How the Silent Service Is Adapting to Putin's Superweapons

USS Florida returns home after three months in the deep 6 photos
Photo: U.S. Navy
Missile GardenLast breath of fresh airRussian Navy's BelgorodPoseidon TorpedoHome for food
Growing up on an island in Florida, every trip to the mainland involves crossing the Intracoastal Waterway. The marshes are wide and loaded with alligators, but something more sinister lurks just a few miles north
The two largest dry-docks in the Western Hemisphere are the backdrop for a quiet sunset. Naval Submarine Base King’s Bay has worked around the clock for 4 decades to keep the Atlantic Fleet well stocked with Trident missiles. What’s more, the officers and crew are an essential part of the local economy.

Knowing your hometown is a primary target for nuclear destruction can be disconcerting, but the upside is the great pay and benefits offered by becoming a Civil Servant. Every three months, an Ohio-Class submarine comes home hungry, as food is the only true limiting factor of their patrol.

Loaded with 24 missiles, it's strange to see something so massive moving at a rapid pace. Their only real vulnerability is exposed while on the surface, so they transit the continental shelf in short order.

Home for food
Photo: U.S. Navy
The first subs arrived here in 1979, when Spain politely banned our nukes at their bases. Back then, the enemy was clearly defined, and Soviet “Shimp Boats” routinely monitored the activities while anchored up 2 miles out. But now the world is changing, so our forces must also.

The first action was to offload the Trident missiles of the four oldest subs. Realizing that six conventional Tomahawk missiles can fit in the same tube, they also gained a dry-deck garage to support Seal/Special Forces contingent. So, in addition to 147 missiles, the USS Florida (above) can be loaded with 66 Seals along with their own mini-sub.

Losing the capabilities of our oldest subs also allowed the Navy to easier meet the timeline of nuclear weapons treaties signed with Russia decades ago. But Vladimir has been quite vocal in developing doomsday weapons while apparently preparing to annex Ukraine. The Poseidon is apparently a massive torpedo. It has a tiny reactor for a nearly unlimited range, so its essentially a deep-diving drone that can deliver a warhead to the East Coast. What’s more, the Belgorod mother ship has a provision for a mini-sub to eavesdrop on the West.

Missile Garden
Photo: Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic
The Navy responded with the Trident Missile Life Extension. Lockheed whipped up a new navigation system for the old birds, with all being upgraded over the past months. All the “hype” over hypersonic weapons has prompted a possible change in the mission. A launch from USS Kentucky back in 2015 took place off of LAX, prompting Californians to suspect alien invasion as it appeared to hang over the sky. The reason why it was so visible is that instead of leaving the atmosphere, it flew a depressed trajectory to a target across the ocean.

Essentially taking a shortcut, they fired it like a cruise missile. Trading a ton of fuel for a shorter flight is a big flex, but that’s not all. The icing on the cake is the accuracy. While nuclear bombs don’t necessarily need to be accurate, the advances in high-strength rebar require the bomb to be much closer for a harder hit. The upgrades included a GPS patch to increase the accuracy from a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) to 300 feet.

Why so precise? Someone had the idea to remove the plutonium from a few warheads, and we now have firecrackers in the form of the W76-2 warhead. By firing their detonators only, they are rated at 7 kilotons, or half a Hiroshima explosion. Our friends in the United Kingdom have also reaped the reward, as Her Majesty’s submarines use the same hardware. This shifts the role from deterrence to a potential first-strike aggressor by changing the flight path. A new Cold War is warming up, so here’s to all of you beneath the waves.

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