February 22, 2006

Boomer News, #1

UPDATE: Cross Posted at the Wizbang Bomb Squad, here.

(Photo of the USS Florida, SSGN-728, courtesy of this site)

WARNING: Should be taken with a grain of salt. Unlike the carriers, the nuclear subs don't get much play in the press, and keep a very low profile. Much of what follows below is intended to be humor, because there is so little real news. Regular readers know when I'm serious and when I'm joking, so if certain parts of this seem disrespectful to the navy, or to the courageous sailors who serve our country in dangerous conditions, rest assured they're not meant to be. Though I joke about a lot of things below, know that I'm very glad these great ships exist and are keeping us safe, and offer my sincere thanks to those who serve. I hope you get a laugh out of this, because it is honestly meant to be a tribute. -- The Colossus.

When a writer like Gerard Vanderleun makes a suggestion, as he did on my latest edition of Carrier News, it's usually a wise idea to look into it. Gerard suggested that I take a look at the nuclear missile subs, as he thought they might be of interest.

So, just as Happy Days gave birth to the darker, more complex, and mysterious world of Laverne and Shirley (who can forget the two-part episode where Lenny and Squiggy embark on an epic journey to free the soul of Shirley from the dark conspiracy known as "Hasenpfeffer Incorporated", whose head office is in Hell -- or did I imagine that one?*), I'm considering a spinoff of Carrier News, to track the ballistic missile submarines, which we are tentatively calling "Boomer News". I'm not as optimistic that there are as many stories out there on the elusive boomers, even in today's age of media saturation. I mean, there are still secrets out there, right? Right?

Again, my methods are not particularly sophisticated. I'm basically using Google to read the major media. And lest you think I'm some Jack Ryan with a background in this stuff, I'll tell you up front that I was an Army infantry officer in the reserves, and so my knowledge of the Navy is pretty limited. Anything I know about the Navy has been a product of reading. Other than a tour of the Groton Submarine base when I was ten ("See submarines by boat!") I can honestly tell you that I've never set foot on a U.S. Navy ship.

And naturally, if I stumble across something that I would consider actionable intelligence that would harm our national security, I wouldn't write about it. I'm not Seymour Hersh, after all. I actually do take sides in the whole war on terror thing, and yes, I do believe we're the good guys.

So with those caveats in place, here is edition 1 of "Boomer News".

First up, let's define terms. I'm tracking, right now, the boomers -- the Tridents, the Ohio-class subs that carry, used to carry, or can potentially carry, Trident II nuclear missiles. In the olden days, back when the angry bear was threatening us, there were eighteen nuclear-capable submarines, which, whenever there was a threat to national security, or whenever Nancy Reagan's astrologer was worried by the movement of Mars through the constellation of Ursa Major (if you're a liberal), would take to the deep for destinations unknown, but presumably close enough to major Soviet cities that the Communist party members would all rush out to GUM in their Mercedes limousines to buy SPF-60 or higher sunscreen. There would be talk and bluster, and then the Russians would back down (or we would -- again, if you're a liberal). The architects of nuclear deterrence relied on three delivery systems for nuking the Soviet Union into oblivion -- the B-52 bomber, the Titan ICBM land-based missiles, and the boomers -- the Trident class subs (and their predecessors in the Poseidon and Polaris classes). Of the three deterrents, the boomers were the most frightening to the Communists because they could be damned near anywhere, and the few places in Russia which were out of their reach were all places that you wouldn't want to live in, anyway. It gets awfully cold in Tomsk in February.

These days, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the official "boomer" fleet has been reduced to 14 nuclear-warhead armed subs (SSBNs). Did the other ships retire? Of course not. The oldest four subs are being repurposed into SSGNs, which are platforms for carrying 150+ Tomahawk cruise missiles and up to 66 Navy SEALs (four platoons) at a time into places where SEAL work needs to be done. As the article states, the need for the latter capability is somewhat theoretical:

Trident SSGN also provides the CINCs and Battle Group commander a large SOF contingent (4 platoons) capable of carrying out a sustained and continuous level of effort of Special Forces missions. Each boat could carry up to 66 SEALs or other commandos, and a minisub currently under development would be affixed to the bow. However, there are not many missions in which such a large force of SEALs would play a significant role.

