Wednesday, February 1, 2023

US, British Ballistic Missile Submarines Appear Next To Each Other In A ‘Very Rare’ Show Of Strength

A rare image of the USS Tennessee, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, operating on the surface next to an unidentified British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine in the Atlantic Ocean has been made public by the US Navy.

The new photograph of the sub next to one of her British counterparts was released on December 13.

The recently released image also shows an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 72 (HSM-72) and an E-6B Mercury aircraft from Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Four (VQ-4) flying above two nuclear submarines.

The exact location where the photo of the submarines and planes was captured is unknown. However, the US Navy stated that the photograph was taken on November 22.

It is important to note that the Navy’s Submarine Force Atlantic issued the picture. It has its headquarters at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads in Virginia and essentially regulates Navy submarine activities in the western Atlantic.

According to the photo’s caption, the newly disclosed bilateral at-sea training involving the USS Tennessee and the Vanguard class vessel was intended to validate tactics, techniques, and procedures that enhance the bond between close Allies in support of deterrence and collective security.

The development and use of strategic weapons and supporting systems are two areas where the United States and the United Kingdom have long-standing agreements.

US-United Kingdom Submarine Forces conduct bi-lateral at-sea training

That being said, the latest image is the most recent instance of a highly uncommon disclosure involving the Navy’s 14 Ohio class ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, in addition to the four other Ohios that have been modified into guided missile submarines, or SSGNs.

In October, the Navy started releasing information about submarine deployments. The Navy officially revealed the presence of the USS West Virginia in the Arabian Sea, followed by its arrival at the British island territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and a port visit by the USS Rhode Island to the British naval base in Gibraltar.

The US Navy provides very little information regarding the activities or whereabouts of its SSBNs, sometimes known as boomers, at sea. Similarly, the British government is much more secretive regarding its Vanguard-class submarines. The Royal Navy currently has four such submarines.

Royal Navy Vanguard & US Navy’s Ohio SSBN

The latest image was captured in November, but the revelation was only made a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at the possibility of officially abandoning his nation’s “no first use” policy concerning the use of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, China is considered to be a significant national security threat by the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom. Both countries have voiced concerns about the alarming possibility of a conflict over Taiwan or other territorial issues. 

The United States and the United Kingdom have close relations, implying that they may cooperate militarily in other possible flashpoints worldwide.

The Royal Navy Vanguard and the US Navy’s Ohio SSBN are equipped with Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles or Trident IIs. The Vanguard can be fitted with up to 16 missiles, while an Ohio SSBN can carry up to 20.

Besides that, the Trident D5 features a configuration known as multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), which allows each missile to carry multiple nuclear warheads.

HMS Vanguard (S28) - Wikipedia
HMS Vanguard (S28) – Wikipedia

In the case of US Navy missiles, they can be equipped with different numbers of W76-1 or W88 warheads. British missiles are supposedly equipped with homegrown warheads. However, these are generally thought to be quite similar to the American W76-series design.

This specific submarine is also one of the Ohios that has a cutting-edge flank sonar array. It was added as part of a refit finished in 2021, increasing its capacity to see and track possible threats.

Meanwhile, in the early 2030s, the US Navy and the Royal Navy anticipate receiving completely new classes of SSBNs, the Columbia and Dreadnaught classes, respectively.

The two different submarine types will also be equipped with Trident D5s and have a lot in common with one another in terms of their build and some mission systems.

Nevertheless, the image of the USS Tennessee and the Vanguard class submarine cruising side by side is a very uncommon public demonstration of the two countries’ nuclear deterrent capabilities. 

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