U.S. Strategic Submarine Patrols Continue at Near Cold War Tempo

U.S. ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to that of the Cold War.

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By Hans M. Kristensen [updated]

The U.S. fleet of 14 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to during the Cold War.

The new patrol information, which was obtained from the U.S. Navy under the Freedom of Information Act, coincides with the completion on February 11, 2009, of the 1,000th deterrent patrol by an Ohio-class submarine since 1982.

The information shows that the United States conducts more nuclear deterrent patrols each year than Russia, France, United Kingdom and China combined.

Patrols by the Number

The 31 patrols conducted in 2008 top a 48-year history of continuous deterrent patrols. Since the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) departed Charleston, S.C., on the first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) patrol on November 15, 1960, 59 SSBNs have conducted 3,814 patrols through 2008 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:
U.S. SSBN Patrols 1960-2008

The annual number of SSBN patrols has fluctuated significantly over the years as submarines entered and left the fleet. Most patrols today occur in the Pacific Ocean. The reduction since 2000 is due to retirement of four SSBNs and lengthy modernization of four others. (click image for larger version)

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The annual number of patrols has fluctuated considerably over the years, peaking at 131 patrols in 1967. Declines occurred mainly due to retirement of SSBNs rather than changes in the mission. The retirement of the early classes of SSBNs in 1979-1981 almost eliminated patrols in the Pacific, but the new Ohio-class gradually rebuilt the posture. The stand-down of Poseidon SSBNs in October 1991 and the retirement of all non-Ohio-class SSBNs by 1993 reduced Atlantic patrols by nearly 60 percent. The patrols increased again in the second half of the 1990s and more Ohio-class SSBNs were added to the fleet, but started dropping from 2000 as four Ohio-class SSBNs were withdrawn from nuclear missions and four others underwent lengthy backfits from the Trident I C4 to the Trident II D5 Trident missile.

Figure 2:
World SSBN Patrols 2008

The United States conducts more SSBN patrols than all other nuclear powers combined. China’s SSBNs have yet to conduct a deterrent patrol.

During the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, the vast majority of patrols were done in the Atlantic Ocean. Since the early 1990s, patrols in the Atlantic have plummeted and the SSBN force been concentrated on the west coast. The majority of U.S. SSBN patrols today occur in the Pacific.

The current number of patrols is significantly greater than the patrol levels of other countries with sea-based nuclear weapon systems. In fact, the U.S. navy conducted three times the number of SSBN patrols that the Russian navy did in 2008, and more patrols than Russia, France, Britain and China combined (see figure 2).

High Operational Tempo

Although the total annual number of SSBN patrols has decreased significantly since the end of the Cold War, the operational tempo of each submarine has not. Each Ohio-class SSBNs today conducts about the same number of patrols per year as during the Cold War, but the duration of each patrol has increased, with each submarine spending approximately 50-60 percent of its time on patrol (see Figure 3).

Figure 3:
U.S. SSBN Patrol Rates 1960-2008

The operational tempo of U.S. SSBNs today is as high as it was during the Cold War. Interesting spikes occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the collapse of the Soviet Union. (click image for larger version)

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The high operational tempo is made possibly by each SSBN having two crews, Blue and Gold. Each time a submarine returns from a patrol, the other crew takes over, spends a few weeks repairing and replenishing the boat, and takes the SSBN out for its next patrol.

The data also reveals a couple of interesting spikes of increased patrols in 1963/1965 and 1991. The reasons for this increased activity is not known but the periods coincide with the Cuban missile crisis and the failed coup attempt in the final days of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Another way to examine the data is to see how may patrol days each submarine and the fleet accumulate each year. During the Cold War the larger submarine fleet averaged approximately 6,000 patrol days each year, with a peak of 8,515 patrol days in 1967.  That performance declined to an average of 3,400 days in the post-Cold War era as the size of the SSBN fleet was reduced. With the removal of four SSBNs from nuclear operations and four others undergoing lengthy missile backfits, the fleet’s total patrol days has now dropped to a little over 2,200 (see figure 4).

