Combining courage with value. Multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Skipjack type (USA)

The lead ship USS Skipjack (SSN-585) during launch. In the background, there is probably another submarine of this series.

In the fifties, American military shipbuilding worked out the best options for the appearance of promising nuclear submarines. With the help of experimental and production ships, various ideas were tested, which were then used in subsequent projects. The real breakthrough from this point of view was the Skipjack project. It united the best developments of that time, and this determined the path of development of the submarine fleet for several decades.

Combining ideas

The development of a promising multipurpose nuclear submarine started in the first half of the fifties. Special requirements were imposed on the new ship. The customer wanted maximum submerged performance, a modern complex of onboard equipment, the ability to carry torpedo weapons, etc.

The search for the optimal appearance of such a boat took some time, and in the end it was decided to use the developments on several existing projects, supplementing them with new ideas. The main sources of solutions were the projects of diesel boats Albacore and Barbel: with their help they built a new original durable hull.


The layout of the ship. 1 – GAK antennas; 2 – torpedo compartment; 3 – central post; 4 – reactor compartment; 5 – compartment of auxiliary units of the nuclear power plant, 5 – engine compartment

The development of a nuclear power plant with the S5W index was entrusted to Westinghouse. At the stage of developing propulsion systems, disputes arose about the required number of propellers. “Conservatives” demanded to leave the traditional two-screw scheme, while advocates of progress suggested using only one screw. As a result, the submarine became single-shaft, which gave a number of advantages.

The layout of the internal volumes was created on the basis of long-proven, recently introduced and completely new ideas. This concerned both the location of the compartments and the placement of individual posts, weapons, etc. In addition, it was proposed to abandon a number of traditional control systems in favor of actuators with remote control.

Finished project

In accordance with the finished project, the Skipjack (Striped Tuna) -type nuclear submarine was a one-and-a-half-hull ship 76.7 m long, 9.55 m wide and with an underwater displacement of 3124 tons (surfaced – 3075 tons). Both externally and in terms of characteristics, it had to differ from the existing American nuclear submarines and diesel-electric submarines.


Dignitaries at the USS Skipjack Central Station

The Skipjack project used the so-called. Albakor’s hull is a unit of the type developed for the experimental high-speed diesel-electric submarine USS Albacore (AGSS-569), built in 1953. The hull had an elongated drop-like shape in the form of a “body of revolution” with a minimum of protruding parts, which reduced water resistance.

On top of the hull there was a streamlined wheelhouse guard. The bow horizontal rudders were moved from the hull to the wheelhouse, where they did not cause vortexes that interfered with the sonar. In addition, this arrangement made it possible to increase the area and efficiency of the rudders. In the stern there were horizontal and vertical stabilizers with rudders and a single propeller.

The outer contours of the boat were determined mainly by a strong hull. At the same time, the nasal compartment and one of the central ones had a reduced diameter and were covered with a light body. Ballast tanks were located in the space between the two hulls.


Skipjack at sea

Building on the experience of the Barbel project, they decided to build a robust HY-80 steel enclosure up to 1.5 in. (38 mm) thick. This design made it possible to dive to 210 m. The internal volumes were divided by bulkheads into five compartments. The first contained torpedo armament, the second was residential, and it also had a central post. The reactor compartment was located immediately behind it. The aft half of the hull was divided into a compartment for auxiliary equipment of the nuclear power plant and an engine room.

The S5W reactor with a turbo-gear unit produced shaft power up to 15 thousand hp. With one propeller, the submarine could reach speeds of 33 knots under water or 15 knots on the surface. Despite not the highest characteristics of early ship reactors, the practical cruising range was unlimited.


Second laying ceremony for the USS Scamp (SSN-588), January 1959

From the Barbel project, they also took the idea of ​​a unified command post. In one room, the control posts of the submarine, reconnaissance equipment, weapons, etc. were located. To create such a command post, it was necessary to revise the approaches to the organization of control systems. Previously, some of the systems were controlled directly from the central post, for which cables and pipelines were brought to it – this complicated the design of the submarine. Now the same operations were carried out by remote-controlled actuators.

The armament of the nuclear submarine Skipjack consisted of six 533-mm torpedo tubes in the bow compartment. The devices were arranged so that they did not interfere with the large antennas of the hydroacoustic complex. Ammunition consisted of 24 torpedoes in vehicles and on racks in the torpedo compartment. The use of conventional and nuclear ammunition was allowed.


