US deploys submarine — its ‘most powerful ship’ — to Middle East. What can it do?

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As America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, travels the Middle East striving to stave off a regional war, he’s joined in the region by one of the military’s top deterrents, a nuclear submarine.

An Ohio-class submarine — among the most formidable warships ever constructed — now patrols the waters around the Middle East, the U.S. military announced on Nov. 5.

Its arrival in the region comes as two aircraft carrier groups were deployed to the eastern Mediterranean following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, in early October.

The vessel’s entry into the region also follows a series of attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria, according to the Defense Department.

‘Most powerful ships ever put to sea’

Ohio-class submarines are “without question the most powerful ships ever put to sea,” according to its manufacturer, General Dynamics Electric Boat.

The 560-foot-long vessels — 18 of which are operated by the Navy — prowl the sea carrying payloads of long-range missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes. They’re propelled by nuclear reactors, crewed by about 150 sailors and can reach depths of over 800 feet.

The submarines are specifically designed to undertake long-term patrols to deter military action of adversaries, according to the Navy. On average, they’re on patrol for about three months before they’re taken in for a month of maintenance.

The stealth vessels, known as “boomers,” can transport two dozen Trident ballistic missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons over 4,000 nautical miles, according to its manufacturer.

The submarines are a core component of America’s nuclear triad, a three-pronged military mechanism for deploying nuclear weapons from land, air and sea, according to the Defense Department.

However, four of the submarines, including the one deployed to the Middle East, have been refitted to be armed with cruise missiles, which do not carry nuclear payloads, Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told McClatchy News.

These submarines can carry more than 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which contain 1,000-pound warheads, according to the Navy. The missiles can travel up to 1,000 miles, according to their manufacturer.

Why was its location revealed?

The military’s announcement of the Ohio-class submarine’s arrival in the Middle East is unusual, Zhao, the author of a book on submarine warfare, told McClatchy News.

“Submarines generally rely on secrecy to maintain survivability and military effectiveness,” Zhao said. “The United States does not often publicly disclose the location of its submarines, except to send a signal of deterrence to potential adversaries.”

A similar disclosure was made last October when a nuclear-powered submarine was revealed to be patrolling the Persian Gulf, according to NBC News. The rare announcement may have been intended to send a message to American adversaries nearby, including Iran.

The most recent reveal is likely intended to have the same effect, Zhao said.

“Its role in the region is mostly likely to strengthen the presence of U.S. conventional precision strike capabilities, which would help deter other regional players from exploiting the volatile situation and undertaking attacks against Israeli or U.S. forces in the region,” Zhao said.

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