Figure 4:
U.S. SSBN Patrol Days 1960-2008

While the total SSBN fleet accumulates far less patrol days today than during the Cold War because the fleet is smaller, each submarine spends as much time on patrol as during the Cold War.. (click image for larger version)

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Yet total patrol day numbers can be deceiving because they can obscure how each submarine is doing. Because the Ohio-class SSBN design was optimized for lengthy deterrent patrols, the average number of days each submarine spends on patrol has been higher in the post-Cold War period than during the Cold War itself. Patrols can be shortened by technical problems, but many Ohio-class submarines today stay on patrol for more than 80 days. Last year, the USS Maine (SSBN-741) conducted a 98-day patrol in the Pacific.

What is a Deterrent Patrol?

An SSBN deterrent patrol is an extended operational deployment during part of which the submarine covers its assigned target package in support of the strategic war plan. Each Ohio-class patrol typically lasts 60-90 days, but one submarine in late 2008 conducted an extended patrol of 98 day and patrols have occasionally exceeded 100 days. Occasionally a patrol is cut short by technical problems, in which case another SSBN can be deployed on short notice. As a result, patrols today in average last about 72 days.

Being on patrol does not mean the submarine is continuously submerged on-station and holding targets at risk. In fact, when the submarine is not on Hard Alert holding targets at risk in Russia, China, or regional states, much of the patrol time is spent on cruising between homeport, patrol areas, exercising with other naval forces, undergoing inspections and certifications, performing Weapon System Readiness Tests (WSRTs), conducting retargeting exercises, and Command and Control exercises.

Another activity involves so-called SCOOP exercises (SSBN Continuity of Operations Program) where the SSBN will practice replenishment or refit in forward ports in case the homeport is annihilated in wartime. In the Pacific, the SCOOP ports include Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (see Figure 5), Guam, Seaward, Alaska, Astoria, Oregon, and San Diego, California. In the Atlantic they include Port Canaveral and Mayport, Florida, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, and Halifax, Canada. The SSBN may even return to its homeport and redeploy a day or two later on the same patrol.

Figure 5:
SSBN Replenishment at Forward Location

USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730) loading fresh fruit in Pearl Harbor during a SCOOP visit to Hawaii in March 2008 on its first patrol after a four-year overhaul where it was refueled and modernized to carry the Trident II D5 ballistic missile.

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Although patrols normally end at the base where they started, this is not always the case. An SSBN that departs Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Washington, might go on-station for several weeks in alert operational areas, conduct various training and exercises, and then arrive at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. After a brief port visit and replenishment the submarine typically resumes its patrol and eventually returns to Bangor. But sometimes the patrol will end in Hawaii, a new crew be flown in to replace the old, and the submarine undergo refit at the forward location as part of a SCOOP exercise. The SSBN then departs Hawaii on a new patrol, goes on-station in alert operational areas, conducts more exercises and inspections, and eventually returns to Bangor where the new patrol ends.

This type of broken up patrol where the submarine is allowed to do more than on-station operations is sometimes described as “modified alert” and said to be different from the Cold War. But SSBNs have never been on-station all the time, with most deployed submarines being in transit between on-station alert areas and other non-alert operations. In fact, “modified alert” patrols date back to the early 1970s.

Of the 14 SSBNs currently in the fleet, two are normally in overhaul at any given time. Of the remaining operational 12 submarines, 8-9 are deployed on patrol at any given time. Four of these (two in each ocean) are on “Hard Alert” while the 4-5 non-alert SSBNs can be brought to alert level within a relatively short time if necessary. One to three SSBNs are in refit at the home base in preparation for their next patrol.

The SSBNs on Hard Alert continuously hold at risk facilities in Russia, China and regional states with an estimated 384 nuclear warheads on 96 Trident II D5 missiles that can be launched within “a few minutes” after receiving the launch order. The targets in the “target packages” are selected based on the taskings of the strategic war plan, known today as Operations Plan (OPLAN) 8010.

What is the Mission?

But why, nearly two decades after the Cold War ended, are 28 crews ordered to sail 14 SSBNs with more than 1,000 nuclear warheads on 30-plus patrols each year at an operational tempo comparable to that of the Cold War?

The official line is, as stated last month by Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter during the celebration of the 1,000th Ohio-class deterrent patrol, that “the ability of our Trident fleet to [be ready to launch its missiles] 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, has promoted the interests of peace and freedom around the world….Since the beginning of the nuclear age, the world has seen a drastic reduction in wartime deaths.”

Figure 6:
Chilton and Roughead

STRATCOM commander General Kevin Chilton (left) and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead. General Chilton says SSBNs deter not only nuclear conflict but “conflict in general” and are “as equally important today, as they ever were during the height of the Cold War.”

