Marines assigned to the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force, assemble a combat rubber raiding craft during a regularly scheduled exercise aboard the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Juan Antoine King)

US President John F. Kennedy stormed out of the White House conference room a different man.

According to declassified documents, the US Joint Chiefs had presented JFK with a plan for a pre-emptive, surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the early 1960s.

US forces (with 185 ICBMs and over 3,400 deliverable nuclear bombs at that time) were vastly superior to those of the Russians at the time — and the Pentagon knew it.

The July 20, 1961 meeting took place under conditions of unusual tension. Only three months before, Kennedy had suffered the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion and his loss of confidence in both the CIA and the Joint Chiefs.

“Those sons of bitches with all the fruit salad just sat there nodding, saying it would work,” Kennedy said of the chiefs.

One month before, he had been shaken by his Vienna confrontation with Nikita Khrushchev. Now, the Soviets were threatening to turn control of access to West Berlin over to the East Germans.

While the official record of this meeting, remains secret to this day, Arthur Schlesinger’s Robert Kennedy and His Times gives this account:

Kennedy received the Net Evaluation, an annual doomsday briefing analyzing the chances of nuclear war. An Air Force General presented it, said Roswell Gilpatric, the deputy secretary of defense, “as though it were for a kindergarten class . . . Finally Kennedy got up and walked right out in the middle of it, and that was the end of it. We never had another one.”

 As Kennedy walked from the cabinet room to the Oval Office for a private meeting, he told Dean Rusk: “And we call ourselves the human race.”

Clearly, Kennedy understood what nuclear war meant and was appalled by it.

Fast forward to today.

Sitting offshore mainland China, and probably also Russia, is a nightmarish weapon of the apocalypse.

Chief Information Systems Technician (Submarine) Jessica Cooper, assigned to the Gold crew of the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726), stands dive of the watch in control. Ohio is conducting surveillance, training, and other critical missions in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger)

Stealthy, swift and deadly, it waits to unleash its cataclysmic arsenal — weapons that could kill us all. Kill everything.

According to a report by Sebastian Roblin in The National Interest, fourteen Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines, which carry upwards of half of the United States’ nuclear arsenal onboard, are patrolling the seas.

If you do the math, the Ohio-class boats may be the most destructive weapon system created by humankind.

Each of the 170-meter-long vessels can carry twenty-four Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) which can be fired from underwater to strike at targets more than seven thousand miles away.

As a Trident II reenters the atmosphere at speeds of up to Mach 24, it splits into up to eight independent reentry vehicles, each with a 100- or 475-kiloton nuclear warhead.

In short, a full salvo from an Ohio-class sub — which can be launched in less than one minute — could unleash up to 192 nuclear warheads to wipe twenty-four cities off the map.

Any nation, under this terrible onslaught, would be left a burning cinder.

The closest competitor to the Ohio-class submarine is the Russia’s sole remaining Typhoon-class submarine, a larger vessel with twenty ballistic-missile launch tubes, National Interest reported.

However, China, Russia, India, England and France all operate multiple ballistic-missile submarines with varying missile armaments — and even a few such submarines would suffice to annihilate the major cities in a developed nation.

The logic of nuclear deterrence: while a first strike might wipe out a country’s land-based missiles and nuclear bombers, it’s very difficult to track a ballistic-missile submarine patrolling quietly in the depths of the ocean — and there’s little hope of taking them all out in a first strike.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) enters the Trident Refit Facility, Kings Bay, Georgia, dry dock for an extended refit period. (U.S. Navy photo by Elaine Rilatt)

Thus, ballistic-missile submarines promise the unstoppable hand of nuclear retribution —and should deter any sane adversary from attempting a first strike or resorting to nuclear weapons at all, National Interest reported.

At least, that’s the idea.

Displacing more than eighteen thousand tons submerged, the new boomers remain the largest submarines to serve in the US Navy — and the third largest ever built.

With the exception of the Henry M. Jackson, each is named after a US state, an honor previously reserved for large surface warships.

In the event of a nuclear exchange, a boomer would likely receive its firing orders via Very Low Frequency radio transmission. While a submarine’s missiles are not pretargeted, like those in in fixed silos, they can be assigned coordinates quite rapidly.

A pensive President John F. Kennedy meets with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. L-R: Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Curtis E. LeMay; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer; President Kennedy; Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General George H. Decker; Chief of Staff of the United States Navy, Admiral Arleigh A. Burke; Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General David M. Shoup (seated). Cabinet Room, White House. Credit: White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

The first eight Ohio-class boats were originally built to launch the Trident I C4 ballistic missile — an advanced version of the earlier Poseidon SLBM, National Interest reported.

However, by now all of the boomers are armed with the superior Trident II D5 ballistic missile, which has 50% greater range and is capable of very accurate strikes.

Ohio-class submarines also come armed with four twenty-one-inch tubes that can launch Mark 48 torpedoes intended primarily for self-defense.

The submarine’s nuclear reactor gives it virtually unlimited underwater endurance and the ability to maintain cruising speeds of twenty knots (23 mph) while producing very little noise, National Interest reported.

Each Ohio-class submarine has two crews of 154 officers and enlisted personnel, designated Gold and Blue, who take turns departing on patrols that last an average of seventy to ninety days underwater — with the longest on record being 140 days by the USS Pennsylvania.  

Currently, nine boomers are based in Bangor, Washington to patrol the Pacific Ocean, while five are stationed in Kings Bay, Georgia for operations in the Atlantic, National Interest reported.

The Ohio class will serve on until the end of the 2020s, and may even receive some additional acoustic stealth upgrades until they are replaced by a successor, tentatively dubbed the Columbia class.

With estimated costs of US$4–$6 billion each to manufacture, the next-gen boomers may be fewer in number and will use new reactors that do not require expensive overhauls and refueling, allowing them to serve on until 2085.

Sources: National Interest, The American Prospect, The Atlantic