The USS Jimmy Carter enters the Navy’s fleet as the most heavily armed submarine ever built, and as the last of the Seawolf class of attack subs that the Pentagon ordered during the Cold War’s final years.
The $3.2 billion Jimmy Carter will be commissioned Saturday, signaling the end of an era in submarining and more uncertain times for the multibillion-dollar industry.
The 453-foot, 12,000-ton submarine has a 50-torpedo payload and eight torpedo tubes. And, according to intelligence experts, it can tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through them.
As the Pentagon looks to shrink the submarine fleet and buy smaller, cheaper subs, the commissioning ceremony harkens back to a time when ship builders bustled to maintain an overpowering fleet of massive subs.
In eastern Connecticut, a region steeped in submarine history and the home to the Electric Boat shipyard, which built and launched the Seawolves, some fear the Pentagon will close the submarine base as part of the Base Realignment and Closure initiative.
“It’s hard to find a civilian that doesn’t have some connection to the sub force,” said Bud Fay, who owns a diner, car wash and laundry not far from the base gates in Groton.
Capt. Robert D. Kelso, commander of the Jimmy Carter, said BRAC has caused uncertainly on the base. “You can make a good case to keep the base open ... The community can be proud of this commissioning ceremony.”
End of an era
Saturday’s ceremony will be the last commissioning in Groton for years. Electric Boat and Newport News in Virginia are teaming up to build the Virginia class submarines, which will be commissioned elsewhere.
John Pike, a military analyst with globalsecurity.org, said the ceremony closes the book on the big-submarine era.
“It was part of our strategy on how we were going to win World War III. It was a significant component in our response to the evil empire,” he said.
The Pentagon is still unsure what future submarines will look like and how they will contribute to the war on terrorism and future conflicts, Pike said.
To ensure that the last Seawolf was not obsolete before it hit the water, the Pentagon delayed production to install a 100-foot hull extension that military analysts say equips the Jimmy Carter to replace the USS Parche, one of the fleet’s premier spy subs.
The Parche was decommissioned in October. The Jimmy Carter will be based out Kitsap, Wash., the Parche’s former home.
Former President Carter, himself a submariner during his time in the Navy, will attend Saturday’s ceremony, which marks the vessel’s formal entry into the fleet.