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Seawolf class

Nuclear-powered attack submarine

Seawolf class submarine

The Seawolf class is arguably the quietest design of submarine constructed

 
 
Entered service 1997
Crew 134 men
Diving depth (operational) 487 m
Diving depth (maximum) 610 m
Dimensions and displacement
Length 107.6 m
Beam 12.9 m
Draught 10.7 m
Surfaced displacement 8 080 tons
Submerged displacement 9 142 tons
Propulsion and speed
Surfaced speed 18 knots
Submerged speed 35 knots
Nuclear reactors 1 x ? MW
Steam turbines 2 x 38.7 MW
Armament
Missiles and Torpedoes 8 x 660-mm torpedo tubes for 50 Mk.48 torpedoes, Sub Harpoon anti-ship missiles or Tomahawk cruise missiles
Other up to 100 mines in place of torpedoes or missiles

 

   The boats of the Seawolf class are the most advanced but also the most expensive hunter-killer submarines in the world. The first completely new American submarine design for some 30 years, the USS Seawolf was laid down in 1989 as the lead boat in a class of 12. The cost of the Seawolf class in 1991 was estimated at $33.6 billion (25 per cent of the naval construction budget), making it the most expensive naval building programme ever. At that time the US Navy planned an additional 17 boats. Then the peace dividend resulting from the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War caused US politicians to question the need for more ultra-quiet boats, and the class was capped at three units and the replacement for the 51 current Los Angeles class boats became a much cheaper design of the Virginia class.

   The Seawolf class was intended to restore the technological edge which the US Navy had enjoyed over the Soviets from 1945 until the mid-1980s, when espionage and the cynical trading practices of some US allies somewhat eroded it. The new boats were designed to operate at greater depths than existing US submarines and to operate under the polar ice cap. The Seawolf class boats were intended to seek and destroy the latest Soviet ballistic missile submarines, such as the Typhoon class and attack submarines such as the Akula class.

   New welding materials have been used to join the hull subsections and the Seawolf class are the first attack submarines to use HY-100 steel rather than the HY-80 used for previous boats. (HY-100 was used in experimental deep-diving submarines during the 1960s).

   The most important advantage of the Seawolf class design is its exceptional quietness even at high tactical speeds. Whereas most submarines need to keep their speed down to as little as 5 kts to avoid detection by passive sonar arrays, the Seawolf class are credited with being able to cruise at 20 kts and still be impossible to locate. The US Navy describes the Seawolf as 10 times as quiet as an improved Los Angeles and 70 times as quiet as the original Los Angeles boat: a Seawolf at 25 kts makes less noise than a Los Angeles tied up alongside the pier! However, during their construction and subsequent trials, several problems were experienced on the Seawolf after acoustic panels kept falling off the boat.

   With eight torpedo tubes in a double-decked torpedo room, the Seawolf class are capable of dealing with multiple targets simultaneously. Now that the originally intended targets are rusting at anchor in Murmansk and Vladivostok, it is the Seawolf's ability to make a stealthy approach to enemy coasts that makes it so valuable. The third ant last unit, the USS Jimmy Carter, which was commissioned in December 2001, incorporates a dry deck shelter, for which its hull was lengthened by 30.5 m (100 ft). The dry deck hangar is an air transportable device than can be fitted piggy-back style to carry swimmer delivery vehicles and combat swimmers. There is a combat swimmer silo too, an internal lock-out chamber that can fit up to eight swimmers and their equipment. The irony of such a submarine being named after the president who bungled the Iran hostage rescue mission is not lost on older US Navy personnel!

   All three of the boats can carry Tomahawk cruise missiles. These cruise missiles have a range of 1 700 km and are used to attack ships and land targets. The boats have eight 26-in (660-mm) torpedo tubes. A total complement of 50 Mk.48 torpedoes, Sub Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles can be carried by the boats of the Seawolf class. Alternatively up to 100 marine mines can be carried in place of either the torpedoes or the cruise missiles.

   It is thought that is the future the vessels may also be fitted for the carriage, deployment and recovery of Uninhabited Underwater Vehicles (UUVs). The state of the art electronic system on the boats features a BSY-2 sonar suite with an active or passive sonar array and a wide-aperture passive flank array; TB-16 and TB-29 surveillance and tactical towed arrays are also fitted. The class features a BPS-16 navigation radar and a Raytheon Mk 2 weapons control system. A countermeasures suite includes the Wly-1 advanced torpedo decoy system.

   The boats have great maneuverability, and additional space was built into the class for improvements in weapons development. Despite their potent weapons load, their ultra-quietness, and their robust electronics fit, the Seawolf class are yet to be deployed in combat.

 

Name Laid down Launched Commissioned Status
USS Seawolf (SSN-21) 1989 1995 1997

active, in service

USS Connecticut (SSN-22) 1992 1997 1998

active, in service

USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) 1998 2004 2005

active, in service

 

 

Video of the Seawolf class nuclear-powered attack submarine

 
Seawolf class submarine

Seawolf class submarine

Seawolf class submarine

Seawolf class submarine

Seawolf class submarine

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