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Thursday, October 16, 2014

An interesting US submarine design

The previous post about the nearby, but not very effective or long-lasting Titan 1 missile launch complex reminded me of another early nuclear deterrent weapon system that didn't last too long. That weapon system was the combination of the Regulus missile with a submarine.  This was a weird combination of weapons that apparently made sense at the time...

The USS Grayback and USS Growler were commissioned as standard diesel-electric attack submarines in 1957, but were modified in 1958 with a watertight missile hangars on the front deck. This allowed the ships to carry either (4) Regulus 1 missiles, or (2) Regulus 2 missiles.  The result was not pretty.

USS Growler (SSG-577) surfaced and billowing diesel exhaust.

What was the purpose of these submarines and their aircraft hangars?  Once again, nuclear deterrence.  These ships were to stay submerged with their nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and be prepared to fire them at the Soviet Union.  However if the command to attack were ever given, a ridiculous series of events would have to take place to launch a missile.

To perform a launch, these submarines would have to surface, open the watertight hangar door, and then slide the missile out backwards.  After that, the crew would unfold the wings and lock them in place, rotate the missile sideways so the exhaust wouldn't melt the ship, calibrate the missile's guidance system, (fuel the missile?), and launch it.

The missile also required radio control to reach its target, and two additional control stations were required along the missile's course.  It surely would have made for interesting times if the enemy were able to take control of the missile in flight!

Below, USS Grayback (SSG-574) rolls out a Regulus II missile in preparation for launch.

The missile used a solid fuel rocket booster to get it moving, and a GE J79 turbojet to fly at Mach 2 for about 1000 nautical miles, delivering a 2 Megaton W-27 thermonuclear warhead.

A nuclear-powered version of this submarine design was also built: The USS Halibut.  It had a slightly cleaner look, apparently having been designed around the missile bay, rather than having it tacked on after construction.

Below, USS Halibut (SSGN-587) launches a Regulus II cruise missile with attached rocket boosters.

These were not the first guided missile submarines however.  A previous generation of subs had carried Regulus I missiles, which had about half the range (500 nautical miles) of a Regulus II

Below, the USS Tunney launches a Regulus I cruise missile.

In the early cold war years, this arrangement was part of the strategic nuclear deterrent,  However the development of the vertically-launched Polaris Missile and the 16 tube George Washington class ballistic missile submarine rendered this entire design obsolete.

Within 10 years of the launch of the first ship, the last of them had been removed from service as missile carriers.  The Halibut was re-purposed as a special operations ship, and was decommissioned in 1976.