New Navy Sub "Texas" Ready For Commission in Galveston

USS Texas
It's one of the most sophisticated American war machines around, longer that a football field and packed with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of electronics, torpedoes and missiles. The USS Texas will be commissioned in Galveston as the latest attack submarine in the Navy's fleet, a nuclear-powered ship that's equipped to safeguard the nation's interests in the 21st century.

Click to Listen

"This hatch that you guys are crawling down right now is what we call a logistics plug trunk."

It's a tight squeeze to get down into the newest and most advanced submarine in the world, a 7800-ton black monster that oozes muscle and quiet power as it sits heavily guarded at the Port of Galveston. It's the second of the Navy's so-called "Virginia" class attack subs and the fourth ship to carry the Texas name since the first in 1895. Captain John Litherland says the Texas fits the unique needs of today's military.

"We're no longer looking at the deep water, blue ocean, anti-submarine-type role, although we still can do that. We had to have a submarine that was nimbler, that could get in close to a potential adversary's coastline in what we call the brown water. This submarine is ideally adapted to that, built from the ground-up for operations in the littoral."

With a crew of 120, there's not much extra room on board the Texas, with narrow corridors, six bunks crammed into each tiny room and barely enough headroom to walk without bending over.

"Nothing has changed from all the way back from the beginning of the submarine forces. Submariners exist in some of the smallest spaces of any group of people. We love what we do and we're so busy down there with the mission that you hardly notice the lack of creature comforts."

On the submarine's bottom deck, in the torpedo room, petty officer first class Raymond Monk looks right at home. He's been with the Texas since 2003 as it's gone through its construction and testing phases.

"The best way to describe it is to go into a basement, close up all the windows, pretty much lock yourself in a basement for three months and that's how it is. I mean, no light, no daylight. Only time that you actually have a sense that you're underway is when the boat goes up at an angle or down."

In the submarine's control area, several dozen video monitors glow with sonar images. Others show video pictures of the outside of the sub taken with cameras that are attached to the ship's mast. Trent Shaw says gone are the old-time periscopes that had to be raised and used a series of mirrors to see outside.

"The only thing that was holding the sea pressure from us was the scopes and the grease that went around it. You don't have that anymore. Right now all we have is fiber optics that connect from outside to internal, so it's actually a much safer system for us."

The Texas is expected to being actual combat operations sometime in 2008 after more testing this year and next. The last submarine to be commissioned into the Navy was the USS Jimmy Carter in early 2005.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...