Submarine classes are simple designations. They are a group of ships built to the same base blueprint with few differences between the ships. Classes are usually named after the first ship in the class. Changes will happen over time to the design, but they are usually modifications of the base model. A new class of submarines occurs when a completely different base blueprint is used to design a submarine rather than a simple modification. But what brings a new submarine design to life? In the case of the Los Angeles class, an event between a surface ship and a Soviet submarine led to a new class of submarine- the 688.
In January 1968, the USS Enterprise was coming out of San Francisco Bay on its way to Vietnam. Just outside of U.S waters, a Soviet trawler was patrolling. Thankfully for the Enterprise, Navy intelligence had warned her of its presence.
As the Enterprise inched closer, the Soviet trawler sent out a signal that was intercepted by intelligence. That could only mean one thing – a Soviet nuclear attack submarine was in the area. This encounter, while inexplosive or newsworthy, was a sign of a new type of warfare. When the Washington Post described it, they said, “Unlike the war going on in Vietnam, at sea there was no daily carnage, no body bags, nor even any causal ties. It was a war not covered by the media, blacked out as it was by layers of classification, but it was a war nonetheless, one in which nuclear submarines hunted each other throughout the oceans —stalking, aiming and firing imaginary torpedoes as practice for the day when it all could be real.” But this simple encounter paved the way for a new submarine design, one that could outweigh that of the Soviet Navy. While the Los Angeles Class of submarines proved to have numerous problems, it doesn’t change the fact that Admiral Rickover and his nuclear navy was always striving to make a stronger, more stealth submarine force.
Rickover was one of the first to hear the report of the Soviet submarine off the coast of California that January. Rickover knew that the United States would have to do something about the Soviets. They were building nuclear subs at an unprecedented rate. While their submarines might have been faster, the quick delivery of the fleet was leading to faulty ships and numerous problems. Nonetheless, it was a concern to Rickover and the United States. At this time, speed was the name of the game. In order to do this, development of compact high-energy nuclear reactors would be needed. Since 1964, Rickover had secretly been working on adapting a large surface-ship reactor and propulsion plant for submarine use. The Enterprise encounter gave Rickover his opportunity to show the importance of increasing submarine speeds to his superiors. The Enterprise was given the order to race the Soviet submarine. As she gained speed, the Enterprise believed she would outrun the Soviet sub at top speed in no time. Two days later, the Soviet sub was still in pursuit of the surface ship. At this point, the submarine was breaking all known speed records for its type. This race was confirming some of the U.S. worst fears- the old submarine class in the Soviet Navy was faster than any of the U.S. Navy’s newest ones.
The opposition was quick to Rickover’s high-speed design. It was too large, too noisy and too expensive. A little over a month after the Enterprise incident, seven submarine commanders met in secret with Rickover to come up with America’s next new nuclear submarine. The SSN 688 was developed by this secret group in 90 days. The new design could set speeds of 32 knots. However, to gain this speed, diving depth was sacrificed. This was an issue that the committee thought would eventually be solved – it wasn’t. The idea was approved, and full design conception was awarded to Newport News. Despite depth sacrifice, the Los Angeles class improved the fleet’s acoustic performance and led to a new knowledge of sound and speed. This led to the development of the Seawolf class.
As of 2018, 40 of the Los Angeles class submarines are still in service. The class has more active nuclear submarine than any other. The boats are all named after American towns and cities except for the USS Hyman G. Rickover. These namings were a departure from the tradition of naming attack submarines for ocean creatures. The actual top speed of the Los Angeles class is classified with official records saying over 25 knots. The maximum operating depth is 650ft but of course, this information is also classified, with the diving depths probably being greater. The class carries about 25 torpedo tube launched weapons. Thirty of the boats are equipped with 12 vertical launch systems tubes for firing Tomahawk cruise misses. Two watertight compartments are used, the forward compartment being where the crew lives and equipped with weapons handling spaces and control spaces. The aft contains the engineering system, power generation turbines, and water-making equipment. In the modified 688 design, the 688i, the forward diving planes were moved from the sail to the bow. The sail was strengthened for ice penetration, a mine laying capability was added, and the combat system was improved. While the Los-Angeles class is the backbone of the submarine force, as they age out, they are being replaced by the Virginia class which is a more affordable platform while retaining the acoustic qualities of the Seawolf class.
General Characteristics, Los Angeles Class
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Co.; General Dynamics Electric Boat Division
Date Deployed: Nov. 13, 1976 (USS Los Angeles)
Propulsion: One nuclear reactor, one shaft
Length: 360 feet (109.73 meters)
Beam: 33 feet (10.06 meters)
Displacement: Approximately 6,900 tons (7011 metric tons) submerged
Speed: 25+ knots (28+ miles per hour, 46.3 +kph)
Crew: 16 Officers; 127 Enlisted
Armament: Tomahawk missiles, VLS tubes (SSN 719 and later), MK48 torpedoes, four torpedo tubes
USS Bremerton (SSN 698), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Jacksonville (SSN 699), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Dallas (SSN 700), Groton, CT
USS San Francisco (SSN 711), San Diego, CA
USS Buffalo (SSN 715), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Olympia (SSN 717), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Providence (SSN 719), Groton, CT
USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720), Groton, CT
USS Chicago (SSN 721), Guam
USS Key West (SSN 722), Guam
USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723), Guam
USS Louisville (SSN 724), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Helena> (SSN 725), Norfolk, Va.
USS Newport News (SSN 750), Norfolk, VA
USS San Juan (SSN 751), Groton, CT
USS Pasadena (SSN 752), San Diego, CA
USS Albany (SSN 753), Norfolk, VA
USS Topeka (SSN 754), Guam
USS Scranton (SSN 756), Norfolk, VA
USS Alexandria (SSN 757), Portsmouth, NH
USS Asheville (SSN 758), San Diego, CA
USS Jefferson City (SSN 759), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Annapolis (SSN 760), Groton, CT
USS Springfield (SSN 761), Groton, CT
USS Columbus (SSN 762), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Santa Fe (SSN 763), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Boise (SSN 764), Norfolk, VA
USS Montpelier (SSN 765), Norfolk, VA
USS Charlotte (SSN 766), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Hampton (SSN 767), San Diego, CA
USS Hartford (SSN 768), Groton, CT
USS Toledo (SSN 769), Groton, CT
USS Tucson (SSN 770), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Columbia (SSN 771), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Greeneville (SSN 772), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Cheyenne (SSN 773), Pearl Harbor, HI
List from US Navy website. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4100&tid=100&ct=4Last updated April 2017
Washington Post quote from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1986/09/21/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-ssn-688/dc657615-8270-4c71-89c8-e546f596e3ae/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.cd4c2dfa361a