boats, Carter has been tasked with some of the US Navy’s most secretive missions,” Insider reported.

Carter spent more time in the shipyard than Seawolf or Connecticut because the Navy decided to modify it for special intelligence-gathering missions,” Insider reported.

“The modification included adding special thrusters fore and aft that allow the sub to remain stationary underwater, as well as a 100-foot hul extension known as the Multi-Mission Platform, which increased its length to 435 feet and its fully submerged displacement to 12,158 tons.” The MMP allows the Carter to carry “remotely operated vehicles, cable spools, special-operations craft, and other advanced technologies needed to carry out classified operations.” The MMP can also be used to deploy Navy SEALS.

So, how exactly is the Jimmy Carter being used? That remains highly classified. The prevailing theory is that the Jimmy Carter can be used to tap undersea fiber-optic communications lines for the purpose of gathering intelligence.

The USS Jimmy Carter even received a Presidential Unit Citation – but the specifics of the citation, which was awarded after completing the mysteriously named “Mission 7,” remain unclear.

About the Author 

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.