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Skate-class submarine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

USS Skate
USS Skate with an ice pack behind her
Class overview
Name: Skate class
Operators:  United States Navy
Preceded by:
Succeeded by:
Built: 1955–1959
In commission: 1957–1989
Completed: 4
Retired: 4
General characteristics
Type: Nuclear submarine
  • 2,250 long tons (2,290 t) surfaced
  • 2,850 long tons (2,900 t) submerged
Length: 267 ft 7 in (81.56 m)
Beam: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Draft: 21 ft 3 in (6.48 m)
Propulsion: S3W nuclear reactor in S3W or S4W plant, geared steam turbines, two shafts, 6,600 shp (4,900 kW)[1]
  • 18 kn (33 km/h; 21 mph) surfaced
  • 22 kn (41 km/h; 25 mph) submerged
Test depth: 700 ft (210 m)
Complement: 84 officers and men

The Skate-class submarines were the United States Navy's first production run of nuclear-powered submarines. They were an evolution of the Tang class in everything except their propulsion plants, which were based on the operational prototype USS Nautilus. The four Skate class boats re-introduced stern torpedo tubes. Although among the smallest nuclear-powered attack submarines ever built, the Skate class served for many years, with the last being decommissioned in 1989. USS Skate was the first submarine to surface at the North Pole, on 17 March 1959.

Skate and Sargo were built with the S3W reactor,[2][3] Swordfish and Seadragon also had the S3W reactor in the S4W reactor plant (same machinery in an alternate arrangement).[4][5]


The Skate class were designed as economical production nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs), and thus were smaller and more austere than their ground-breaking predecessor Nautilus, whose high cost had raised concerns. They were designed before Nautilus demonstrated the advantages of sustained high underwater speed, thus their designed speed was about the maximum speed of the conventional Tang class, which the Skates resembled in almost every aspect except propulsion. Their S3W reactor was a scaled-down version of Nautilus' S2W reactor with about half the power output; it was known as SFR (Submarine Fleet Reactor) during development. A slightly modified version known as S4W powered the second pair of Skate-class boats. Unfortunately, scaling down the reactor did not reduce the weight of reactor shielding proportionally, and it was eventually realized that further downsizing was impractical. In the late 1950s it was hoped that the nuclear-powered aircraft program would develop reactors suitable for very small SSNs, but the program was unsuccessful.[6] Their armament was the same as the Tangs, six bow and two stern 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes. Like the Tangs, the stern tubes had no ejection pump, and could only be used for swim-out weapons such as the Mark 37 ASW homing torpedo. The quest for a high submerged speed and improved sonar led to the subsequent Skipjack and Thresher classes becoming the model for further development.[citation needed]


Skate was notable as the first submarine to surface at the North Pole, on 17 March 1959. A previous attempt in 1958 had resulted in no suitable place found for surfacing near the Pole. Sargo and Seadragon also conducted significant polar operations in their careers. This class was the most suited for ice breakthrough attempts until the Sturgeon class, with fairwater planes that could be rotated vertically, entered service beginning in 1967. After 25–30 years each of successful service, mostly out of Pearl Harbor, the class was retired in the 1980s and disposed of through the Navy's nuclear Ship-Submarine Recycling Program.[citation needed]

Ships in class

Name Hull no. Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Decommissioned Fate
Skate SSN-578 Electric Boat 21 July 1955 16 May 1957 23 December 1957 12 September 1986 Recycled March 1995
Swordfish SSN-579 Portsmouth Naval Shipyard 25 January 1956 27 August 1957 15 September 1958 2 June 1989 Recycled September 1995
Sargo SSN-583 Mare Island Naval Shipyard 21 February 1956 10 October 1957 1 October 1958 21 April 1988 Recycled April 1995
Seadragon SSN-584 Portsmouth Naval Shipyard 20 June 1956 16 August 1958 5 December 1959 12 June 1984 Recycled September 1995


  1. ^ Gardiner, Robert and Chumbley, Stephen, Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995, p. 604, Conway Maritime Press, London:1995, ISBN 1-55750-132-7.
  2. ^ "USS Skate (SSN 578)". Unofficial U.S. Navy Site. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
  3. ^ "USS Sargo (SSN 583)". Unofficial U.S. Navy Site. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
  4. ^ "USS Swordfish (SSN 579)". Unofficial U.S. Navy Site. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
  5. ^ "USS Seadragon (SSN 584)". Unofficial U.S. Navy Site. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
  6. ^ Friedman, Norman (1994). U.S. Submarines Since 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 124–129. ISBN 1-55750-260-9.

External links

This page was last edited on 15 December 2020, at 20:50
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