America's front-line fast attack nuclear submarine during the '60s and '70s. Following in the steps of the Skipjack and Permit class nuclear submarines, the Sturgeon class incorporated a a new hull design and sensor package. Larger than either of the two earlier designs while using the same reactor plant, the Sturgeon sacrificed speed for increased weapons payload and crew efficiency. Beginning with the Archerfish (SSN678) the hull was lengthened an additional 10 feet. In addition to their regular duties as anti submarine platforms, the Sturgeon class submarines were also tasked with coastal reconnaissance and electronic intelligence gathering. Furthermore, between 1982 and 1991 six 637 class boats (SSN 678-680, 682, 684, and 686) were modified to carry the SEAL Dry Deck Shelter (DDS.) The DDS is a submersible air lock and storage area allowing for the transporting, delivery and recovery of SEAL teams and all their associated equipment. The Sturgeon class submarines were slowly phased out of front line service by the faster, more capable Los Angeles class submarines during the 80's and 90's though those still in service continue to perform intelligence gathering and support special operations missions.
The concept of technical superiority over numerical superiority was and still is the driving force in American submarine development. A number of Third World countries are acquiring modern state-of-the-art non-nuclear submarines. Countering this threat is the primary mission of U.S. nuclear attack submarines.
Their other missions range from intelligence collection and special forces delivery to anti-ship and strike warfare. The Navy began construction of Seawolf class submarines in 1989. Seawolf is designed to be exceptionally quiet, fast well-armed with advanced sensors. It is a multi-mission vessel, capable of deploying to forward ocean areas to search out and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships and to fire missiles in support of other forces.
The first of the class, Seawolf (SSN 21), completed its initial sea trials in July 1996. Attack submarines also carry the Tomahawk cruise missile. Tomahawk launches from attack submarines were successfully conducted during Operation Desert Storm.
In late 1998, the contract was let for building the first of the New Attack Submarine. This class, the Virginia-class fully embraces the new strategic concept in ... From the Sea and Forward... From the Sea. It is the first U.S. submarine to be designed for battlespace dominance across a broad spectrum of regional and littoral missions as well as open-ocean, "blue water" missions. The Virginia-class achieves the right balance of core military capabilities and affordability.
The Benjamin Franklin-class were converted from Fleet Ballistic Missile submarines and carry drydeck shelters. They are equipped for special operations and support SEALs. The former missile spaces have been converted to accommodations, storage, and recreation spaces.