USS Ohio, a famed Navy "boomer," sports advanced new capabilities
The converted nuclear ballistic-missile submarine USS Ohio will be training in Hawaii's waters for a few weeks before embarking on its new mission as the launch pad not only for Tomahawk cruise missiles, but also Navy SEALs in the global war on terrorism.
The Ohio is the first nuclear sub to shed its arsenal of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles for conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles and Navy SEALs.
» Commissioned: Nov. 11, 1981
» Length: 560 feet
» Missile tubes: 24 (154 Tomahawk missiles)
» Crew: 24 officers, enlisted: 227
» Speed: Faster than 20 knots.
» Depth: Deeper than 800 feet.
» Special-operations personnel: 66
Source: U.S. Navy
The sub will spend its "maiden mission" during the next 14 months in the western Pacific -- which extends as far as the Indian Ocean.
Meeting with reporters shortly after the Ohio docked at Yankee Pier at Pearl Harbor's sub base on Monday, Capt. Chris Ratliff, its skipper, said the sub will be used to collect intelligence in the war on terrorism, but declined to say what specific areas in Asia.
"We're going to take this boat into shallow, congested, littoral waters close to the beach, ready to put SEALs ashore, ready to strike, ready to collect intelligence," Ratliff said.
The 560-foot submarine, commissioned in 1981, spent 22 years as part of the nation's "triad" of nuclear deterrent that also included land-based missiles and manned bombers. Until 2003, the Ohio, the first in the class of 18 "boomers," was armed with 24 Trident nuclear missiles in its launch tubes. Its mission then was to lie submerged deep in the ocean waiting for a presidential order to launch its nuclear arsenal.
Rather than decommission the Ohio and three other subs in its class when the Cold War ended and the United States agreed to limit the number of missile submarines, the Pentagon decided to convert them for a new mission: to launch and recover special operations forces while still submerged.
It took three years and $750 million to convert two of Ohio's 24 missile tubes to be able to launch and recover Navy commandos.
The Ohio also houses on its deck a shelter that increases the submarine's capability to launch and recover additional Navy SEALs while submerged.
On this mission 15 of the missile tubes have been reconfigured and each will be armed with seven Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The Navy also spent $250 million to refuel its nuclear reactors.
Other improvements include the addition of a second photonic periscope that provide digital images, including color and infrared, directly onto screens in the command station and sophisticated sonar and sensing devices.
The Ohio also converted the navigation area once used to direct Trident missiles into a battle management center where special warfare specialists can plan missions.
Besides the Ohio, three other Trident submarines -- the USS Michigan, Florida and Georgia -- have been converted into special operations platforms. The Michigan returned to service in June, but it won't be deployed until late next year. The Georgia is being converted at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., and will be based at Kings Bay, Ga. The four are the oldest of the Ohio-class submarines and were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2003 and 2004.
When work on the Ohio was completed in February 2006, it visited Pearl Harbor nine months later where it conducted a crew swap.
During the 14 months Ohio will be at sea, it will change its crew of 15 officers and 144 enlisted sailors every three or four months in Guam, allowing the Navy to maximize the sub's time at sea.
During its maiden cruise, Ratliff, who has been in the submarine service for 25 years, said the Ohio will carry 66 Navy SEALs. Some of the special operations sailors and divers will come from SEAL Delivery Team One stationed at Pearl Harbor.
Ratliff, a 1983 Naval Academy graduate, headed one of the crews assigned to the USS Georgia four years ago and served on five smaller nuclear attack submarines. His father also was a submariner.
Unlike helicopters or even smaller nuclear attack submarines, which are unable to linger in waters close to an enemy's beaches after unloading a team of Navy SEALs, Ratliff said Ohio has the advantage of "stealth, mobility, flexibility and endurance" to roam undetected and submerged until it recovers its package of special operations sailors.
Chief Warrant Officer Bob Foley, a Navy Diver with Pearl Harbor's SEAL Delivery Team One, said he likes the spaciousness of the Ohio. There are 66 extra beds to accommodate Navy SEALs and divers.
Ratliff said the Ohio is three times larger than the 360-foot Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines and 12 times larger than the World War II diesel submarine USS Bowfin. The Ohio has four decks compared with the Bowfin, which had only one. Although the Ohio's speed is classified, Ratliff said the sub can travel faster than 20 knots, or 23 miles per hour.