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The World’s First Nuclear Armed Cruise Missile Submarine

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 19:19
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USS Grayback (SS/SSG/APSS/LPSS-574), the lead ship of her class of submarine, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for the grayback, a small herring of commercial importance in the Great Lakes.

Her keel was laid down on 1 July 1954 by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard of Vallejo, California. She was launched on 2 July 1957 sponsored by Mrs. John A. Moore, widow of the last skipper of the USS Grayback (SS-208) and commissioned at Mare Island on 7 March 1958 with Lieutenant Commander Hugh G. Nott in command. Grayback was initially designated as an attack submarine, but was converted to a Regulus nuclear cruise missile submarine (SSG-574) in 1958.

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In mid-1956, it became Navy policy to keep one SSG in each ocean, and Tunny shifted her base of operations to Pearl Harbor in 1957. Meanwhile, the Navy had laid down two large diesel-electric submarines specifically to carry Regulus, launching USS Grayback (SSG-574) in March 1958 and USS Growler (SSG-577) in August of that same year. Each of these two near-sister ships displacing approximately 3,600 tons submerged could accommodate a total of four Regulus I missiles in a pair of cylindrical hangars set into the large, bulbous bow. These hangars opened aft through a set of doors by which the weapons could be moved onto a trainable launch ramp set into a well forward of the sail. The ramp was rotated athwartships for launching.

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After the Soviet Union and then the United States successfully tested their first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in 1957, the nuclear arms race moved into a more dangerous phase. In late 1958, with four SSGs and four Regulus cruisers in commission, the Navy responded by moving all of the submarines and three of the cruisers to the Pacific to maintain regular deterrent patrols threatening the Soviet Far East. In particular, Submarine Squadron ONE was formed of the four SSGs at Pearl Harbor and adopted a readiness posture that put at least four missiles on station in the Western Pacific at all times, to complement existing carrier-based aircraft armed with nuclear weapons. (This required deploying either the two converted fleet boats together or one of the two Graybacks.) Tunny departed on the first of these regularly scheduled deterrent patrols in October 1959, whereas Grayback’s and Growler’s first patrols commenced in early 1960.

As Polaris missile submarines became operational, they assumed the deterrent functions previously assigned to Grayback and her sister ships. The Regulus missile program ended in 1964 and Grayback was withdrawn from active service. She decommissioned at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, on 25 May 1964.

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The Regulus 1 was the first operational U.S. Navy cruise missile. Designed to attack ground targets, it carried a nuclear warhead, flew at subsonic speeds up to an altitude of 9,144 meters (30,000 feet), and had a range of 800 kilometers (500 miles). A turbojet engine powered the missile to its target after two boosters were jettisoned. The missile was deployed on several aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, and submarines (in watertight containers on the deck) from 1955 to 1964. Radio signals from a control aircraft or other submarines were the primary means of guiding the missile. The Polaris, the first U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missile, replaced the Regulus 1. Chance Vought built this missile and the U.S. Navy transferred it to NASM in 1988.

They referred to this missile as a cruise missile. Yet it flew at 30,000 feet. Todays cruise missiles fly below 200 feet.

Specifications
Weight 13,685 pounds (6,207 kg)
Length 32 feet 2 inches (9.80 m)
Diameter 4 feet 8.5 inches (1.435 m)
Warhead 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg) such as the W5 warhead or the W27 warhead

Engine Allison J33-A-14 turbojet 4,600 lbf (20 kN)
2 × booster rockets 33,000 lbf (150 kN)
Wingspan 21 feet (6.4 m) extended
9 feet 10.5 inches (3.010 m) folded
Operational
range
500 nautical miles (926 km)
Speed Subsonic

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