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The Ultimate Death Dealers of the US Navy

The most famous of the Ohio-class submarines among the filmgoing public is undoubtedly the USS Alabama (SSBN).

Alumni and fans of the Ohio State University Buckeyes’ prestigious college football program ofttimes refer to their school conversationally as “the Ohio State University,” as if they were genuinely afraid that the broader viewing public might otherwise get them confused with other public universities in the State of Ohio. This in turn generates derisive laughs from fans and alumni from the Buckeyes’ in-conference rivals such as the Michigan Wolverines as well as longstanding non-conference rivals such as my own beloved USC Trojans, who will derisively refer to them in writing by the acronym “tOSU.” That said, as a Washington Redskins, er, Commanders fan, I’m very appreciative of the contributions made by ex-Buckeyes like WR “Scary” Terry McLaurin.

And I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to poke fun at anybody who wanted to conversationally refer to the U. S. Navy’s Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and cruise missile submarines (SSGNs) as “the Ohio-class submarines.” These mighty warships would certainly merit it, as they’ve spent 40+ years as the USN’s ultimate symbol of power projection and nuclear deterrence.

The Ohio-class boats trace their roots back to 1976 – America’s bicentennial year appropriately enough – when the first ship of the class, USS Ohio – appropriately enough again – (SSBN-726) had her keel laid down, followed by her launching in 1979 and her official commissioning on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1981; at the commissioning ceremony at Groton, Conn. – home of General Dynamics Electric Boat – then-Vice President George H. W. Bush told the assembled crowd of 8,000 guests that the Ohio and her class represented a “new dimension in our nation’s strategic deterrence.”

Ohio-class subs were designed as the successors to the Benjamin Franklin-class and Lafayette-class submarines. A total of 18 Ohios were built; the newesw ship of the class is the USS Louisiana (SSBN-743), commissioned in 1997. All of them are named for U. S. States, with the exception of USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730), named for the legendary Senator “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA).

These boats are indeed imposing behemoths, in terms of both physical dimensions and arsenal. Hull length is 560 feet, beam width of 42 feet, with a surfaced displacement of 16,764 tons and a submerged displacement of 18,750 tons; this ranks the Ohio class as the world’s third-largest submarines, behind the Russian Navy’s Typhoon class and Borei class. These dimensions come in handy for accommodating the crew complement of 15 commissioned officers and 140 enlisted sailors. Speed is roughly 20+ knots (23+ mph).

As for the weaponry, we’re talking 24 tubes for Trident II (D5) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In addition, there are four torpedo tubes for 21-inch (533mm) Mark 48 heavyweight torpedoes.

As noted by my 19FortyFive colleague Benjamin Brimelow, “In 2002, the Navy determined that it could meet US strategic nuclear needs with 14 Ohios and decided to convert the four oldest boats — USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida, and USS Georgia — into cruise-missile submarines … Reclassified SSGNs, these boats traded their torpedoes and ballistic missiles for up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, which are launched from the subs’ refitted missile tubes … Two of the tubes were converted into swimmer lockout chambers, which, along with the ability to mount a dry-deck shelter holding a SEAL Delivery Vehicle or inflatable boats, allows the SSGNs to carry and deploy 66 special-operations troops for covert missions.”

The most famous of the Ohio-class submarines among the filmgoing public is undoubtedly the USS Alabama (SSBN-731), thanks to it being the centerpiece of the appropriately-titled Crimson Tide, the 1995 action thriller starring Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini (R. I.P), Rick Schroeder (in one of his first “grown-up” film roles, thus facilitating his transition from the child actor phase of his life), a pre-LOTR Viggo Mortensen, and a pre-NCIS Rocky Carroll. If you’re either a fan of submarine movies and/or were an International Relations major in your undergraduate days – I happen to fall into both categories – methinks you’ll enjoy this movie very much.

In theory, the Ohio-class boats are being prepped for their hard-earned and well-deserved retirement parties, set to be replaced by the brand-spankin’ new Columbia-class SSBNs. But of course, in the world of military technology acquisitions and transitions, things are never that simple. The first ship of the Columbia class, the USS District of Columbia (SSBN 826), barely underwent her keel-laying ceremony back on June 4, 2022 (coincidentally the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway), and these newbies aren’t expected to officially enter service until October 2030!

So, in the meantime, five of the Ohios are getting a new lease on life, as noted by USNI News reporter: “Five of the Navy’s oldest submarines are candidates for a three-year life extension, service officials said on Tuesday … The 18-month repair period would target the five Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, to support a requirement for the Navy to surge 10 boomers as a strategic nuclear contingency, program executive officer for strategic submarines Rear Adm. Scott Pappano said at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium … The plan would provide a cushion while the first Columbia-class boats come online.”

On that note, cue The Andrews Sisters song: “Down By the O-hi-o…”

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