|Operators:||United States Navy|
|Preceded by:||Thresher class|
|Succeeded by:||Los Angeles class|
|Subclasses:||Long-hull variant (9 boats)|
|Type:||Nuclear-powered attack submarine|
|Beam:||31 ft 8 in (9.65 m)|
|Range:||Unlimited, except by food supplies|
|Test depth:||1,320 ft (400 m)|
The Sturgeon class (known colloquially in naval circles as the 637 class) was a class of nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSN) in service with the United States Navy from the 1960s until 2004. They were the "workhorses" of the Navy's attack submarine fleet throughout much of the Cold War. The boats were phased out in the 1990s and early 21st century, as their successors, the Los Angeles, followed by the Seawolf and Virginia-class boats, entered service.
The Sturgeons were essentially lengthened and improved variants of the Thresher/Permit class that directly preceded them. The five-compartment arrangement of the Permits was retained, including the bow compartment, operations compartment, reactor compartment, auxiliary machinery room no. 2, and the engine room. The extra length was in the operations compartment, including longer torpedo racks to accommodate additional Mark 37 torpedoes, the most advanced in service at the time of the class's design in the late 1950s. The class was designed to SUBSAFE requirements, with seawater, main ballast, and other systems redesigned for improved safety. The biggest difference was the much larger sail, which permitted a second periscope and additional intelligence-gathering masts. The fairwater planes mounted on the sail could rotate 90 degrees, allowing the submarine to surface through thin ice. Because the S5W reactor was used, the same as in the Skipjacks and Thresher/Permits, and the displacement was increased, the Sturgeons' top speed was 26 knots (48 km/h), 2 knots slower than the Thresher/Permits. The last nine Sturgeons were lengthened 10 feet (3 m) to provide more space for electronic equipment and habitability. The extra space also helped facilitate the use of dry deck shelters first deployed in 1982.
The class received mid-life upgrades in the 1980s, including the BQQ-5 sonar suite with a retractable towed array, Mk 117 torpedo fire control equipment, and other electronics upgrades.
The Sturgeon-class boats were equipped to carry the Harpoon missile, the Tomahawk cruise missile, the UUM-44 SUBROC, the Mark 67 SLMM and Mark 60 CAPTOR mines, and the MK-48 and ADCAP torpedoes. Torpedo tubes were located amidships to accommodate the bow-mounted sonar. The bow covering the sonar sphere was made from steel or glass reinforced plastic (GRP), both varieties having been produced both booted and not booted. Booted domes are covered with a half-inch layer of rubber. The GRP domes improved the bow sonar sphere performance; though for intelligence gathering missions, the towed-array sonar was normally used as it was a much more sensitive array.
Several Sturgeon boats and related submarines were modifications of the original designs to test ways to reduce noise.
- Narwhal, a one-ship class, was completed with an S5G reactor which was cooled using natural convection rather than pumps at lower power levels and then pumps when higher power levels were required and did not have reduction gears, but utilized a sophisticated multi-stage direct drive turbine in an attempt to reduce the noise signature from the reduction gears. The turbine arrangement was not considered successful because of its complex warm-up and cooldown procedures.
- Glenard P. Lipscomb, also a one-ship class, was completed using a turbo-electric system for main propulsion rather than direct drive from the steam turbines. The massive motor and associated generators required her to be lengthened to 365 ft 0 in (111.25 m). The Lipscomb’s trial of turbo-electric propulsion was not considered successful due to lack of reliability and she was decommissioned in 1989.
- Puffer was outfitted with Raytheon Harmonic Power Conditioners which eliminated an electrical bus noise problem that was inherent in the class. This was done by harmonic conditioning of the power system. This successful feature was later outfitted on the entire class.
- Batfish was outfitted with SHT (special hull treatment) during a non-refueling overhaul, which reduced noise and the submarine sonar profile.
Beginning with Archerfish, units of this class had a 10-foot (3.0 m) longer hull, giving them more living and working space than previous submarines. Parche received an additional 100-foot (30 m) hull extension containing cable tapping equipment that brought her total length to 401 feet (122 m). A number of the long hull Sturgeon-class SSNs, including Parche, L. Mendel Rivers, and Richard B. Russell were involved in top-secret reconnaissance missions, including cable tap operations in the Barents and Okhotsk seas. Parche received seven Presidential Unit Citations for successful missions.
A total of seven boats were modified to carry the SEAL Dry Deck Shelter (DDS). The DDS is a submersible launch hangar with a lockout chamber attached to the ship's midships weapons shipping hatch, facilitating the use of SEAL Delivery Vehicles. DDS-equipped boats were tasked with the covert insertion of special forces troops.
From Register of Ships of the US Navy, 1775-1990.
Two other Navy vessels, both considered one-ship classes, were based on the Sturgeon hull, but were modified for experimental reasons:
- Friedman, Norman (1994). U.S. Submarines Since 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 144–149, 243. ISBN 1-55750-260-9.
- Tyler, Patrick (1986). Running Critical. New York: Harper and Row. p. 58.
- Pike, John. "Sonar Domes". Military. GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
- "Coating Systems for Submarine Bow Dome Preservation". National Surface Treatment Center. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
- Sontag, Sherry; Drew, Christopher (2000). Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. William Morrow Paperbacks. ISBN 0-06097-771-X.
- Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 287–289. ISBN 0-313-26202-0.
- Gardiner, Robert; Chumbley, Stephen (1995). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995. London: Conway Maritime Press. pp. 606–607. ISBN 1-55750-132-7.
- Hutchinson, Robert (2006). Jane's Submarines, War Beneath The Waves, From 1776 To The Present Day. New Line Books. ISBN 1-59764-181-2.
- Polmar, Norman (2005). Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines. Potomac Books. ISBN 1-57488-530-8.
- Polmar, Norman (1983). The American Submarine. Nautical & Aviation. ISBN 0-93385-238-X.
- This article includes information collected from the Naval Vessel Register, which, as a U.S. government publication, is in the public domain.
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