Thirty-four years ago today, on 3 March 1980, USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571), was decommissioned after 25 years of service as the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
In 1953, the year before she was commissioned, the Navy welcomed to the fleet USS ALBACORE (AGSS-569), the first American submarine to be built with a teardrop-shaped hull. That design, when combined with nuclear power, would usher in the era of the true submarine, one which needed to come to the surface only to take on food for her crew.
In 1981, the year after NAUTILUS’s decommissioning, the Navy welcomed to the fleet USS OHIO (SSBN-726), the first in a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines. At 560 feet long, the behemoth, the largest sub ever built by the U.S. Navy, dwarfed the 320-foot NAUTILUS; she carried within her hull 24 TRIDENT (C-4) missiles whose potential destructive powers would hopefully deter any nation from ever launching a nuclear weapon at the United States. OHIO, converted to a guided-missile sub, still prowls the seas today, carrying up to 154 TOMAHAWK cruise missiles with her.
In less than 30 years, in the lifetime of a single boat, the submarine force was changed forever.