Scamp under construction, July 1959

The regular crew of the submarine consisted of at least 85-90 people, including from 8-12 officers (as the service and modernization of the ships, the composition of the crews changed). For their placement, separate cabins and cockpits were provided in the living compartment. Autonomy was several months and depended on food supplies.

In a small series

The lead multipurpose nuclear submarine of a new type, USS Skipjack (SSN-585), was laid down on May 29, 1956 at the General Dynamics Electric Boat plant. Almost two years later, the submarine was launched, and in April 1959 it was officially included in the US Navy. The construction of the remaining ships began in 1958-59. and was carried out in parallel with work on other types of nuclear submarines. In some cases, this has led to difficulties and delays.

So, soon after the laying down, the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) boat was decided to be completed according to another project – as a strategic missile carrier USS George Washington (SSBN-598). The multipurpose nuclear submarine “Scorpion” was soon laid down again, and in 1960 she joined the Navy. Similar difficulties arose with the submarine USS Scamp (SSN-588): the reserve for it was transferred to the construction of the nuclear submarine USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600). Because of this, it was possible to lay it down later than everyone else, in 1959, and transfer it to the customer only in 1961.


USS Shark (SSN-591) during descent, May 1960

A total of four shipyards in 1958-60. six Skipjack submarines were built – Skipjack (SSN-585), Scamp (SSN-588), Scorpion (SSN-589), Sculpin (SSN-590), Shark (SSN-591) and Snook (SSN-592) … Each of them cost the Navy about $ 40 million (about 350 million at current prices).

Service and records

In 1958, the lead ship of the new series entered trials and soon showed all its advantages. USS Skipjack was called the fastest submarine in the world (but the exact data on the speed of the course was classified). Over the next few years, the Navy received five more such nuclear submarines, which made it possible to realize the advantages achieved.

The Skipjack class submarines served on both coasts of the United States, as well as overseas bases. They regularly went on campaigns in order to search for and detect strategic missile carriers of a potential enemy or to escort aircraft carrier groups. Since the second half of the sixties, submarines have been repeatedly recruited to work near the Vietnamese theater of operations. There they were used to cover the US Navy’s naval groups.

Combining courage with value.  Multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Skipjack type (USA)
USS Scorpion (SSN-589) on its last combat campaign

In May 1968, the USS Scorpion was on patrol in the Atlantic Ocean in the Azores and was looking for Soviet submarines. In the period 20-21 May, the ship did not make contact, after which an unsuccessful search began. Two weeks later, the boat and 99 sailors were declared presumed missing. In October, the oceanographic vessel USNS Mizar discovered the missing submarine 740 km southwest of the Azores at a depth of more than 3 km.

During the study of the sunken boat, various damage to the durable hull and other units were revealed. Various versions were put forward: from an explosion on board to an attack by a potential enemy. However, the true causes of the disaster remained unknown.


A snapshot of the remains of the “Scorpion”

The service of the remaining five “Striped tunas” lasted until the second half of the eighties, when they were completely outdated morally and physically. In 1986, the USS Snook was withdrawn from the combat composition of the Navy, and the lead USS Skipjack two years later. In 1990, the remaining three were successively abandoned. From 1994 to 2001, all five ships were scrapped.

Project legacy

Multipurpose nuclear submarines of the “Skipjack” type had a number of characteristic differences from other ships of their time, and this gave serious advantages. After being tested in tests and in practice, new technical solutions have become widespread. Until now, the US Navy submarines retain a certain continuity with the long-decommissioned Skipjack submarines.

Skipjack’s main legacy is its corpus. The streamlined lines and construction of HY-80 steel were actively used in the future, incl. in the Los Angeles project. Cutting horizontal rudders, having important advantages over hull ones, have been used for several decades. They were abandoned only in the modern project Los Angeles Improved.


Decommissioned submarines awaiting scrapping at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 1996. By numbers, you can recognize the nuclear submarines USS Shark (591) and USS Snook (592)

Separate layout solutions, with various changes, are still used in all projects. A single command post has long been the standard for the US submarine fleet. The S5W reactor should be noted separately. This product was used on 98 boats of eight types in the US Navy and on the first British nuclear submarine – HMS Dreadnought. No new reactor has yet received the same distribution.

Thus, multipurpose nuclear submarines Skipjack occupy a special place in the history of the American fleet. They were not the most numerous boats of their class and could not boast of military merit, but their value was different. With the help of the Skipjacks, they worked out a number of important decisions that determined the further development of the atomic submarine forces.

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