With a national decision made about 1947 to manufacture a nuclear power plant and install it in a new submarine, the program to build the USS NAUTILUS became a reality. As the world knows, the success of our Navy nuclear power program has been superb in every respect. There is no doubt that the old Admiral, Rickover, deserves every credit given him for being the father of our nuclear Navy. In addition to submarines, we have had for many years nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers. In addition to being a clean source of power, refueling is only required in the latest power plants about every 13 or 14 years.
Another bold action taken by the Navy in the mid-1950s was to build the POLARIS missiles and the submarines to launch them. This force during its lifetime has been the foundation of our secure strategic nuclear deterrent force. Funds were appropriated by Congress for 41 of these large boats each capable of launching 16 SLBMs (nuclear-tipped missiles). One of the remarkable things about the POLARIS program, however, was that when the program was started and the submarines were actually being constructed, we had never fired a rocket from beneath the surface. We had no experience with the effect of breaking through the interface between the water and the atmosphere. Would it work? Well, it did!
To get POLARIS operational in as short a time as possible, nuclear attack submarines on the building ways were cut in two, the sections pulled apart and the missile compartment installed.
POLARIS provided the United States with a secure strategic force always on station and ready to fire nuclear missiles in response to any attack by the Russians.
The first follow-on program to POlARIS was POSEIDON in which we fitted POLARIS boats with the new, longer range and more powerful POSEIDON missile.
The second follow-on is TRIDENT, a going program today. The TRIDENT submarine displaces 19,000 tons and carries 24 of the newest submarine missiles. Eight of these submarines are scheduled for basing at Bangor, Washington, where an entirely new facility has been built to support these craft.
To give you an idea of how big a TRIDENT submarine is, my wife broke out her computer the other evening and said to me, “if a TRIDENT boat were hapai, it could produce 48 keikis, the size of the first submarines sent to Hawaii in 1914.”
Today’s strategic missile boats, including our TRIDENTs, are the quietest, most survivable submarines in the world and represent the pre-eminent leg of our deterrent TRIAD. We have eight of these craft making deterrent patrols today, two more have been delivered and seven are under construction or authorized.
The attack submarine force, led by the LOS ANGELES and HONOLULU, 688-class nuclears, are capable of delivering sudden and overwhelming fire power against both land and sea-based targets using advanced capability wire-guided and target seeking torpedoes, as well as the HARPOON missiles and TOMAHAWK cruise missiles which are designed to attack both sea-based and land targets.
The entire submarine force costs less than six percent of the Department of Defense budget The attack submarine force represents over 35% of the Navy’s combatant ships but uses less than 10% of the Navy’s budget.
The submarine has come a long way since April 11, 1900, when we commissioned our first one, the USS HOLLAND. Today’s nuclear boats continue to expand their role in the wartime component of our national security strategy. Our nation’s maritime predominance is absolutely dependent upon maintaining submarine supremacy.
Admiral Bernard A. Clarey, USN(Ret.)