Not many missions? Not many missions? How about ushering in a new dark age of terror in which the forces of Halliburton, under the shotgun-wielding fury of the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney, are unleashed upon an unsuspecting and innocent world? I mean, come on, man, we're giving you the submarines! Think of some good use to put them too! If it were me, there wouldn't be an Iranian sleeping within 50 miles of the Persian Gulf who wouldn't be plagued with nightmares of having his throat cut by one of my marauding, nuclear-submarine-borne death-warriors. Use your imagination, man!

At any rate, the SSGNs are in development, even if the folks in the Navy haven't thought up many good missions for them, while the SSBNs are prowling the deep. Let's go find them!

The boomers are currently based in two places -- Kitsap-Bangor, near Puget Sound, (previously known just as Bangor) and Kings Bay, in Georgia. The ships in the Ohio Class are, according to this site:

The USS Ohio, SSGN-726: The Ohio is back in Kitsap as the first member of the SSGN class. Along with its theoretical contingent of 66 Navy seals, the ship will also carry more than 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles. It arrived in Kitsap recently to a 19-gun salute. The second linked article maintains that its contingent of SOF personnel could be as many as 102 -- I am assuming that there is no contradiction here, merely that the 66 Seals would be backed up by something like 36 support personnel -- armorers, commmunication guys, medics, cooks, interrogators, Lynndie England-class bondage and humiliation experts, etc. (kidding. I kid here). An especially cool detail? Of the 24 tubes formerly used to launch Trident missiles, 22 are now used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. The remaining two are "lock-in, lock-out chambers" for use by SOF. That's right, folks. They're SEAL launchers. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine anything cooler than that. (Yes, I understand that the SEALS aren't actually "launched" from the tubes -- they swim out of them -- but still). The Ohio's website is here. A fascinating article on the creation of the SSGN is here.

The USS Michigan, SSGN-727: The same story on the Ohio also gives us news of its sister ship, the Michigan. The Michigan entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in March, 2004, and is scheduled to complete its conversion -- from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, from a caterpillar into a butterfly (as Hannibal Lecter might imagine it) -- in December of this year. The Michigan's website is here.

The USS Florida, SSGN-728: The Florida is next in line for conversion to SSGN status, and is scheduled to be delivered in April. It was recently visited by the Undersecretary of the Navy, as the linked story relates, in Portsmouth, VA, which is upriver from Norfolk and has the big maintenance facilities, where some additional work on the Florida is being performed. The Florida is famous in moonbat history for being the only ship in the Navy to be rammed by a van driven by a war protestor. Wherever Peter DeMott is today (A Cindy Sheehan rally, perhaps?), I'm betting he still gets his dope for free. 'Cause dude, he not only spoke truth to power, he rammed power with a van of truth, man. Hey man, don't bogart it all, man. There's plenty to go around if we share. According to this story, the Florida will be delivered in May, and will be based out of Mayport, Florida.

The USS Georgia, SSGN-729: The Georgia is due for delivery in 2007. Its website is here. If the link is correct, the Georgia should be delivered in September, 2007. There are no recent news stories on it. This story, from 2004, is about its last change of command.

My assumption is that two of the SSGNs will be West Coast, and two will be East Coast. This would explain the staggered delivery schedule. The Florida and Georgia would be East coast (apparently based out of Mayport, rather than Kings Bay), and the Ohio and Michigan would be West coast (presumably based out of Kitsap-Bangor).

The USS Henry M. Jackson, SSBN-730: The only Ohio-class sub named after a person (the ship was originally going to be named the Rhode Island -- but that wasn't menacing to anyone), the Jackson is named after the legendary (I almost wrote "mythical") pro-defense Democratic senator, Scoop Jackson, who, unlike most members of his party, didn't spend all of his time listening to rock and roll music and bad-mouthing his country, as this guy might say. It's official website is down right now, but there are some unofficial pages about it. The Jackson is normally based out of Kitsap-Bangor, and there are no recent news stories on it, which suggests to me she may be prowling the deep. has a unit page for the ship.