The warfighters add more nuances, including Commander Jeff Grimes of the Trident submarine USS Maryland (SSBN-738) who at the start of a recent deterrent patrol explained it to Navy Times: “There are nuclear weapons in the world today. Many nations have them. Proliferation is possible in the growing technologies societies have. The power of the deterrent is the knowledge that the capability exists in the hands of controlled people. So on a global scale, deterrence is showing how it’s working every day. We haven’t had a global, world war, in a long time,” he said. “Intelligence is different, the threats are different, so we do adjust the planning and contingencies for strategic operations continually to face the threats that may or may not be seen….We’re there on the front line, ready to go,” Grimes declared.

STRATCOM commander General Kevin Chilton, who in a war would advise the president on which nuclear strike options to use, said recently that although some people thought the Trident mission would end with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the SSBNs “are as equally important today, as they ever were during the height of the Cold War….The application of deterrence can actually be more complicated in the 21st century, but some fundamentals don’t change,” he said and added: “And it is not just to deter nuclear conflict. These forces have served to deter conflict in general, writ large, since they’ve been fielded.”

These are strong and diverse claims that are also made in some of the command histories that each SSBN produces. Some of them state that the mission is to “maintain world peace,” which has certainly not been the case in the post-Cold War era. Others describe the mission as “providing strategic deterrence to prevent nuclear war” (my emphasis), which sounds more credible. But even in that case, can we really tell whether it is the SSBNs that prevent nuclear war and not the ICBMs or bombers?

The enormous differences between maintaining world peace, preventing wars, and preventing nuclear war demand that officials articulate the SSBN mission much more clearly. To that end, it would be good to hear why it takes 12 operational SSBNs with more than 1,100 nuclear warheads on 30-plus patrols per year to deter nuclear attack against the United States, but only three operational SSBNs with less than 160 warheads on six patrols per year to safeguard the United Kingdom.

Figure 7:
USS Maryland (SSBN-738) Underway on Nuclear Deterrent Patrol

USS Maryland (SSBN-738) departs Kings Bay on February 15, 2009, for its 53rd deterrent patrol in the Atlantic Ocean to prevent nuclear war, prevent world war, deter conflict, maintain world peace, promote the interests of peace of freedom, deter proliferators, in a mission that remains“equally important…as during the height of the Cold War,” depending on who is describing it.

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Last year Russia’s SSBNs returned to sea at a level not seen in a decade and it plans to build eight new Borey-class SSBNs with new multi-warhead missiles. France is completing its fourth Triomphant-class SSBNs also with a new multi-warhead missile, and Britain has announced plans to build four new SSBNs. China is building 3-5 new Jin-class SSBNs with 8000-kilometer missiles, and India is said to be working on an SSBN as well. The U.S. Navy has also begun design work on its next ballistic missile submarine to replace the Ohio-class.

In short, the nuclear powers seem to be recommitting themselves to an era of deploying large numbers of nuclear weapons in the oceans. Most people tend to view sea-based nuclear weapons as the most legitimate leg of the Triad. Yet of all strategic nuclear weapons, sea-based ballistic missiles are the most difficult to track, the most problematic to communicate with in a crisis, the hardest to verify in an arms control agreement, and the only ones that can sneak up on an adversary in a surprise attack.

If the Obama administration wants to decisively move the world toward “dramatic reductions” and ultimately the elimination of nuclear weapons, then it must seek answers to these issues. In the short term, it needs to ask whether the Cold War operational tempo of U.S. SSBNs is counterproductive by sending a signal to other nuclear weapon states that triggers modernization of their forces and makes reductions harder to achieve than otherwise. In other words, what is the net impact of the SSBN patrols on U.S. national security objectives in an era of pursuing nuclear disarmament?

Addition Resources: Russian Sub Patrols | Chinese Sub Patrols
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18 Responses to “U.S. Strategic Submarine Patrols Continue at Near Cold War Tempo”

  1. Tom Skypek March 16, 2009 at 7:31 am #

    “… it needs to ask whether the Cold War operational tempo of U.S. SSBNs is counterproductive by sending a signal to other nuclear weapon states that triggers modernization of their forces…”

    So, if the U.S. reduced its SSBN patrols, would China stop modernizing its nuclear forces? Would DPRK also halt its program, or Iran? States acquire/modernize nuclear weapons for a variety of reasons. The decision to acquire/modernize nuclear weapons is not always driven by Washington’s behavior. It’s certainly an important factor but it is not the only factor. This seems like an American-centric analysis of the issue. After the Cold War we found out that the Soviets viewed deterrence and nuclear weapons in much different terms than American analysts originally believed. We should avoid mirror-imaging here, too.

