Navy's Fast-Attack Submarine Signals New Mission In Pacific

February 1st, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Navy's Fast-Attack Submarine Signals New Mission In Pacific

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
February 1, 2008 By Mike Barber, P-I Reporter
BREMERTON -- Gray squall lines threatened a darkening sky at Naval Base Kitsap's Pier D as Tenieke Martin and her son and daughter, ages 2 and 5, huddled with a shivering crowd waiting to welcome the last member of the nation's Seawolf pack to its new home.
With the arrival this week of the USS Connecticut, on which Martin's husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Martin, serves, all three Seawolf-class of "fast-attack" submarines are now based in Puget Sound.
"The best part of being a Navy wife is that we are all proud of him; the kids know he keeps our country safe," Tenieke Martin said.
The Navy believes the Connecticut and its crew of 140 can do a better job of keeping the country safe in Bangor than in its old home port of Groton, Conn.
Basing all three of the nation's Seawolf subs here is part of the Defense Department's "60/40" realignment of fast-attack submarines, with 60 percent of the fleet slated to operate in the Pacific Ocean and 40 percent in the Atlantic by 2010. The shift underscores the importance to national security of the Pacific Rim and growing worries about advancing Chinese military strength and threats from North Korea.
The Connecticut's skipper, Cmdr. Daniel Christofferson, 42, declined to discuss policy matters but said of his change in duty from the Atlantic to the Pacific, "we know where the threats are in the world today, and the priorities are in the Pacific."
Puget Sound for decades has been home to the big Ohio-class Trident nuclear ballistic-missile submarines based at Bangor, north of Bremerton. In fact, Christofferson, a Bellingham native, served on two Ohio-class subs based at Bangor. The submarines were part of the nation's deterrent, carrying nuclear ballistic missiles aimed at Cold War enemies.
The Connecticut and the other fast-attack submarines are new to Bremerton. They are meant to protect fleets as well as to conduct reconnaissance, carry out covert missions and land Navy SEALs. The Seawolves are the most heavily armed, stealthiest and fastest submarines ever.
Although China is a major U.S. trading partner, defense observers note its increased military expenditures. A defense think tank, the U.S. Naval Institute, in the March 2007 edition of its publication Proceedings, said China's navy and power projection had grown "in capability and confidence at rates unparalleled in the rest of the world," including a new class of ballistic-missile submarine possibly ready for service this year.
In November, U.S. officials were alarmed when a Chinese diesel submarine stalked an American aircraft carrier, surfacing within firing range before being detected
The USS Connecticut arrived here a day after Adm. Timothy Keating, the top American military commander in the Pacific, sounded an upbeat tone about U.S.-China military relations after meetings in China.
Keating, who complimented Chinese officials for being less confrontational in meetings and open to building better military relations, told reporters that the situation was improving despite such lingering issues as the fate of Taiwan and the Chinese government's decision at Thanksgiving to block American Navy ships from docking at Hong Kong.
The Chinese officials are "not have-a-couple-of-cocktails buddies, but we are closer to that," Keating said after his four-day visit to China.
Keating's comments came as the Chinese government, without apologies or explanation for last year's snub, announced it had allowed a U.S. warship, the USS Blue Ridge -- an amphibious command ship -- to dock in Hong Kong.
Previously, U.S. ships made routine port calls at Hong Kong.
During its deployment after leaving Groton, the Connecticut navigated the Arctic, then plied the Western Pacific, stopping in South Korea, where its presence drew the attention of the North Korean media, in the Philippines and Guam, Christofferson said.
Christofferson said commanding a Seawolf "is like driving a sports car. It is the most powerful submarine in the world. I can bring 50 weapons to a fight and get anywhere fast."
The 353-foot-long Connecticut joins its sister Seawolf-class submarines, the USS Seawolf and the larger, 453-foot-long USS Jimmy Carter, as part of Submarine Development Squadron Five at Bangor. The Carter was specially designed to carry out secret missions that Navy officials won't discuss. Capt. Butch Howard, Development Squadron Five's commander, said it makes economic sense from a maintenance and training standpoint to base all three here.
"There is a lot of science to being on a submarine but also a lot of art," Howard said. "It's nice when you have a practice that is working exceptionally well on one ship that can be transferred to another."
Howard himself commanded the USS Seawolf during 9/11 and was part of the threat response.
"I've seen what that ship can do. The payload and acoustic quieting that went into Seawolf were two major benefits, and the third is speed. They are the fastest submarines we have in the water," he said.
There are now 22 Navy ships based in the Puget Sound area, including 10 nuclear-powered Ohio-class submarines, eight of which carry Trident nuclear ballistic missiles (with two converted to carry conventional ballistic missiles and 66 Navy SEALs), two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, two guided-missile destroyers and three guided-missile frigates.
By contrast, the southernmost West Coast Navy city, San Diego, is home to 45 Navy ships.
This report includes information from the P-I Washington Bureau.

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