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USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) (SSN-608) Ballistic Missile Submarine / Attack Submarine (1961)

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 11/10/2013

The USS Ethan Allen proved a valuable player for the USN in the latter half of the Cold War.

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The USS Ethan Allen represented the lead ship of her five-strong Ethan Allen-class ballistic missile submarines during the Cold War between the world superpowers; the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The arms race had escalated during and after the Korean War - communists looking to expand their sphere of influence with help from Moscow and the West looking to contain its spread through deterrent actions. One such tool for the United States Navy became vessels such as the USS Ethan Allen. The USS Ethan Allen was primarily charged with the delivery of ballistic missiles and sported torpedoes as secondary armament. Ballistic missiles became an important off-shore deterrent during several contentious decades of the Cold War for they could be launched at sea by the submarine from anywhere in the world and armed with warheads containing either nuclear or conventional payloads against land-based targets. The USS Ethan Allen became the first submarine to be specifically designed from the outset as a launching platform for such ballistic missiles for previous ballistic missile attack submarines were conversions from existing types.

The USS Ethan Allen was named after American Revolutionary war hero Ethan Allen. Allen was an American patriot that served as one of the founders of the state of Vermont and played a role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga from the British on May 10th, 1775. By trade he was a farmer and businessman but also delved into philosophy, writing and politics.

The USS Ethan Allen was ordered on July 17th, 1958 and laid down by General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation on September 14th, 1959 in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on November 22nd, 1960 with sponsorship from the great-great-great granddaughter of Ethan Allen himself - Mrs. Robert H. Hopkins - and officially commissioned on August 8th, 1961 with commanders Paul L. Lacy, Jr. and W. W. Behrens, Jr. at the helms of "Blue Crew" and "Gold Crew" respectively. She served under the designation of SSBN-608 to indicate her ballistic missile payload, submarine nature and nuclear propulsion.

The USS Ethan Allen displaced approximately 7,067 tons on the surface of the water and approximately 8,010 tons when submerged. She featured a length of 410 feet, 4 inches with a beam running just over 33 feet. Her draught was listed at 27 feet, 5 inches. Power was supplied by a single S5W nuclear reactor coupled with 2 x General Electric geared steam turbines to produce roughly 15,000 shaft horsepower to one propeller shaft at the stern of the design. This arrangement allowed for a top surface speed of 16 knots (18mph) and a submerged speed of 21 knots (24 miles per hour). Her crew complement was made up of 140 personnel including 12 officers and 128 enlisted sailors. Since she was powered by a nuclear reactor, this made the USS Ethan Allen possess virtually unlimited range, giving her access to the four corners of the planet. The vessel fielded up to 16 x Polaris ballistic missiles in vertical launchers along with 4 x 21-inch (533mm) torpedo tubes in the bow. USS Ethan Allen was fitted with the Mark 2 Mod 3 Ships Inertial Navigation System (SINS) and the Mark 112 Mod 2 torpedo fire control system. Her early payload indicated use of the Polaris A-2 (UGM-27B) type ballistic missile but these were later replaced by the A-3 series and upgraded to the A-3T. Her torpedo types began as the Mark 16 Mod 6 series and were ultimately upgraded and replaced by the Mark 37 and Mark 48 series in turn.

In May of 1962, USS Ethan Allen and her crew completed the test fire of one of her nuclear-tipped Polaris ballistic missiles in the South Pacific. The test proved highly successful in terms of operation and accuracy, the weapon detonating some 11,000 over water, and became the single recorded complete evaluation of an American strategic missile. By the 1980s, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was beginning to thaw to an extent. The "SALT" (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) meetings were developed to bring the two world powers together and help curtail the fielding of nuclear weapons. Two major treaties were signed in the SALT I and SALT II agreements. By this time, the United States Navy was preparing to upgrade its nuclear submarine line with the new Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine so, to stay within the limitations of the SALT treaties, the aging USS Ethan Allen and other like-ballistic missile submarines were slowly pushed out of active service. The USS Ethan Allen, therefore, had her ballistic missile tubes disabled to make her a conventional, nuclear-powered attack submarine (she still retained her torpedo tubes) for the duration of her active tenure. On September 1st, 1980, she took on the official designation of "SSN-608". Her career now more or less complete, the USS Ethan Allen was ultimately decommissioned on March 31st, 1983 and struck from the Naval Register on April 2nd, 1983, her fate sealed by the USN Ship and Submarine Recycling Program for decommissioned nuclear-powered vessels.

The USS Ethan Allen holds an appearance in the Tom Clancy suspense novel, The Hunt for Red October, in which she is destroyed to cover the explosion and sinking of the Soviet submarine, the "Red October", her crew intending to defect to the Americans.

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Specifications for the
USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) (SSN-608)
Ballistic Missile Submarine / Attack Submarine


Country of Origin: United States
Initial Year of Service: 1961
Operators: United States


Crew: 140


Length: 410.3 ft (125.06 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10.06 m)
Draught: 27.4 ft (8.35 m)
Displacement: 7,067 tons
Displacement (Submerged): 8,010 tons


Machinery: 1 x S5W nuclear reactor; 2 x General Electric geared steam turbines developing 15,000 shaft horsepower; 1 x shaft.

Surface Speed: 16 kts (18 mph)
Submerged Speed: 21 kts (24 mph)
Range: Essentially Unlimited


Armament:
16 x Polaris nuclear ballistic missiles in vertical launchers.
4 x 21-inch (533mm) torpedo tubes in bow


Ship Class: Ethan Allen-class
Number-in-Class: 5
Ships-in-Class: USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608); USS Sam Houston (SSBN-609); USS Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610); USS John Marshall (SSBN-611); USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618)