The guided-missile submarine USS Ohio takes part in an
exercise at the culmination of ANNUALEX 2008, a bilateral
exercise between the U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime
Self-Defense Force, in the Pacific Nov. 19.
Ratliff said he had a strong partnership and working
relationship with the onboard SOF commander.
“There are some fine points once we begin mission
execution where responsibilities change, but we’re
really working together to ensure the mission is a success,” he said.
“The Navy SEALs [are] a very adaptable group of
young guys and they did very well onboard,” he said.
“It was just great to have them onboard. I’m sure they
were anxious to get their job done, as we all were, but
as far as adaptability to the submarine environment,
they just did a great job.”
The Tomahawk strike capability of the SSGN is the
largest of any Navy warship.
“We deployed with 105 Tomahawk missiles, which
is a significant proportion of the theater requirement,”
Ratliff said. “That’s freeing up destroyers for more efficient execution of their theater ballistic-missile
defense mission and the carrier strike group missions.
Also, we have freed up attack submarines (SSNs) to do
their sea-control missions much more effectively.”
“In each theater,” Donnelly said, “there’s a certain
requirement for a number of Tomahawk strike weapons
that need to be available for tasking. When an SSGN
comes in with the large capacity that those ships have,
it does free up the rest of the fleet to redistribute their
weapons. We have enabled the destroyers to increase
their ballistic-missile defense capabilities as a result of
being able to download their Tomahawk missiles.”
The SSGN has significant intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, but they are
used in support of the SSGN’s SOF mission rather than
specific ISR tasking.
Michigan originally was scheduled to deploy with
the Navy’s single ASDS, a 60-ton, 65-foot-long submersible designed to deliver SEALs to their mission
areas. Just prior to the November deployment, however, the ASDS was damaged by a fire.
“We’re still in the investigative process with the
[ASDS] fire to determine the full extent of the damage
and what our options are for that vehicle,” Donnelly
said. “SSGNs are now deploying with two dry-deck
shelters installed and that gives them a lot of capability
for launching and recovering SEALs with the Swimmer
Delivery Vehicle [SDV]. The SDV is not as capable as
the ASDS but still provides the SOF community with
the capability to transport SEALs underwater.”
Unlike the SSNs and SSBNs, which are commanded
by submariners with the rank of commander, the
SSGNs are commanded by captains.
Ratliff, now assigned as a special assistant for SSGN
matters to the commander of Submarine Group Nine
and awaiting orders to a post-major-command assignment, served on five SSNs and later commanded
Georgia — then an SSBN — for three years before he
took command of Ohio as a captain.
Although Georgia as an SSBN and Ohio as an SSGN
had many similarities, Ratliff said he considered the
designation of the SSGN as a major (captain-level)
“To command Ohio as an SSGN was the most challenging assignment I’ve had in my career,” he said.
Ratliff said the SSGN is the “best of both worlds”
compared with the distinct SSN and SSBN missions.
“We had very exciting, cutting-edge, high-stakes
missions. And we get to come home to live in the
Pacific Northwest,” he said, speaking of the Bangor,
Wash., homeport of Ohio and Michigan. “Of the guys
getting ready to go to major command, about one-half
of them are listing SSGNs as the No. 1 choice. When I
run into old shipmates who are getting ready to go back
on sea duty, they’re all talking about asking for SSGN.”
Ratliff said the Navy should advance the SSGN concept to give it greater capability with, for example,
unmanned undersea vehicles and perhaps unmanned
“If you roll open [the missile tubes], 50 feet deep
with a 7-foot interface to the sea, your imagination just
wants to take off on the things that we could develop
and put on board that submarine,” he said. “Now that
we’ve proven that it can do everything that we built it
to do, we can start taking it to the next level.
“That wouldn’t be changes to the platform. That
would be putting additional things on it that we have
the volume to accommodate,” Ratliff said. “I have
nothing but praise for the design, building and operations of the SSGN. I think we did it right.” ■