It’s 7,800 tons, 337 feet and $2 billion worth of steel and stealth, with war-fighting controls that look like a big arcade video game.
That new-boat smell may have worn off a bit during sea trials, but the man in charge was pumped with pride as the U.S. Navy’s newest submarine joined the fleet in a commissioning ceremony at Norfolk Naval Station on Saturday (August 1).
“The shiniest and coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my military career,” Cmdr. Daniel Caldwell, a 22-year Navy veteran and the first captain of the USS John Warner, told CNN. “It’s going to make whatever I do next anti-climactic.”
Remember those old war movies with a captain looking through a periscope and calling out coordinates for a torpedo attack? Well, this ain’t that sub.
For one, it doesn’t even have a periscope. Instead, the John Warner will go about its business using a photonic mast, a piece of electronic wizardry that includes high-definition and infrared video to enable the Warner, the 12th in the Virginia class of attack submarines, to see and to not been seen like nothing else under the seas.
The video information is displayed on large screens in the command center. A joystick, much like the kind you might use to play video games, controls the whole show.
In front of that is where two sailors drive the sub, like a pilot and co-pilot seated before a curved wall of video screens. Driving a sub used to take a crew of four, Caldwell said, but technology has cut that number in half.
The John Warner is armed with 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles that are launched from two huge bays at the front of the boat, sort of like the chambers in a revolver, as well as MK48 torpedoes that are fired from four tubes, two on each side of the ship.
The firepower is all arranged and configured so the Warner can do other things the mission might call for, like launching UUVs – unmanned undersea vehicles, or the drones of the deep – or carrying a team of Navy SEALS and setting them on their way without breaking the surface.
“Every mission that we do, we’re just better at it than previous classes of submarines,” Caldwell said.
That confidence doesn’t mean Caldwell doesn’t have any worries over what he and the sub’s crew of about 135 may be tasked with.
“We do some pretty complicated missions in some parts of the world that are pretty unforgiving environments to operate in. You gotta make sure that the crew is ready to go do the mission you are assigned” – and be ready to change focus quickly when threats change – Caldwell said.
One thing making that easier is the high-tech nature of the vessel itself. The electronics that make the Warner a stealthy war fighter can also be programmed to make it a one-stop classroom. Simulations can be run on the system, kind of like you’d set things up on your PlayStation.
“We’ll be pushing the same buttons we’re going to push when we go out to sea,” Caldwell says.
Of course, all this comes at a price to taxpayers, about $2 billion. But that’s less than half the cost of the Seawolf class, the predecessor to the Virginia class. Only three Seawolf class vessels were built.
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SOURCE: CNN, Brad Lendon