One of Two Variants of Ohio Class Nuclear Submarine Arrives in U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility
The two different Ohio Class variants, the SSBN, or nuclear ballistic missile carrying submarine, and the SSGN, or Tomahawk conventional cruise missile/seal delivery submarine, are NOT readily interchangeable.
We have recently reported on the massive buildup of U.S. military power in the vicinity of Gaza: U.S. Military Power In Middle East Grows:
[T]he USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) [has arrived] off the coast of Gaza despite the Ford CSG being near the end of its normally 6-month deployment to the European Command Area of Responsibility (AOR), which encompasses the Mediterranean Sea….
[T]he USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) CSG was [also] deployed from Norfolk, Virginia on October 14 and ordered to the coast of Gaza….
The USS Bataan (LHD-5) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with over 2,000 U..S. Marines, has also been re-directed from the Persian Gulf to the coast of Gaza….The Bataan ARG also includes the USS Carter Hall and USS Mesa Verde, two other amphibious assault ships with embarked marines (approximately 2,500 U.S. Marines total in the Bataan ARG)….
If you’re keeping track, that is two nuclear power aircraft carriers with over 100 tactical aircraft and nine accompanying warships, each of which likely has Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles in hot standby in missile launchers, and three amphibious assault ships with more tactical aircraft and 2,500 U.S. Marines aboard….
Now we have learned that SECDEF has seriously augmented U.S. missile defense forces in theater [with an] anti-ballistic missile defense system, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] battery, as well as additional Patriot battalions “throughout the region.”
Now the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), whose Area of Responsibility (AOR) includes the Persian Gulf and Israel, has announced the arrival of a U.S. Ohio Class nuclear submarine into the Centcom AOR:
On November 5, 2023, an Ohio-class submarine arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. pic.twitter.com/iDgUFp4enp
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) November 5, 2023
What Centcom’s X post doesn’t say is almost as important as what it does. It turns out there are two different variants of the Ohio Class submarine, and Centcom does not reveal, probably intentionally, which variant has arrived in the Centcom AOR.
From Fox News: US military deploys nuclear-powered submarine in Middle East:
The United States military has deployed a nuclear-powered submarine to the Middle East in a show of deterrence against further escalation. The vessel comes as the Israel-Hamas war nears the one-month mark. Israel declared war after Hamas-led forces slaughtered 1,400 people during a surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7.
U.S. Central Command provided no additional details in a statement Sunday, though it posted an image that appeared to show an Ohio-class submarine in Egypt’s Suez Canal near its Suez Canal Bridge.
The U.S. is intending to send an unmistakable message to its enemies as officials acknowledging the use of these submarines or sharing information about their location is very rare. They represent part of America’s so-called “nuclear triad” of atomic weapons — which also includes land-based ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs aboard strategic bombers.
Ohio-class submarines can carry nuclear ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles. It is not immediately clear if the submarine now operating near Israel is carrying nuclear ballistic missiles.
What the Fox News article doesn’t make clear, and what several X commenters have confused, is that the two different Ohio Class variants, the SSBN, or nuclear ballistic missile carrying submarine, and the SSGN, or Tomahawk conventional cruise missile/seal delivery submarine, are NOT readily interchangeable:
The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review determined that the United States needed only 14 of its 18 SSBNs to meet the nation’s strategic force needs. Therefore, the Navy decided to transform four Ohio-class submarines into conventional land attack and SOF [special operations force] platforms….
The SSGN Program Office refueled and converted four SSBNs into SSGNs in a little more than five years….
USS Ohio (SSGN 726) entered the shipyard on Nov. 15, 2002, completed conversion in December 2005 and deployed for the first time in October 2007. USS Florida (SSGN 728) commenced its refueling and conversion in August 2003 and returned to the fleet in April 2006. USS Michigan (SSGN 727) started its shipyard availability in October 2004 and delivered in November 2006. USS Georgia (SSGN 729) completed conversion in December 2007…..
Combined, the four SSGNs represent more than half of the Submarine Force’s vertical launch payload capacity with each SSGN capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles….
