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Los Angeles: The Old Spine of the US Navy’s Submarine Fleet

Los Angeles-class
PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 10, 2010) The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Houston (SSN 713) takes part in a photo exercise at the conclusion of exercise Keen Sword 2011. The exercise enhances the Japan-U.S. alliance which remains a key strategic relationship in the Northeast Asia Pacific region. Keen Sword caps the 50th anniversary of the Japan - U.S. alliance as an “alliance of equals.” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey H. Kyhl/Released)

Why the US Navy’s Los Angeles-class Submarine might be old, but she still can pack an underwater punch: Between 1972 and 1996, the United States Navy took delivery of 62 of its Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSN). Also known as the 688 – pronounced “Six-Eighty-Eight” after the hull of the lead vessel USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) – the submarines were built by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (formerly Newport News Shipbuilding) and General Dynamics Electric Boat Division.

As of the end of 2020, thirty of the boats have been retired and four more laid up, while twenty-eight remain in active service. Despite the number that has been retired, there are still more active Los Angeles-class submarines in service than any other class in the world.

Technical Data

The boats are 362 feet in length, and are powered by a S6G nuclear reactor with two steam turbines, single shaft. It provides a surface speed of 20 knots (23 mph), and an official submerged speed of 20 knots as well, but also a reported and unofficial 33+ knots submerged. The nuclear power plant provides the boats with the ability to remain deployed and submerged for extended periods of time. The subs are also outfitted with auxiliary equipment, including atmosphere control equipment that can replenish the oxygen used by the crew, while two distilling plants can convert salt water to fresh water for drinking, washing and for use in the propulsion plant.

The vessels have a crew of 143 sailors, including 16 officers and 127 enlisted. Enough food is carried on each submarine to feed the crew for as long as ninety days.

Designed as an attack submarine, the Los Angeles-class is equipped for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), intelligence gathering, show-of-force missions, insertion of special forces, strike missions, mining and search and rescue operations. According to Naval Technology, the submarines of the class built since 1982 are also equipped with a vertical launch missile system with a dozen launch tubes; and are further fitted with a Raytheon CCS Mark 2 combat data system.

The submarines can be equipped with both the land-attack and anti-ship version of Raytheon’s Tomahawk missiles, while the land-attack version has a range of 2,500 km. Nine of the Six-Eighty-Eight submarines were deployed during the Gulf War in 1991, during which time Tomahawk missiles were launched from two of the boats. Additionally, twelve Los Angeles-class submarines were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March/April 2003, and all of those subs launched Tomahawk TLAM missiles at targets inside of Iraq.

The Los Angeles-class can also carry Boeing’s Harpoon anti-ship missile, which utilized active radar homing to deliver the 225kg warhead. The high subsonic missile has a range of 130 km.

Honoring American Cities

Unique to this class was the choice of naming, with the submarines named after American cities and towns, rather than the traditional name for attack submarines, which have previously been named after marine animals.

One notable exception to the Six-Eighty-Eight boats is the USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709), which was named after U.S. Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, who was a pioneer of the nuclear navy. Built by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics, SSN-709 was launched in 1983, commissioned a year later and decommissioned and stricken from the Navy roles in December 2006.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.