The Soviet Union and the West were involved in a high stakes game of cat and mouse throughout the Cold War decades. For every keen technical advancement one side made, the other had to counter the triumph, often times matching or surpassing the previous threat. Submariners and their underwater vessels were a key player in the "containment wars" fought during this period and would become the focus of future developments that would serve only to increase the potency of the submarine - far from that of their days as torpedo-minded warships during World War 2. The USS Ohio was a product of the Cold War, designed with a lethal capability to engage enemy submarines and high-value surface targets through the latest in available systems and technology. She began life as the USS Ohio (SSBN-726) in her original ballistic missile submarine form but would later transition to the new role of guided missile submarine under the marker of "SSGN-726". The Ohio-class was formulated to take over the role of the preceding Benjamin Franklin- and Lafayette-class vessels. The new class also represented the largest submarines ever produced for the American navy and her armament out-weighed even that of the greatest Soviet classes of the time.
The USS Ohio was ordered on July 1st, 1974 with her construction contracted out to General Dynamics Electric Boat - the boat being produced from pre-completed sections. Her keel was laid down on April 10th, 1976 and she was officially launched on April 7th, 1979 - politics and shipyard issues delaying formal trials for some time. The vessel was formally commissioned on November 11th, 1981 (Veterans Day) and she went on to make her home port out of Bangor, Washington in the American northwest, fighting under the official motto of "Always First" (as well as the unofficial "First and Finest"). The USS Ohio represented the lead ship of the Ohio-class of warships which went on to include the USS Henry M. Jackson, the USS Alabama, the USS Alaska, the USS Nevada, the USS Tennessee, the USS Pennsylvania, the USS Florida, the USS Georgia, the USS West Virginia, the USS Kentucky, the USS Maryland, the USS Michigan, the USS Nebraska, the USS Rhode Island, the USS Maine, the USS Wyoming and the USS Louisiana. Only four of these vessels - the USS Ohio, the USS Michigan, the USS Florida and the USS Georgia would be selected for the upcoming SSGN modifications. The USS Louisiana represented the last completed Ohio-class submarine.
Outwardly, the USS Ohio was designed with a conventional shape - essentially a tube with stabilization and control fins as well as the requisite sail. The sail was held ahead of amidships with dive planes emanating from the sail sides. The overall hull design was relatively featureless and sported a well-rounded nose cone and tapered stern. The stern managed the propeller as well as the rudder planes. The USS Ohio displaced at 16,500 long tons when surfaced and 18,450 long tons when submerged. She fielded a 560 foot overall length with a beam measuring 42 feet. Power came from a single S8G PWR series nuclear reactor that fuels 2 x geared turbines. An auxiliary motor provided up to 325 horsepower. The single propeller shaft operated with an output of 60,000 shaft horsepower allowing for surfaced speeds of up to 12 knots and submerged speeds of over 20 knots. Due to her nuclear propulsion suite, the range of the USS Ohio was essentially unlimited, capped only by her ability to keep food stores supplied and crew morale in check. The vessel was crewed by approximately 155 personnel made up of 15 officers and 140 sailors.
The USS Ohio was categorized as an "attack submarine" and, as such, she was armed with an offensive-minded stock consisting of torpedoes and ballistic missiles. Her design was such that she was completed with 4 x 21" (530mm) torpedo launch tubes in the bow section of the hull. This weapon allowed for engagement of enemy surface vessels and submarines alike. The more potent arm of the Ohio weapons suite was her 24 x Trident series submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) - forming the "first strike" thermonuclear reach of the United States Navy for a time.
Perhaps the oft-overlooked part of the submarine was its powerful array of sensors which allowed the crew to remain undetected and track potential threats in turn. The USS Ohio was fitted with the BQQ-6 series sonar at the bow while a BQR-19 system handled navigation. The BQS-13 was an active sonar array while the TB-16 was a towed sonar array. Altogether, these systems - in conjunction with their well-trained operators - allowed the USS Ohio to be a highly-feared vessel of the deep for some time - a level of respect carried over to this day.
After her SSGN modifications, the USS Ohio replaced her Trident missile stores with Tomahawk cruise missiles - this battery consisting of 22 launch tubes each fitting up to seven cruise missiles for a total of 154 missiles, a massive amount of firepower for a single vessel. The cruise missile could be used to engage surface targets at very long ranges, out of the range of enemy defenses, and the Ohio could even remain submerged during launch.
The USS Ohio formally underwent trails throughout the summer of 1981 before being handed over to the US Navy in October of that same year to which the vessel began formal operations at sea. She was brought up to speed throughout 1982, conducting various voyages and undergoing various tests, particularly of her launch facilities. A refit period in 1993 saw her updated with modern systems to keep the vessel viable and as potent as ever. More patrols then followed until the new millennium which saw several of the Ohio-class boats revised to the guided missile submarine (SSGN) role. Since completion of this modification in 2006, the USS Ohio has remained in active USN service, continuing the role of deterrent the world over.
Submarines like the USS Ohio can also be used in clandestine operations, inserting or extracting special forces elements such as Navy SEALs.
Update July 2012: On July 11, 2012, the USS Ohio (SSGN 726) completed her fourth Major Maintenance Period (MMP) since her 2006 conversion from a ballistic missile submarine to a guided-missile submarine. Ohio entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in mid-April (2012) to which the boat spent 65 days in dry dock (an SSGN requires a MMP for every 12 months of deployment). The combined efforts of the civilian workmen and the Ohio's Blue and Gold crews accomplished the job. Repair and upgrades during the MMP were on a number of systems including sonar, radar, communication and navigation suites. Also standard checks and repairs were made on the superstructure, and controlling tanks for depth and conditioning units. Additional systems upgraded were water planes and valves used for seawater and ventilation.
USS Ohio has since returned to active duty and is recertified for combat.