Why the U.S. Navy's Seawolf Submarine Is Such a Top Secret

David Axe

Key Point: She is one of a kind. 

Sometime apparently in August 2013, the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Seawolf eased out of the port of Bremerton, in Washington State, on what was probably her fifth or sixth deployment since commissioning in 1997.

A month later the U.S. Sixth Fleet, in charge of ships in European waters, posted a series of photos to the Website Flickr depicting the U.S. ambassador to Norway, Barry White, touring the 350-foot-long Seawolf pierside at Haakonsvern naval base … in southern Norway. Thousands of miles from Washington State.

How Seawolf got to Norway—and what she might have done en route—offer a rare and tantalizing glimpse into some of the most secretive quarters of the most poorly understood aspects of American naval power.

For it seems Seawolf traveled to Norway along a path rarely taken by any vessel — underneath the Arctic ice.

Silent Service:

The Navy doesn’t like to talk about its submarines. After all, a sub’s biggest advantage is its stealth. And of the sailing branch’s roughly 70 undersea boats, Seawolf and her two sister vessels Connecticut and Jimmy Carter are among the most secretive.

Google the names of any of the Navy’s Los Angeles-class submarines, the most numerous in the fleet, and you’ll get hits: Navy statements and photo releases, the occasional news article. But try to look up Seawolf-class vessels and you’ll get next to nothing.

Her official Website is blocked. The last time Seawolf’s exterior appeared in a Navy photo was 2009.

That’s because Seawolf and her sisters are special. Newer, bigger, faster and more heavily armed than standard attack submarines, the nearly $3-billion-per-copy Seawolfs have been fitted with hundreds of millions of dollars in unique equipment and are assigned to their own special squadron in Washington State.

They deploy for months at a time often without any public notice. The wife of a Seawolf sailor described the boat as “unpredictable.”

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