    “…what is the net impact of the SSBN patrols on U.S. national security objectives in an era of pursuing nuclear disarmament?”

    I would argue that the SSBN patrols enhance Washington’s deterrence posture. The patrols enhance the credibility of the American deterrent. If you believe credibility is an important requirement for deterrence, then the patrols make sense.

    Very interesting research.

  2. Dale Brown March 16, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    “Yet of all strategic nuclear weapons, sea-based ballistic missiles are the most difficult to track, the most problematic to communicate with in a crisis, the hardest to verify in an arms control agreement, and the only ones that can sneak up on an adversary in a surprise attack.”

    All good reasons to have them and keep them on patrol! All good reasons why the Russians, Chinese, Brits, and French sail them and why other countries will try to acquire them in the future.

    Reply: I recall that’s how we used to think about these things during the Cold War. But how to think about it in the 21st century? HK

  3. 3.1415 March 16, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Let’s be very neutral. If China somehow had 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, it would probably have as many patrols. Once a nation state sets its course to build so many SSBNs, they won’t be moored at their home ports to grow algae, as long as there is enough money to patrol. China has a long history of being reactive, rather than proactive. But historical facts are of little use when the United States does not wish to use them. The entire Chinese nuclear program from its inception was largely a reaction to American, and later Soviet, nuclear threats. DPRK now is a time-warped version of China in the 1960s. I am pretty sure that United States felt threatened by China in 1964 to a similar degree that US feels threaten by DPRK now. Threat is in the eyes of the threatened. Very few objective arguments can be made without the assumption that all nation states are created equal and are endowed by their creators certain inalienable rights, such as national defense.

    Reply: You make nuclear posturing sound to natural and benign. My assessment is that there are a great deal more factors playing into this. China, for one, has had an SSBN for 25 years but never sent it on a deterrent patrol, and SSBNs are not a passive units but a continuously improving capability that in the case of the United States have evolved from a medium-range inaccurate retaliatory weapon to a long-range, hard-target kill capability, front-line weapon. And it is the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that that development was an important factor in why China decided to develop mobile long-range missiles, programs that are now influencing how the U.S. is modernizing its capabilities. We can be country-neutral, for sure, but we can’t be neutral to this race for new nuclear capabilities. HK

  4. Dirk Beer March 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    Your title “U.S. Strategic Submarine Patrols Continue at Near Cold War Tempo” is a bizarre statement to make if Figs 1,3, and 4 are correct. A correct statement would be “… are at the lowest level since 1962″. The total number of “patrol days” is clearly _much lower_ than it was during the cold war. In what strategic sense is it important to anyone that the few remaining submarines still spend the normal amount of time patrolling?

    This statement “The 31 patrols conducted in 2008 top a 48-year history of continuous deterrent patrols”
    is just a plain-out falsehood. The 31 patrols don’t top the 48-year history in any sense.

    Reply: Annual number of patrol is not the same as operational tempo. As I describe, the annual number of patrols has dropped significantly with reductions in the SSBN fleet, but the high tempo with which each remaining submarine is sent on patrol has continued. The intention of the “top a 48-year history” statement is only to say that the 31 patrols in 2008 are the last in a long series of continuous patrols, not that they were the most in any given year. HK

  5. Tim Kelly March 16, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    Accidental launch is arguably the most serious risk posed by U.S. nuclear forces. At least at this point in time. I have always seen the SSBN force as the most secure of the triad when considering this factor, especially in an false-alarm/launch-on-warning scenario. In a false warning situation, they could possibly prove to be the only reason why a decision against LOW is made. Because of their survivability, SSBN’s might mean the only difference in a decision to “use them or loose them” or to withhold launching land based weapons with the knowledge that you will still have retaliatory capability.

  6. Armando March 19, 2009 at 11:54 pm #

    Again my comment deleted? May I know what is disparaging in my remarks? I only alluded to the fact that the US Navy is having problems with Congress funding & you can’t aim to build 50+ more ships and thereafter reduce patrols.

    btw how does FAS follow up?. I get the feeling FAS has turned into news portal.

