George Washington Class


George Washington Class

Nationality: United States

The USS George Washington began life in the shipyards as Scorpion, a ‘Skipjack’ class SSN, but before completion it was cut in half and an additional 39.64m (130ft) section was inserted to allow the sixteen Polaris missile launch tubes to be carried. The boat retained the ‘Skipjack’ class S5W reactor and six torpedo tubes.

Launched in 1959, the USS George Washington undertook operational firing trials off Florida in June 1960. On 28 June her crew made the first successful launch of a ballistic missile from a submerged submarine. A second was launched two hours after the first. Carrying sixteen Polaris A1 missiles, the USS George Washington began her first operational patrol on 15 November 1960.

In 1966 the USS Patrick Henry, which had been launched six years earlier, underwent a refit and was modified to take the more powerful Polaris A3 missile. With much greater range this expanded the areas of ocean the George Washington class boats could patrol in and still remain in range of their designated targets. Other vessels in the class were all modified to take this more powerful missile.

By the 1970s the class was being superseded by newer SSBNs and, during strategic arms limitation talks, it was agreed that three of the boats would be converted into attack submarines. The USS George Washington, USS Patrick Henry and the USS Robert E. Lee had all their missiles removed together with all the equipment associated with firing and operating Polaris. By 1982 they had been reclassified as SSNs. This conversion was not a great military success. They had never been designed for this role and had insufficient torpedo stowage space, did not have the full compliment of sonars, and were slower than the ‘Skipjack’ class. Only in one area were they an improvement on their ancestor design - they were reportedly quieter. To meet the requirements of the arms limitation agreement concrete was poured into the missiles launch tubes.

The two remaining submarines were considered for modification to take Poseidon C3s and even cruise missiles but nothing came of these pans and funds were concentrated on later vessels.

The five boats in this class began to be withdrawn from service in the mid 1980s, and by the end of the 1990s all five had been scrapped.

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