The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama (SSBN 731) conducted a full crew change while at sea that concluded May 24, 2022.
This previously uncommon underway change of crew demonstrates how the Navy and its strategic forces have evolved to think, act, and operate differently in order to meet deterrent mission tasking while simultaneously executing necessary ship lifecycle events.
“This event demonstrated our ability to completely change out the crew of an SSBN at sea and in a location of our choosing,” said Rear Adm. Robert M. Gaucher, commander Submarine Group 9 and Task Group 114.3. “The readiness and flexibility we demonstrated today adds another layer of uncertainty to adversary efforts to monitor our SSBN force, and continues to send a strong message to our adversaries that ‘Today is not the day.’”
Each ballistic missile submarine has two crews, a blue crew and a gold crew, which alternate manning. Previously, the crews would alternate and resupply between patrols while in port. The ability to change crews while underway adds a new dynamic of flexibility and sustainability while the submarine is executing their mission.
“This provides an opportunity to keep the nuclear deterrent at sea survivable by exchanging the crews and replenishing the ship’s supplies in any port or location across the world,” said Capt. Kelly Laing, director of maritime operations at Commander, Task Group 114.3. “Our SSBNs are no longer tied to their homeport of record or another naval port to keep them at sea, ensuring that we are always executing the deterrent mission for the U.S. and our allies.”
Alabama is one of eight Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines homeported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and the eighth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name. The class is designed for extended, undetectable deterrent patrols and as a launch platform for intercontinental ballistic missiles.