After 45 years, the Navy is planning to ‘recycle’ a first-of-its-kind missile submarine

In December, the US Navy released its 30-year ship-building plan, which called for building 404 new vessels to reach a 541-ship fleet by 2051, with 304 current vessels retired over that period.

Fourteen of the vessels to be retired are nuclear-powered and thus need to be recycled as part of the Navy’s Ship-Submarine Recycling Program to ensure safe disposal of their nuclear reactors and fuel.

Those ships include the first-in-class aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and 13 nuclear submarines: 11 Los Angeles-class attack subs and two Ohio-class cruise-missile submarines, known as SSGNs.

USS Ohio, lead ship of the class, will be one of the two SSGNs recycled. It will be the end of a four-decade career for the first sub of its kind.

USS Ohio was commissioned in November 1981. Ohio and the boats that followed were ballistic-missile submarines, classified as SSBNs, and meant to replace the aging boats of the five previous SSBN classes, known as the “41 for Freedom,” which were commissioned between 1959 and 1967.

The SALT I and SALT II treaties between the US and the Soviet Union put limitations on their nuclear forces, including the number of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) silos each could possess. As a result, a number of SSBNs were retired or refitted and reclassified as attack subs to make room for Ohio-class subs to enter service.

As the newest SSBN in the Navy, Ohio was a considerable upgrade. At 560 feet long and 42 feet wide, Ohio and its follow-on boats are the largest submarines in US history. It was originally armed with four torpedo tubes and 24 missile silos — eight more than its predecessors — capable of firing UGM-96 Trident I SLBMs.

Its nuclear reactor enabled Ohio, like other SSBNs, to stay submerged for months at a time. It also gave Ohio the ability to dive deeper than diesel-electric submarines and allowed it to have a virtually unlimited range, restricted only by its food supply.

At Ohio’s commissioning, then-Vice President George Bush said the vessel was “a new dimension in our nation’s strategic deterrence,” while Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, known as the “father of the nuclear Navy,” said Ohio should “strike fear in the hearts of our enemies.”

All but one of the Ohio-class boats were named after US states, a tradition the Navy previously reserved for battleships and cruisers.

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