BANGOR, Wash. - The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) departed Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor March 13, for the boat’s first strategic deterrent mission since 2011.
Kentucky recently completed a 40-month Engineered Refueling Overhaul (ERO) to extend the life of the submarine for another 20 years.
“By the time the Engineered Overhaul started in 2012, over 25 years after the keel was laid, the boat had been worked hard,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Smith, Engineering and Readiness Officer assigned to Commander, Submarine Group Nine (CSG 9), who served as Kentucky’s commanding officer while the boat was in the shipyard. “It was well-maintained by its crews, but the reality is that things break and get old. When I took command in December of 2011, the ship and the crew were tired. They desperately needed the Engineered Refueling Overhaul because it is a rebirth for both the ship and the crew. We looked at the whole process as a recommissioning.”
The keel for Kentucky was laid December 18, 1987. Since the boat’s commissioning, Kentucky has completed 91 strategic deterrent patrols. Kentucky is one of eight ballistic-missile submarines stationed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
"The process of returning a strategic deterrent asset, like Kentucky, back to the patrol rotation requires the hard work and dedication of many people, including not just the crew, but also civilian workforce and Sailors from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Trident Training Facility, Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific, Intermediate Maintenance Facility and Submarine Squadrons 17 and 19," said Rear Adm. David Kriete, Commander, Submarine Group Nine. "This deployment demonstrates the teamwork among all these commands and I am extremely proud of them. Returning Kentucky back to patrol is also an important milestone because it reaffirms the credibility of the U.S. SSBN force with both allies and potential adversaries."
After completing the overhaul, the ship and crews had to successfully complete three major certifications. The first was the command and control exercise, which demonstrated the crew’s ability to execute the mission and accomplish all required tasking. The second major certification was the Demonstration and Shakedown Operations (DASO), which determined whether or not the crew could effectively operate and maintain the weapon’s systems. During this certification, Kentucky launched two D5 Trident Missiles off the coast of San Diego, California. Finally, there was the nuclear weapons acceptance inspection, which certifies that the crew can safely, securely, and effectively maintain the strategic weapon system.
“It is a challenging thing to get through the last year of an overhaul,” said Cmdr. John Hale, Kentucky’s Blue crew commanding officer. “There is a lot of a lot of work involved as the ship gets out of the shipyard and a lot of thought that it is going to get easier after the shipyard period. But my crew realized that the past 11 months did not get any easier. There were always new challenges. Now they are realizing that all of their hard work meant something, and that this is the challenge that they have been fighting for. We can actually turn that page and face the real challenge of the day to day business of being a strategic asset.”
Submarines like Kentucky will eventually be replaced by the Ohio-replacement, the next generation of ballistic-missile submarines, which are still in development. Submarines like Kentucky were originally designed to have a 30-year hull life, so major overhauls allow the military to bridge the gap until the new submarines are available.
“I would say that a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into the process of returning the boat to strategic service, and it is something that the crew has worked towards for over a year, ever since the boat left the shipyard,” said Kentucky Blue’s Chief of the Boat Master Chief Sonar Technician Charles Barton. “No matter how many curve balls the crew has been thrown, they have been able to knock pretty much everything out of the park. I think the crew is very excited to get out there and do their job. It is a very satisfying feeling to have completed this overhaul and return to doing what we were made to do, strategic service.”
The mission of the ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) force is strategic deterrence, which is the act of deterring a nuclear attack with a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent force. Ballistic-missile submarines serve as an undetectable launch platform for intercontinental ballistic missiles. They are considered the most survivable leg of the strategic deterrent triad; the others legs being long-range manned aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.