USS Holland, future USS Illinois demonstrate evolution of submarines over time
Groton — This month, two vastly different submarines will be celebrated.
An embodiment of the future of submarines, the Illinois, is slated to be commissioned during a ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base later this month, at which point it will be the most modern attack submarine in the Navy's fleet.
The Illinois is the 13th ship in the Virginia class of attack submarines, which weigh nearly 8,000 tons and are slightly longer than a football field. They are capable of speeds in excess of 25 knots and can dive to a depth greater than 800 feet, while carrying Mark 48 advanced capability torpedoes and Tomahawk land-attack missiles.
The Illinois features a redesigned bow — first implemented on the USS North Dakota — that includes a new sonar array and two larger payload tubes instead of 12 individual, vertical-launch missile tubes. The submarine is sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama.
"Like the previous ships of the class, Illinois has been designed specifically to incorporate new technologies that will provide the capabilities required to meet emergent threats," Electric Boat President Jeffrey Geiger said in a statement after the Illinois was delivered to the Navy at the end of August.
EB and Newport News Shipbuilding are partners in the Virginia-class nuclear attack program.
Mrs. Obama said at the submarine's christening ceremony last October that "It is full of technologies like a photonics mast, full of high-resolution and infrared cameras. It has the most advanced stealth, sonar, and communications systems, and enough high-definition screens to put Best Buy out of business."
The $2.7 billion nuclear-powered submarine is vastly different from the gasoline-powered USS Holland (SS-1), which the U.S. government purchased from inventor John P. Holland for $150,000 on April 11, 1900.
On Wednesday, local military personnel, veterans and others will celebrate the 116th anniversary of the commissioning of the Holland, the Navy's first submarine.
"The contrast between that first submarine and those of today is really outstanding," submarine veteran J. Deen Brown of Oakdale said.
He lauded those "early, early" sailors for serving on submarines that were "so primitive" and involved "so much danger."
The most drastic difference between the Holland and boats like the Illinois is the change in mission, said Stephen Jackson, a former submariner who has authored three books and several articles on 20th-century submarine warfare.
Jackson, of East Lyme, served on attack and ballistic missile submarines in the 1970s and '80s.
"At first, they were almost like support craft, doing harbor defense, coastal defense, staying close to the land," he said.
World War I changed that whole notion when "crude submarines started sinking cruisers and ships of the line," he said, and later when the advent of nuclear power extended the reach of submarines "beyond just the coastline out into the open ocean."
The only limitation to how long a Virginia-class submarine can stay submerged is the amount of food it can store on board. The boats are designed to run for 33 years without refueling.
One aspect of submarines that hasn't changed, Jackson said, is their main advantage being stealthy.
"You have to defend everywhere because you don't know where they are," he said.
On Wednesday, the sub base will hold a ceremony at noon highlighting Holland's commissioning, Connecticut's Submarine Century, and the Navy's 241st birthday, which is on Thursday.