  7. john myers April 8, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Presumably the US government considers the nuclear submarine program an insurance policy against the risk of attack. Like any insurance the risk/cost ratio needs to be calculated. The author does not state how much this program costs nor does he try to evaluate the risks.
    I happen to believe that this program, like many other weapons systems used by the US military, is a hangover from the cold war and continues as a massive jobs and welfare program for the constituencies involved. There is clearly little attempt on the part of the authorities to update the strategic argument for the continuation of this program.

  8. david korkia April 13, 2009 at 10:26 am #

    The recent deaths of 3 Somali pirates during negoiations suggests either a case of “bad luck” or an implicit message that negoiations are not acceptable. Violence levels may increase as Islamic extremists use hostages more for politcal gain than economic gain.
    One way, the U.S. may react to this increased violence is to introduce conventionally equipped Trident missiles in preemptive attacks. Successfully doing so would ensure their continued deployment in nuclear armed subs and issues concerning a conventional one being misinterpreted as the start of nuclear war or the accidental launch of a nuclear one will be minimized and/or forgotten as their use is expanded.
    The inclusion of conventionally-armed Tridents in future arms control talks may be an attempt to reduce the number of active weapons in the world, but may also be an attempt to psychologically equate nuclear weapons with conventional. Once the two are equated, justifying the use of nuclear weapons in non-nuclear situations is much easier and would seem to run counter to efforts to limit nuclear weapons.

  9. david korkia April 17, 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    Perhaps a little outdated, I wish to comment on two items concerning the Russian sub Kursk.
    1. The Kursk like many Russian subs employed a double-hull design to allow it to survive a torpedo hit. But the invention of a particular defensive measure often leads to the invention of a countermeasure by the inventors of the defensive measure. They know its strengths and weaknesses and correctly assume that someone else will eventually employ the same defensive measure. In this case, the Russians probably developed a conventional torpedo capable of defeating the double-hull design. The question is how ?
    One way might be the use of a tandem charged torpedo. The latest versions of Russian RPGs use a tandem-charged warhead to defeat armor uneffected by shaped-charged munitions. It seems logical to use that idea for torpedoes to ensure their effectiveness against subs and other vessels with double-hull design.
    2. Russian torpedoes on the Kursk used Hydrogen Peroxide for propulsion and is believed to be responsible for its sinking.. Given todays advances in battery technology,why does any country continue to use chemicals to power torpedoes.
    Electric motors would involve a much simpler, reliable,,and cheaper propulsion system. Batteries would reduce hazards that chemical propulsion systems pose to ships, their crews, and the environment,

  10. sean wilson April 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    I for one am glad the SSBN fleet is hard at work. Given the USAF’s lack of security and degraded proficiency in command and control of two legs of our nuclear triad (ICBM and bombers), at least the Navy appears vigilant.

  11. Greg September 5, 2009 at 1:56 am #

    You must “use it or lose it”. Slowing down the pace of SSBN patrols will allow the support system for these submarines to deteriorate. Anything less than 100% coverage is not a deterrent since it is against the treaties to hide the boats in port. If all of the boats are in, there is no deterrent.

  12. Doug Kerfoot September 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    The answer to the tempo question is simple – It doesn’t cost much more to keep them at sea than to have them pier-side AND the best way to keep a submarine operational is to operate it.

    Are you really arguing that the operational tempo should be reduced? Does it make sense to have submarines rusting at the pier instead of being on patrol? This is what happens when you take that approach: http://community.livejournal.com/ru_submarine/17486.html

    What the US Navy has done makes perfect sense – reduce the total platforms to the level considered appropriate and then keep them operating at sea.

    It seems to me you are trying to argue that we should reduce our total patrols even more than the current 1962 level, while hiding it behind the misleading banner of “Cold War Tempo.” While a case could be made for reducing the total number of patrols, it would make far more sense to decommission or sell the platform, (and keep the remaining platforms operating vigorously) rather than reduce the operational tempo.

  13. E. A. Hughes, FTCM(SS) USN (Ret) December 3, 2009 at 5:54 am #

    “But even in that case, can we really tell whether it is the SSBNs that prevent nuclear war and not the ICBMs or bombers?”