The SSGNs have the capacity to host up to 66 SOF personnel at a time. Additional berthing was installed in the missile compartment to accommodate the added personnel, and other measures have been taken to extend the amount of time that the SOF forces can spend deployed aboard the SSGNs. The two forward most missile tubes were permanently converted to lock-out chambers that allow clandestine insertion and retrieval of SOF personnel. Each lock-out chamber can also accommodate a Dry Deck Shelter (DDS), enhancing the SSGNs’ SOF capabilities.
The fact that the SSBN to SSGN conversion took five years in the shipyard in each case indicates that the two types of boats are not interchangeable without major, years-long shipyard time (and expense).
A post from X user OSINTtechnical suggests that the sub-Centcom posted about is an SSGN:
US CENTCOM announced that on November 5, 2023, an Ohio-class submarine (SSGN) arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
An Ohio-class SSGN is armed with 22 missile tubes, each with 7 Tomahawk cruise missiles, totaling 154. pic.twitter.com/iCkMYXaE4S
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) November 5, 2023
It is important to note that this more detailed information has NOT been confirmed by Centcom or DOD.
It would make the most sense, however, that the Ohio Class sub entering Centcom’s AOR is probably an SSGN, not an SSBN, for several reasons.
First, there is no need for an SSBN to go to Centcom’s AOR to launch its nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, no matter what target in Centcom’s domain it is trying to hit, because the range of those missiles is approximately 6,500 nautical miles. Second, as noted, the SSGNs are special forces covert delivery capable, which could come in handy for hostage rescue or a high-value target strike. Third, it seems much more likely that a precision conventional missile strike would be used in the current situation, rather than a nuclear weapon strike, unless this war goes totally haywire.
The Times of Israel cites an anonymous DOD official who claims that the sub is in fact an SSGN and does not carry nuclear weapons:
The Ohio-class submarine that US Central Command announced had sailed into Middle East waters yesterday is an SSGN, a guided missile submarine variant that is not capable of firing nuclear weapons, a defense official tells The Associated Press.
The official speaks on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. The vessel was photographed as it transited the Suez Canal into the Red Sea, the defense official says.
Earlier today, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the submarine would provide “further support our deterrence efforts in the region.”
This is unofficial, obviously, but it seems to confirm that the sub is an SSGN, not an SSBN carrying nuclear missiles. Of course, an SSGN still packs quite a punch, consisting of up to 154 extreme precision Tomahawk conventional cruise missiles, each carrying a 1,000 pound warhead and having a range of approximately 1,000 miles.
A review of Centcom’s recent X posts reveals the massive scope of U.S. military power in the area near Israel and Gaza:
On November 5, 2023, a U.S. Air Force B-1 Lancer begins aerial refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 912th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron while conducting a Bomber Task Force mission over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The mission was… pic.twitter.com/HQQn9EECIS
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) November 5, 2023
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (IKECSG) arrived in the Middle East and the CENTCOM area of responsibility as part of the increase in regional posture.
The strike group is commanded by Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2 and comprised of flagship aircraft carrier USS… pic.twitter.com/CYLX5mTTki
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) November 4, 2023
#Marines assigned to the @26MEU Maritime Special Purpose Force conduct sniper sustainment training aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) in the #GulfofAden, Oct. 18 @USMARCENT pic.twitter.com/CCX9o6vd9w
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) October 30, 2023
The 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft have arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to bolster U.S. posture to deter further aggression @USAFCENT pic.twitter.com/BaVakOd3uB
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) October 24, 2023
That is a lot of U.S. military firepower concentrated in a relatively localized area of the world.
My take is that the announcement of an Ohio Class sub arriving in the Centcom is all about deterring Iran from taking action in support of Hamas and against Israel.
From a CNN article on the subject: In rare announcement, US says guided missile sub has arrived in Middle East, a message of deterrence to adversaries
Each SSGN can carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 50% more than US guided-missile destroyers pack and almost four times what the US Navy’s newest attack subs are armed with.
Each Tomahawk can carry up to a 1,000-pound high-explosive warhead.
“SSGNs can deliver a lot of firepower very rapidly,” said Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center told CNN in 2021.
“One-hundred and fifty-four Tomahawks accurately deliver a lot of punch. No opponent of the US can ignore the threat.”
The magnitude of that firepower was shown in March 2011, when the guided missile sub USS Florida fired almost 100 Tomahawks against targets in Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn. The attack marked the first time the SSGNs were used in combat.
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