For the first time since 9/11, US Navy nuclear-armed subs make port calls

The US Navy has 14 submarines with nuclear warheads that roam the oceans as part of the US strategy to deter an enemy strike. They will now make foreign port calls. 

(Mike Konz/The Daily Hub via AP)
The 560-foot nuclear submarine USS Nebraska surfaces near Seattle in 2008 after 100 days on patrol beneath the waves. Nuclear-armed U.S. submarines that went more than a decade without calling on foreign ports in part because of post-Sept. 11 security concerns are once again visiting other countries, a shift intended to underscore their global presence and lift sailor morale.

Nuclear-armed U.S. submarines that went more than a decade without calling on foreign ports in part because of post-Sept. 11 security concerns are once again visiting other countries, a shift intended to underscore their global presence and lift sailor morale.

A stop in September by USS Wyoming in the United Kingdom was the first of what are expected to be occasional visits to foreign ports.

Michael Connor, a retired Navy vice admiral who served until September as commander of the American submarine force, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the change reflects a desire to emphasize that the submarines are all over the world and also to give the crews an experience that is open to sailors on virtually all other Navy ships.

"The fact that a port visit is a possibility, even if it can't be delivered on every patrol, that is a big deal to the sailors. I know it was a big deal to me," Connor said. He said port visits such as the recent stop in Faslane, Scotland, also promote professional development by reinforcing a crew's ability to navigate and resupply their sub anywhere in times of crisis.

The Navy has 14 submarines with nuclear warheads that roam the oceans as part of the U.S. strategy to deter an enemy strike.

The crews that operate the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines, also known as "boomers," typically deploy for 70 to 80 days at sea with limited opportunities to surface for training. The smaller attack submarines, in contrast, deploy for roughly six months with about four port visits, some for maintenance and others for "liberty" or crew morale.

Connor said retention rates for sailors on ballistic-missile subs are among the highest for Navy organizations, but lengthy internal Navy deliberations concluded the port visits are an important incentive.

"It's a huge motivator," he said. "It's a reason people want to be in the Navy. It's a reason people want to be up to date on their qualifications so they're allowed to go ashore and take this time."

While port visits took place occasionally in the 1990s, several factors led to them coming to a halt after 2003. Connor said the thinking after the Sept. 11 attacks was that the subs were too special to assume any risk at all. In addition to security concerns, a spokesman for the submarine force, Navy Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, said there has been limited flexibility in scheduling as the number of ballistic-missile subs is down from the 18 the Navy had in the 1990s.

The primary reason for the Scotland visit, Crosby said, was "to strengthen cooperation and interoperability between the U.S. and the U.K. and to demonstrate our capability, flexibility and continued commitment to our allies."

A retired Navy officer who served on many submarines, James Patton of North Stonington, Connecticut, said port visits can make a difference especially for sailors on the ballistic-missile subs, known as SSBNs. He remembers attack submarines as far more fun with their multiple missions, while the larger, nuclear-armed subs focused largely on avoiding being detected by others.

"The SSBNs got a little boring," he said.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.