Transformation Comes to the Fleet
If there is one constant within the Submarine Force, it is continual adaptation and transformation to meet emerging needs. Before World War II, for example, most people thought of submarines only as scouts for locating hostile forces and then finishing off enemy ships that the surface fleet had already damaged. For many months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, submarines were virtually the sole offensive weapons remaining in the Pacific Fleet. Moreover, during the rest of the war, submarines added Special Forces operations, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), and shore attack to its anti-shipping missions.
With the end of World War II, the Submarine Force once again adjusted to meet the needs of an unpredictable conflict – the Cold War. The most significant difference between the Submarine Force of the 1940s and that of the Cold War was its role in strategic deterrence. First with cruise missiles and then ballistic missiles, the Submarine Force became a part of the Nuclear Triad that helped to ensure the United States’ security in an uncertain era. This mission required a new type of ship, which first appeared with USS George Washington (SSBN-598) – the first Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine – and later culminated in the USS Ohio (SSBN-726)-class. Also during the Cold War, attack submarines added the capability of power projection ashore with the TOMAHAWK cruise missile.
The Submarine Force is once again enhancing and expanding its capabilities. SSNs are still the premier anti-submarine and anti-ship platforms, but they are also uniquely adept in clandestine ISR, Strike, and Special Forces roles. The Ohio-class SSBNs continue to provide survivable nuclear deterrence, but today, the first four Ohio-class SSBNs are being converted in a transformational program that will further expand the capabilities of the Submarine Force. The first of these ships, Ohio herself, completed her engineered refueling overhaul and conversion in December 2005. The conversion modifies one of the world’s most capable ballistic missile submarines into the world’s most powerful undersea Strike and Special Forces platform. The SSGN is the latest manifestation of the Submarine Force’s ability to adapt to meet current and future needs.
The modern SSGN concept began in 1994 when the Nuclear Posture Review determined that the United States needed only 14 of its 18 Ohio-class SSBNs. Therefore, the four oldest, USS Ohio, USS Michigan (SSGN-727), USS Florida (SSGN-728), and USS Georgia (SSGN-729) were slated for inactivation, despite a combined eighty-plus years of operational life remaining in their hulls. The significant cost of new submarines, the remaining service life of the four ships, and the tremendous payload capacity of the Ohio-class were all factors that led to further consideration of the inactivation decision.
In 1999, Congress approved funding for a concept study on converting the four SSBNs slated for decommissioning into Strike and Special Forces platforms. From that point on, the Navy moved quickly with strong Congressional support to transform the first four Ohio submarines from the ultimate Cold War weapon to a state-of-the-art, 21st-century warfighting platform. In 2000, Congress provided funding for a design study and in 2001, approved the additional funds necessary to proceed with a four-ship conversion program. In December 2002, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics granted production approval for the Ohio-class SSGN Program. Three years later, Ohio re-entered the Fleet as the first Ohio-class SSGN.
One of the primary reasons for this rapid acquisition process is the changing face of naval warfare. Whereas during the Cold War, the United States Navy operated predominantly under, on, and above the world’s deep oceans, smaller regional conflicts such as the Global War on Terror have replaced the set-piece confrontations of previous decades. These smaller, lower-intensity conflicts are likely to occur in the littorals, where most of the today’s navies operate. To deploy in this new environment, the Navy is undertaking a number of acquisition programs to meet this emergent need. The SSGN program is one of these.
Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and Georgia’s missions as SSGNs will be in stark contrast to strategic deterrence. Instead of carrying twenty-four nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, each SSGN will carry up to 154 TOMAHAWK land-attack cruise missies and up to 66 Special Operations troops. The TOMAHAWKS will be loaded into seven-round Multiple All-Up-Round Canisters (MACs), installed in missile ubes 3 through 24. Additionally, tubes 3 through 8 are designed to accommodate stowage canisters that can hold provisions, SOF equipment, and other items needed to keep the SSGNs forward deployed.