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2nd Cruise Missile Submarine Joins US Fleet (Apr 13)

NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE KINGS BAY, Ga. --- The guided-missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728) arrived at its new home of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., April 11, completing the sub’s three-year refueling and conversion at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.

Florida is the second Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine the Navy has reconfigured, replacing its 24 Trident missiles with nearly 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, switching the boat from a nuclear deterrent to a source of more conventional firepower in the global war on terrorism.

“We’ve taken the Trident submarine, which is a well proven design, and we’ve done great things with it,” said Florida’s Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Gregory Ott. “It’s a very flexible platform. We haven’t really built it just for today’s threat. We’ve built it so that it can be modified for whatever’s over the horizon that we can’t imagine.”

The first in the class, the guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726) returned to the fleet in February, and two additional subs, USS Michigan (SSGN 727) and USS Georgia (SSGN 729), are currently undergoing conversion.

The Navy's existing fleet of attack submarines had already been outfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles, a staple of naval operations in the past used during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although effective, the attack subs could only carry a small number of missiles, which meant several vessels were needed to conduct major cruise missile strikes.

“When we had submarines in the Gulf,” said Florida’s Chief of the Boat, Command Master Chief (SS) Harold Miller, “it’s a huge waterspace management issue to have multiple submarines in this area. If we had two of the [SSGNs] there, we could have launched more missiles and still not had the waterspace issue that we had.”

Changing to conventional weapons isn’t all Florida did while she went through the conversion. Several areas of space aboard were reconfigured for increased littoral combat capability.

The newly-upgraded SSGNs can now fully house “at least 66 or more SEALs (Sea, Air, Land),” said Ott. “There are no platforms right now other than the SSGN that are dedicated to carrying special forces. And it’s not just the personnel that we can carry – we can carry all of their equipment, and the ship has the capability to deliver the SEALs covertly.”

According to Ott, Florida’s firepower, mixed with a greater capacity to move SEALs and their equipment into mission essential areas, increases the Navy’s ability to engage the enemy on a whole new level.

“The importance of having nobody know you’re there can’t be overstated,” said Ott. “The bottom line is, if you put a surface ship off the coast or there is knowledge of the Navy’s presence, people don’t do the same things. They go hide when they know you’re there. So having the submarine there and that whole stealth piece, is very important.”

The boat plans to have its Return to the Fleet ceremony in May at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla., and then return to King’s Bay to begin its service to the fleet.

Multimission-Capable Sub Readies for Full Operation