The USS Alabama, SSBN-731: Naturally, when I think of this ship, I get a mental image of Gene Hackman standing in the rain, with sailors around him yelling "Roll Tide!" Yes, the Alabama is one of the few ships in the navy to have its own B-movie, the rather silly "Crimson Tide". Some memorable lines from a script written mainly for laughs: "Mr Vossler, what is the status of that radio!" and "The Lippizaner Stalions . . . their training regimen is simplicity itself . . . " I have to watch it every time it comes on, mainly because of Hackman. He's great in it. Well, he's Hackman -- playing the same character he always plays, which is some cynical old S.O.B. who has all this volcanic rage bottled up inside him, twitching just below the surface. He does angry better than anyone. At any rate, the Alabama's official site is here, but it is down at the moment. The Alabama's publicity also suffers at the hands of a famous namesake, who is retired in Mobile, Alabama. This story, from last fall, is also about a change of command. It also relates the interesting detail that the Alabama was the last ship to carry the Trident I missile.

The USS Alaska, SSBN-732: Submariners evidently don't like to mainstain websites, because the Alaska's site is also down. I guess it's tough to maintain a website when you're 700 feet below the surface of the ocean trying to repair a radio so that Gene Hackman doesn't have to launch a nuclear strike. He's a busy man, that Vossler. Wait! I spoke too soon! Here is part of the site that is up. Interestingly enough, nuclear submarines are composed of two full crews -- a blue crew and a gold crew. My understanding is that this is done so that the ship can be "ready to go" at any time, rather than going through the normal crew life cycle of a surface ship (in port, get new guys, train up, deploy, come home, in port, get new guys, etc.). A nuclear missile sub is a strategic weapon, therefore it's always ready to go. The Alaska's site also has some neat info on what it carries on a mission. Me, I'd want to make sure there was plenty of toilet paper. You'd hate to be in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and look over at that empty cardboard roll. The Alaska is based out of Kitsap-Bangor. Where she is now? Your guess is as good as mine.

The USS Nevada, SSBN-733: Information on the elusive boomers is tough to come by. But you can buy your own hand carved wooden model of the USS Nevada here. Looks like they can build you the boomer of your choice. Me, I'm thinking of getting one done of the USS Ohio, painted in black with a Skull and Crossbones on the tower and a grinning shark's teeth smile on the front, with a team of Navy SEALS coming out of one of the Trident missile hatches. But hey, to each his own. The Nevada also has its own resident artist -- its executive officer's work was displayed on the back cover of the fall edition of Undersea Warfare Magazine, which has to be about the only trade magazine with a Vice Admiral on its masthead. I can tell I'm going to be spending a lot of time on that site, my friends. Its archives are here. And while our focus is on the boomers, who can resist a picture of a Los Angeles class sub being attacked by polar bears? I know I can't. But where were we? The Nevada. Its official website is here. It also has a unit page on here.

The USS Tennessee, SSBN-734: The Tennessee doesn't have any movies about it, as far as I know, but it makes regular appearances in the works of Tom Clancy, if Wikipedia is to be believed. It also has its own schloarship fund, which you can contribute to, here. It has a unit page. Other than that, there's not a lot out there on it for news. I think it's up to something.

The USS Pennsylvania, SSBN-735: This ship also keeps a pretty low profile. The last featured news story on her dates from 2002, when she moved from being an East Coast sub to a West Coast sub. I wonder . . . do you think there are feuds between East coast submariners and West Coast submariners like there are among rappers? The move is explained here -- because the four oldest Tridents (based in Bangor) became SSGNs, they needed to move two East coast SSBNs to the West coast to even out the force. The Pennsylvania and the Kentucky were sent to the West coast to give us seven boomers on each coast, all the better to nuke folks with. I have to tell you -- the more I read about the Navy, the more I become convinced that these guys really have their act together. There is a beautiful, symmetric logic to everything the Navy does, from building classes of ships, to rotating them in the water, to keeping the appropriate number of ships in the right places. There are some very smart people running the show over there. Not that you could sign me up. I look awful in white.