    The author of this post evidently does not understand the nuclear armament problem. ICBMs can be determined by any number of methods and even hardened targets are vulnerable. Bombers are an easy target by other aircraft or SAM missiles. The FBM Submarine has been for the last 50 years, and still remains the most viable option for nuclear deterrence. I made 7 patrols on an FBM Submarine during the cold war, how many have you made? Navyman628

    Reply: None. In fact, they won’t even let foreigners visit the subs. But I doubt sailing on a patrol or two would make any real difference because I still wouldn’t have access to the information that is needed to answer how much much of what kind is enough to ensure deterrence in the decades ahead. What did you do on the subs? Were you part of the target planning staff? Did you assess the lessons learned about how the subs did or did not contribute to preventing crises escalation? Like you, I bet most ICBM launch control officers or B-2 pilots would defend the virtues of their leg in the Triad, and the Pentagon always reminds us how each leg has unique characteristics that make them indispensable. The I-can-hide-and-you-can’t-find-me argument is not enough to assess the role and impact of nuclear weapons in the Triad. Other factors are costs, how the platform affects military relations with other nuclear weapon states, arms control and verification, and nonproliferation efforts. HK

  14. E. A. Hughes, FTCM(SS) USN (Ret) December 16, 2009 at 1:34 am #

    Sir, I spent nearly 15 years associated with the FBM Submarine program and the deterrent capacity that they operated under. You expose many things in your blog that we could not even talk about back in the Cold War. One could never speak of ships movements, capabilities of armament, and the fact that the Submarine (in this case) even had weapons onboard. How times have changed and now you can, under the guise of the freedom of information act, tell every one on the world, including our enemies, exactly what our capabilities are. I have not checked all you have on your blog, but let me say this, John Walker, his son and others have been incarcerated for life or less in some cases. And probably did not divulge as much information as you have in your blog. There is one thing you may be assured of, our country is not safer by anything you have posted.

    You more or less asked for my credentials, as to how it may apply to FBM Submarines, MAD, and nuclear deterrence and I will tell you this. My ship USS Turner (DDR 834) witnessed and maintained security for the first Polaris missile launch from an FBM Submarine ( USS George Washington (SSBN 598)) on July 20, 1960 and I was brought into the program in 1963 where I taught the heart of the Polaris Missile System, the Digital Geoballistic Computer (DGBC) to Submarine Missile Fire Control personnel for the next 4 years. I was then stationed on a Submarine Tender (USS Hunley (AS 31) ) that serviced FBM Submarines for the next year or so. I was then transferred to the USS Observation Island (EAG 154) to install the EX 88 Missile Fire Control System for the Poseidon Missile and to launch the first seagoing Poseidon Missile from that ship. I was the senior Missile Fire Control Technician during those installation and testing procedures and received a Navy Achievement Medal for my contribution to that very successful effort. After another 3 years of training Submarine Weapons System personnel on operations and maintenance of the Mk 88 FCS onboard the FBM Submarines I was transferred to the USS Tecumseh (SSBN 628) as the senior Missile Fire Control Technician aboard her and I was intimately involved in operations and targeting of the Poseidon Missiles onboard that Submarine. I made 7 patrols on the Tecumseh in the seas that would keep us in range of our targets for the 2 month or so period of our alert status. During that 7 patrol period we were unable to achieve our full mission objective for a period of about 2 hours as we were evading a Soviet Submarine for that period of time.

    Reply: Thanks for the additional information. I’m not questioning your service but asking how we can determine to what extent the boomers made the difference. I’m not saying they didn’t but that it is important to understand the contribution of the mission, which is hard with so little data and so much secrecy. Your assertion that I may have divulged more information than John Walker is plain wrong. And the important difference is that he had access to classified information which he handed over to another government, whereas what I describe is information declassified under the Freedom of Information Act. The law serves the important function of helping to ensure that the public can check and debate the operations of the government with due respect for information that cannot be disclosed. That debate is a core feature of our democracy, something the boomers are ultimately intended to protect. HK

  15. E. A. Hughes, FTCM(SS) USN (Ret) December 19, 2009 at 2:33 am #

    “The enormous differences between maintaining world peace, preventing wars, and preventing nuclear war demand that officials articulate the SSBN mission much more clearly. To that end, it would be good to hear why it takes 12 operational SSBNs with more than 1,100 nuclear warheads on 30-plus patrols per year to deter nuclear attack against the United States, but only three operational SSBNs with less than 160 warheads on six patrols per year to safeguard the United Kingdom.”

