'America's first millennial submarine' is also its deadliest hunter-killer ever — step inside the USS South Dakota

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jared BunnA US Navy chief petty officer of the boat on the pre-commissioned South Dakota.
  • The US Navy commissioned the USS South Dakota on Saturday and, in doing so, ushered in a new era of millennial undersea war fighters and the most technologically advanced submarine hunter-killer on Earth.
  • The South Dakota can be thought of as “America’s first millennial submarine,” because it was built by mostly millennials and will be manned by millennials, too.
  • It’s also the deadliest submarine for undersea combat the US has ever put to sea.

The US Navy commissioned the USS South Dakota on Saturday and, in doing so, ushered in a new era of millennial undersea war fighters and the most technologically advanced submarine hunter-killer on Earth.

“I think we can honestly call South Dakota ‘America’s first millennial submarine’ from construction to operation,” Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut said at the South Dakota’s commissioning.

While millennials across the board make up the majority of the US’s combat service members in any service, the South Dakota was built by the shipbuilder General Dynamics Electric Boat, whose workforce is more than half millennial, The Day reported.

“The rise of the millennial generation emerging to lead Electric Boat’s important work for the country, I believe, is a powerful rebuttal of cynics and naysayers that say that American manufacturing and technological excellence are a thing of the past,” Courtney said.

In the slides below, meet the young sailors and new submarine that makes the South Dakota the most modern and fearsome submarine in the world today.

The South Dakota is a fast-attack boat.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven HoskinsThe colour guard parade the ensign during a commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class attack submarine USS South Dakota on February 2.

The South Dakota is a fast-attack submarine, which trades the world-ending nuclear might of a ballistic-missiles submarine, or “boomer,” for Tomahawk cruise missiles, mines, and torpedoes.

Boomer submarines hide in oceans around the world on the longshot chance the US may call upon them to conduct nuclear warfare. These submarines are not to be seen and avoid combat.

But fast-attack subs such as the South Dakota meet naval combat head-on.

One weapon makes the South Dakota a force to be reckoned with up to 1,500 miles inland: the Tomahawk. The South Dakota can hold dozens of these land-attack missiles.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Samuel Souvannason/US Navy

Fast-attack submarines like the South Dakota serve as a door-kicker, as one did in 2011 when the US opened its campaign against Libya with a salvo of cruise missiles from the USS Michigan. These submarines also must hunt and sink enemy ships and submarines in times of combat, and the South Dakota is unmatched in that department.

In the torpedo room, sailors sleep and work around the clock in case they get orders to track and kill enemy subs.

Chief Petty Officer Darryl Wood

Additionally, submarines make ideal vessels for deploying US Navy SEALs, who are trained in underwater demolition and can bring aboard their own mini subs for covert operations.

US Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskleMembers of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two prepare to launch one of the team’s SEAL delivery vehicles from the back of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Philadelphia during a training exercise.

Finally, by laying down mines, the South Dakota can cripple enemy submarine and ship movement, a key element of naval war.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)A boarding party from the USS La Salle inspects mines aboard the Iranian ship Iran Ajr in the Persian Gulf on September 21, 1987.

Unlike boomer crews, the South Dakota may be called up as the first line of defence in a fight with China or Russia. The US increasingly expects some confrontation with one of these near-peer powers.

Virginia-class submarines such as the South Dakota are nuclear-powered, so they require the crew to master nuclear propulsion while underway, even in combat.

US Navy

Nonnuclear submarines, some of which China operates, have the advantage of being able to shut off their motors and run on battery power. US submarines are all nuclear, so they have to keep the reactor core on around the clock. The South Dakota mitigates this by adding extra insulation to the engine room.

“We are in a Great Power Competition with a resurgent Russia and a rising China. Our National Defence Strategy’s first line of effort is to ‘Build a more lethal’ force because as it says, ‘the surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one,'” Rear Adm. Leonard C. Dollaga, commander of the Undersea Warfighting Development Center, said of the South Dakota.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Steven HoskinsCapt. Ronald Withrow, outgoing commanding officer of the South Dakota, right, returns a salute from his relief, Missouri native Cmdr. Craig Litty, left.

The South Dakota isn’t the first of its kind, but it’s the first to have new technologies such as large vertical sonar arrays, which the US says will give it an edge on Russian and Chinese ships.

Submarine combat is a very dangerous and tricky game. Any sonar or radar ping can reveal a sub’s location, so the ships need to sit and listen quietly to safely line up a kill.

The South Dakota can detect ships and subs with an off-board array of sensors that it can communicate with in near real time. This represents a breakthrough in undersea warfare.

But submarines are only as good as their crews. The South Dakota will live or die based on its crew’s ability to stick together and problem solve.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jared BunnNavy Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Durocher, a pre-commissioned unit South Dakota submariner.

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