The USS West Virginia, SSBN-736: If you didn't buy a submarine model from the guy I linked above, there's always this guy. Something every old cold warrior should have -- a scale model of a ballistic missile sub, hatches open, ready to deal death to the godless Communists above. Brings a tear to my eye, I know. Recently, the Blue crew of the West Virginia won the Atlantic Fleet's "Battle E" award in the Battle Efficiency category -- which is like winning best picture, if, instead of a nuclear missile sub, the West Virginia were a two-hour cinematic masterpiece devoted to gay cowboys. No, my friends, you ought not to trifle with the West Virginia. It's handing out lollipops and Trident missiles -- and guess what? It's fresh out of lollipops.

The USS Kentucky, SSBN-737: The USS Kentucky's official website is here. Evidently, someone's been reading a little too much Dan Brown, because a page devoted to its insignia's "symbology" is here. Off topic, I know, but doesn't it bother you how in Dan Brown's books, Harvard Professor of Symbology Dr. Robert Langdon is always the last guy to figure out the symbolism of everything? I mean, this guy teaches at Harvard and I was at least three pages ahead of him the whole time. And do you think this poor guy gets asked about the books any less than a dozen times a day? "Hi, I'm Dr. Robert Langdon, your Dermatologist. And no, I have no strong opinion on whether Jesus ran off with Mary Magdalene, but I think I better prescribe some Accutane before that acne of yours gets any worse. It doesn't take a member of the Illuminati to see that, ha ha ha." At any rate, the Kentucky's symbolism is pretty straightforward. A horseshoe and a big gun. I get it. Like most of the boomers, it's tough to find news stories on the sub, but I did find this story from 2004 about the Kentucky Navy League from a local TV station. You can also buy a pretty neat looking print of it, here.

The USS Maryland, SSBN-738: The Maryland's Blue Crew also recently won a couple of Atlantic Fleet "Battle E" awards, including Engineering, and Tactical Operations. Nothing to sneeze at. But if it were the Oscars, guys . . . well let's just say that the guy who wins the technical awards doesn't get to take a drunk Charlize Theron home in his limo. (Again, I'm kidding, here). I'm wagering that none of these guys, featured on the blue crew's unofficial website, will, either.

The USS Nebraksa, SSBN-739: The Alabama has a movie. The Tennessee is in the Tom Clancy novels. But the Nebraska? They've got a comic book. The Nebraska's official website is here.

The USS Rhode Island, SSBN-740: After they renamed her sister ship the Henry M. Jackson, the new ship got the name Rhode Island, instead. Maybe this ship was what Dudley Moore had in mind when he was referring to his "date's" home country: "It's terribly small. Tiny little country. Rhode Island could beat the crap out of it in a war. That's how small it is." A Trident class sub, with 24 well-placed nukes, the Rhode Island could actually beat the crap out of just about anybody in a war -- so don't laugh at the Rhode Island. Besides, it's got a fictional counterpart in the Star Trek universe, and that's certainly not geeky, is it? And it did get a "Battle Efficiency E" in the Battle E competition. So don't mess with the Rhode Island just because it's named after a little state.

The USS Maine, SSBN-741: Where are the symbologists when you need them? Somebody tell me what the Maine's insignia means. A Trident sub sails up a river. Behind it, a lighthouse shines forth, preternaturally bright, with the rays of the sun (or perhaps that is a blast on the horizon from one of the Trident II missiles). In the foreground, a sailor and a man dressed in pink look across a river at each other. The sailor rests on an anchor, representing all the baggage he's carrying from his previous relationships. The man in pink carries a sickle, representing the doomed mortality of their forbidden love. Beneath, an illegible motto. Actually, it's a little more legible here, and appears to read "Leadership and Vigilance". I kid. You know that, right? I'm a kidder. But really, there are so many of these subs that their logos begin to get like the state quarters after awhile. Unduly complicated and unclear in their messages -- unlike, say, the USS Kentucky, whose logo's meaning is clear -- "If you're lucky, we won't shoot you." Not much news on the Maine -- in fact, the whole boomer community maintains such good operational security that I have to resort to childish jokes in order to fill this post.