    The effort to prevent nuclear war is a world wide effort even though only a few countries are actively participating in that effort. On the side of democracies only the UK and the US are actively involved. The remainder of the world’s democracies would rather sit back until nuclear bombs start falling on them before they become involved. Not many countries have achieved the wealth that taxpayers can give them to afford the weapons the United States has and are willing to put on the line to protect themselves and the rest of the world from nuclear war. Only folks with the mentality of a true scientist would pose such questions as the ratio of weapons between the US and the UK as it makes no difference whatsoever in the final analysis. These are the same type individuals that predicted man’s days were numbered because gunpowder was invented, or the cannon was invented, or when the machinegun had been invented. Gloom and doom is your philosophy and regardless of the benefit of the nuclear deterrence that has existed for the last 50 years there is still the same response from most scientists. What you folks never seem to understand is that if we, the United States of America, do away with all our nuclear weapons the evil nations of this world will still have such weapons. The United States has never made war on a just nation, and it is my opinion that they never will. But we have prevented other nations from waging war against just nations by our power and our willingness to display that power. We are the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons in waging war, and that use of weapons was to prevent many hundreds of thousands of deaths, whether you folks believe that or not. The United States authorities were aware of the destruction that they determined had to be used to end WWII and that force was not used frivolously, but with great concern for the enemy. World opinion these days is against the United States for the use of such weapons and unfortunately a lot of the opposition to the strategy that the United States follows is from countries that the United States prevented from being destroyed by the war. And even though the war in Europe was not ended by nuclear weapons the Axis was probably aware we had nuclear weapons and would use those weapons, as we had shown no mercy on Germany with such things as conflagration bombing and total devastation of many of their cities.

    Come the last 50 years and we have enforced the peace,concerning the use of nuclear weapons, of the world in general through the program you folks refer to as MAD, and we still continue the same basic program but it probably goes by another name these days. A rose is a rose as we all understand. It is still right and just in this world, where countries are developing nuclear weapons, but deny that fact, and they still say such things as they would wipe another country off the map, and they do this with impunity because much of what they do is tolerated by folks, like you people, that want discussion and reason by those that have only hate toward certain other nations. You and the likes of your kind think that we can stick flowers in the gun barrels that are pointed at the rest of the world to prevent them using those weapons, and that appears to be your entire solution to the problem.

  16. Valeriy April 5, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    Decrease in all indicators of battle readiness of strategic underwater fleet of the USA in 2006 -2008 years causes alarm (if figures authentic). If in the ninetieth years it spoke the general reduction of number of submarines with 36 to 18, a collapse of the USSR, but from a part was compensated by the big fighting possibilities of Ohio submarines, during the period with 2001 for 2004 – reduction of number of submarines with 18 to 14, last 3 years (2006 – 2008 inclusive) for which there is a reporting decrease in activity of patrol and the general time spent to the sea – it is explainable nothing and is not justified. As the sea strategic component is extremely important for safety of all free world and restraint of potential opponents and as in prevention of attempts of rivalry of potential competitors of the USA in military force, I consider that the government of the USA should give more attention to sea strategic submarines. I apologise for my not so good English. I hope, I have managed to inform correctly thought.

  17. Navy Nuke July 16, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    Whatever happened to “Loose lips sink ships”? Is this material necessary for public consumption (naming bases and boats, patrol lengths,etc)? I realize to compete for money in the DOD budget some people think publicity, movies,etc are helpful. Subs with multi-mission capability are now our deterrent and need secrecy to succeed.

    Reply: Actually, compared with the other two legs of the triad, the SSBNs enjoy a considerable amount of secrecy. But too much secrecy can hurt programs, as you indicate, so declarations and declassifications are made from time to time. HK

  18. Mike Wong December 28, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    The problem is the US can be a threat to China but not the other way.The US better know the China of 2012 won’t be subject to US nuclear blackmail as in the past.China is not a threat to the US because China will be blasted off the earth if it initiates an attack
    The trouble is the US expects China to be of the Korea war vintage or better still the opium era when US troops could enter Peking and attack with immunity to the US mainland.That I am afraid is a relic of the past.
    The PLA will make 100 times 100 % sure any US attack on China,conventional or nuclear,will invite retaliation on US assets/bases outside the USas well as the CONUS.China could be obliterated of f the earth but the US would suffer unacceptable damage even though it will prevail.
    No amount of damage limitation will spare the US. This is the stark reality facing the Pentagon.As time goes on the PLA will devise even more deadly and destructive weapons.

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