Undersea Warfare The Official Publication of the Undersea Warfare Community.  Summer 2003 Issue.  U.S. Submarines… Because Stealth Matters Image of magazine cover
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A dozen U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarines from both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets – and two UK submarines – played a significant combat role in Operation Iraqi Freedom by supporting coalition forces with a series of Tomahawk missile strikes against high-value targets ashore. Operating from both the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, U.S. submarines fired over one-third of the more than 800 Tomahawks launched by naval forces during the conflict. Subsequent to the initial joint-decapitation strike on Baghdad on 18 March 2003, a variety of other military sites were targeted, including command/control nodes, air defense facilities, and logistics hubs. After these initial strikes, air and ground forces were mobilized to take towns and cities throughout Iraq, culminating in the capture of the capital by coalition forces on 9 April.

On Deployment? – Come as You Are

Although several of the U.S. submarines that struck Iraq deployed on short notice specifically in response to the developing contingency in the Middle East, most were already at sea on previously-scheduled deployments. In some instances, these boats had to reposition themselves rapidly into missile range and extend their time away from home by as much as three months. USS Cheyenne (SSN-773), for example, departed her Pearl Harbor homeport in late July 2002 for what was expected to be a six-month deployment. Ordered into the Arabian Gulf prior to the conflict as part of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) strike group, Cheyenne had the distinction of firing the first Tomahawk missile in Operation Iraqi Freedom. By the time she got back home, she had been gone for nine months.

According to CDR Charles Doty, Cheyenne’s commanding officer, the crew responded superbly when they were called on to go to war. “At the time, we had no idea we’d be the first submarine to launch a Tomahawk,” he said. “We just knew we had to execute our mission, and the crew reacted magnificently.” Then he reflected, “There were a lot of U.S. forces involved, and I’m glad to know USS Cheyenne was able to support the coalition effort in Iraq and help liberate the Iraqi people.”

Another Pearl Harbor-based submarine whose deployment was extended – to eight months – was USS Louisville (SSN-724). While on a routine, six-month deployment in the Seventh Fleet operating area, Louisville was dispatched to the Fifth Fleet area for Operation Iraqi Freedom and found herself – once again – in combat action against Iraq. As CDR Michael Jabaley, her commanding officer, noted, “We are very proud of Louisville’s history. In 1991, she was the first submarine to fire Tomahawk missiles in the Gulf War. And this year we’re back again.”

During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm over a decade ago, Louisville made naval history by conducting a 14,000-mile submerged, high-speed transit across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Red Sea and launching the first submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missile fired in wartime. As a result, Louisville was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious service during Operation Desert Storm.

For this conflict, according to CDR Jabaley, Louisville’s Sailors not only did their job well, but they kept it up throughout their lengthy deployment. “The leadership on this ship is fantastic, and the crew really responded to that. You might think when a ship gets extended on deployment the crew would get discouraged. I never saw any indication of that. They were always upbeat, positive, and energetic, and they knew how important our mission was,” he said. “It’s nothing that any submarine in Pearl Harbor couldn’t have done – we just happened to be out there at the time. It’s what we’ve all trained and worked up to, and we were ready. We are very proud to have been part of the coalition,” added Jabaley.


Atlantic Fleet

Pacfic Fleet

USS Boise (SSN-764) (Surged)

USS Key West (SSN-722)

USS Montpelier (SSN-765)

USS Louisville (SSN-724) (Extended Deployment)

USS Toledo (SSN-769) (Surged)

USS Columbia (SSN-771)

USS Augusta (SSN-710) (Deployed Early)

USS Cheyenne (SSN-773)

USS Providence (SSN-719) (Deployed Early)

USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720) (Surged)

USS Newport News (SSN-750) (Deployed Early)


USS San Juan (SSN-751) (Extended Deployment)

All 12 U.S. submarines and two UK submarines (HMS Splendid and HMS Turbulent) launched TLAMs against Iraq. Approximately one third of total TLAMs fired were launched from submarines.