Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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New sub heightens capability of Pearl-based fleet

The North Carolina is the third Virginia-class attack submarine assigned to Hawaii

By William Cole


Pearl Harbor will soon add to its submarine fleet with the arrival of the USS North Carolina, a Virginia-class sub that brings greater stealth and capability as the U.S. and China spar over sea lanes in East Asia and North Korean nuclear ambitions remain a concern.

"North Carolina is due to arrive this fall" is as specific as Pacific Fleet Submarine Force spokeswoman Cmdr. Christy Hagen would get yesterday.

The North Carolina will be the third new Virginia-class attack sub to arrive at Pearl Harbor. The Hawaii and Texas already are home-ported here. The Navy also said the California eventually would be sent to Hawaii.

The California will be christened Saturday in Newport News, Va. Donna Willard, wife of U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Robert Willard, will serve as the ship's "sponsor."

The U.S. has been using its submarines in the Pacific as a show of force in the face of China's increasing claims in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea. Hawaii's subs have been part of that strategy.

Virginia and older Los Angeles-class subs carry torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles, but are also used for surveillance.

The Hawaii was in Guam in late September for a sonar system repair on a current deployment that included an early September transit of Tokyo Bay -- the first time that a Virginia-class submarine visited the region.

The USS Tucson, a Los Angeles-class submarine based at Pearl Harbor, led a 13-ship formation in the seas east of the Korean Peninsula July 25-28 during Invincible Spirit exercises with South Korea that were largely a response to North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The Louisville, another Los Angeles sub out of Hawaii, returned Friday after participating in an exercise with South Korea during its deployment.

On June 28, three former U.S. ballistic missile submarines converted to carry commandos and up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles apiece (none of which is based in Hawaii) surfaced on the same day in the Philippines, in Pusan, South Korea, and at the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The sudden visibility of the normally secretive vessels was seen as sending a message to a China that has defined the South China Sea as a "core interest" -- the same claim made to Tibet and Taiwan.

The 377-foot Virginia subs, displacing 7,800 tons, are touted as being as quiet as the Seawolf-class, of which only three were built, and much quieter than Los Angeles-class submarines. Virginia subs cost more than $2 billion apiece and have a crew of 135.

Pearl Harbor has 15 Los Angeles subs. Some of those vessels will be replaced over time by an increasing number of Virginia-class submarines.

"Texas is here in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is deployed, and we're looking forward to North Carolina arriving," Hagen said. "We always like to welcome our new submarine crews and their families here to Pearl Harbor. North Carolina's arrival represents the newest Submarine to join the Pacific submarine Force family, and we look forward to having them operational out here in the Pacific."

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