The USS Wyoming, SSBN-742: You may want to turn your sound down before connecting to this site, which is a fan site devoted to photos of all the ships named the Wyoming. They have a MIDI file playing in the background of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" which you fans of the movie Titanic might remember as being the hymn Kate Winslet is sweetly singing in the chapel (amazing, to my mind, that lightning didn't strike her dead) while Leonardo DiCaprio gets roughly handled by the guy who got his head chopped off by a sheet of plate glass in The Omen. Or you would remember that, if you were as screwed up as I am. At any rate, despite the fact that Wyoming is one of the newer, more rectangular states, it has had no fewer than four U.S. Navy ships named after it, and even has a ship named after it in the Star Trek universe. On its seal, a charging buffalo -- which is ironic, considering that buffaloes can't actually live in the ocean. The tin foil hat community also remembers that the Wyoming -- this one, not the Star Trek one -- was off the coast of Long Island the day TWA 800 went down. So we know what that means, don't we? Granted, a Trident II isn't the most effective anti-aircraft weapon ever devised, but if one did hit an airplane, it would probably be fatal. But be forewarned, if you walk down that path, my friend, pretty soon you'll find out that the only things you know are those things that the Knights Templar want you to know. Trust me on that one. The Wyoming actually has been featured in the major media -- C-Span did a feature on it back in 2000. You can watch clips of the show from the C-Span video archives here.

The USS Louisiana, SSBN-743: Alright, somebody's probably already made the (pretty poor) joke, but isn't it strangely fitting that the ship named after the state of Louisiana is one that's usually underwater? Ha ha. I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitresses. Like all the boomers, the Louisiana is news shy. This guy's site has pictures of a tour he did on the Louisiana a few years ago, and has a lot of good pictures and info about the sub. The Louisiana is the last of the Trident subs built, much to the dismay of Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, which built the Trident Class and has seen its business turn down pretty sharply since the end of the Cold War.

Well, that's a wrap for issue 1. There isn't a lot out there in terms of real news about the boomers -- the ships keep a low profile and the media knows so little about the military in general that they never think to ask. I didn't actually intend for this piece to take the comic turn it did, but there wasn't much choice for me beacuase there isn't really much news out there.

I'm thinking that while we'll keep the Carriers updated once a week, we may go with the Boomer News once a month. But I'm thinking about them, and I'm sure there are a few folks in the Pentagon who are hoping the Ohio can get up to speed pretty quickly, because as much as I joke about the SSGNs, I can see some really important uses for them.

* Plot summary. Laverne and Shirley's carefree "give us any rule, we'll break it" philosophy unfortunately uncovers an ancient evil when Carmine gives them a Ouija board he found in an attic. When the twin demons Schlemiel and Schlemozzle abduct the two through a dimensional gate, it looks like its over for our heroines. But Laverne's hideous laugh repels Schlemiel enough that she is cast back through the gate, somewhat the worse for wear, where she tells Lenny and Squiggy of Shirley's continuing dilemma. Lenny and Squiggy have some hi-larious adventures enroute to recovering a fragment of the True Cross, which, when jammed into the eye of Schlemozzle, briefly causes an interdimensional rift that allows our heroes to escape with Shirley. Unfortunately, the world to which they return is slightly different than ours -- Hitler's successful heavy-water experiments and the ensuing nuclear exchange have rendered Milwaukee uninhabitable. The four relocate to the Republic of California for the final season, where Lenny and Squiggy try, without luck, to get a spot on I Love Lucy.