Seawolf: the submarine designed to wage World War III against Russia
Although they were designed in the 1980s, some would say that the Seawolf-class submarines are the best submarines to ever sail and perhaps better than what is currently coming out of shipyards today: The US Navy has had builders stuff all kinds of goodies into the Seawolf submarine. It’s packed with plenty of advanced ammunition, it’s quiet, and its thicker hulls withstand the pressure of deep diving. The nuclear-powered fast attack submarine is truly a marvel meant to challenge the Soviet Union and later the Russians in submarine warfare. But high costs got in the way, and only three were built. The Seawolf is still one to watch even though the program was halted due to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the sub’s main enemy. Let’s come back to this submarine which remains an ace that can be played by the Navy.
The Soviets were ahead of the game by the end of the Cold War
By the mid-1980s, the Soviets had attack submarines that began to rival the nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class fast attack boats. The Soviets had the famous Akula class which was deadly silent and could glide to a depth of 2,000 feet.
The White House Reagan was gung-ho
So in 1983, fueled by President Reagan’s plan to beef up the U.S. military, the Navy wanted a submarine that could address these shortcomings. Moreover, art sometimes inspires defense policy. The Hunt for Red October was published in 1984. Tom Clancy’s debut novel touched audiences, What if a Soviet super-submarine prowled the waters to endanger the east coast of the United States? Reagan said he read the book and therefore his Department of Defense was likely warned by the White House about the development of new US submarines.
The Seawolf class impresses the Navy
The USS Seawolf is the result. In 1989, the new submarine began its journey to production under a contract with Electric Boat. When commissioned in 1997, it displaced 9,000 tons and was almost as long as three football fields. The navy wanted to buy 29 submarines. The branch reduced it to 12 to cut costs and only three were made. The main reason for the reduced ambition of the program was the sticker shock – $3-3.5 billion per submarine.
Fast and heavily armed
But what a boat. Speed jumps first – 35 knots submerged and 20 knots quiet. The armaments were equally impressive. The Los Angeles class deployed with 37 torpedoes in four tubes, but the Seawolf class had 50 Mark 48 533 millimeter heavy torpedoes. Don’t forget a load of Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which he could launch through eight tubes. The Seawolf could also fire Tomahawk land attack missiles.
Deeper and quieter dive
Higher tensile steel (about 20% stronger than Class LA) allowed deeper dives to 2,000 feet. And it’s quite – as Kyle Mizokami wrote, “Ten times quieter over the entire operating speed range than Los Angeles Enhanced Subs, and seventy times quieter than Los Angeles Subs.” original Los Angeles-class sailors. It can run quietly at twice the speed of previous boats. It was also equipped with a better sonar system.
Was it still necessary?
But the Seawolf class fell victim to the post-Cold War “peace dividends”. It was the belief of the Clinton administration and many members of Congress in the 1990s that expensive weapons programs were no longer needed after the Soviet threat was eliminated – and that the savings from budget cuts defense could be spent elsewhere. The three remaining Seawolf boats were ahead of their time and positively influenced the advent of the Virginia-class fast attack boats – submarines that would remain in service for decades.
Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPh.D., is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.