• The US Navy commissioned the USS South Dakota on Saturday and, in doing so, ushered in a new era of millennial undersea war fighters and the most technologically advanced submarine hunter-killer on earth.
  • The South Dakota can be thought of as "America's first millennial submarine," because it was built by mostlymillennials and will be manned by millennials too.
  • It's also the deadliest submarine for undersea combat the US has ever put to sea.

The US Navy commissioned the USS South Dakota on Saturday and, in doing so, ushered in a new era of millennial undersea warfighters and the most technologically advanced submarine hunter-killer on Earth.

"I think we can honestly call South Dakota 'America's first millennial submarine' from construction to operation," Joe Courtney, a congressman from Connecticut, said at the South Dakota's commissioning.

While millennials across the board make up the majority of the US's combat servicemembers in any service, the South Dakota was built by shipbuilder Electric Boat, whose workforce is more than half millennial, The Day reports .

"The rise of the millennial generation emerging to lead Electric Boat's important work for the country, I believe, is a powerful rebuttal of cynics and naysayers that say that American manufacturing and technological excellence are a thing of the past," Courtney said.

In the slides below, meet the young sailors and new submarine that makes the South Dakota the most modern and fearsome submarine in the world today.

Fast-attack boat

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven Hoskins

The South Dakota is a fast attack submarine, which trades the world-ending nuclear might of a ballistic missiles submarine or "boomer," as it's known, for Tomahawk cruise missiles, mines, and torpedoes.

Boomer submarines hide in oceans around the world on the longshot chance the US may call upon them to conduct nuclear warfare. These submarines are not to be seen, and avoid combat.

But fast attack subs like the South Dakota meet naval combat head-on.

One weapon makes the South Dakota a force to be reckoned with up to 1,500 miles inland: the Tomahawk. The South Dakota can hold dozens of these land-attack missiles.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Samuel Souvannason/US Navy

Fast attack submarines like the South Dakota serve as a door-kicker, as one did in 2011 when the US opened its campaign against Libya with a salvo of cruise missiles from the USS Michigan. These submarines also must hunt and sink enemy ships and submarines in times of combat, and the South Dakota is unmatched in that department.

In the torpedo room, sailors sleep and work around the clock in case they get orders to track and kill enemy subs.

Chief Petty Officer Darryl Wood

Additionally, submarines make ideal vessels for deploying US Navy SEALs, who are trained in underwater demolition and can bring aboard their own mini subs for covert operations.

US Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Andrew McKaskle

Finally, by laying down mines, the South Dakota can cripple enemy submarine and ship movement, a key element of naval war.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Unlike boomer crews, the South Dakota may be called up as the first line of defense in a fight with China or Russia. Increasingly the US expects some confrontation with one of these near-peer powers.

Scanpix Denmark/Sarah Christine Noergaard via Reuters

Virginia-class submarines like the South Dakota are nuclear-powered, so they require the crew to master nuclear propulsion while underway, even in combat.

US Navy

Non-nuclear submarines, some of which China operates, have the advantage of being able to shut off their motors and run on battery power. US submarines are all nuclear, so they have to keep the reactor core on around the clock. The South Dakota mitigates this by adding extra insulation to the engine room.


"We are in a Great Power Competition with a resurgent Russia and a rising China. Our National Defense Strategys first line of effort is to Build a more lethal force because as it says, the surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one,'" Rear Adm. Leonard C. Dollaga, Commander, Undersea Warfighting Development Center said of the South Dakota.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Steven Hoskins

The South Dakota isn't the first of its kind, but the first to have new technologies like large vertical sonar arrays which the US says will give it an edge on Russian and Chinese ships.

US Navy

Submarine combat is a very dangerous and tricky game. Any sonar or radar ping can reveal a sub's location, so the ships need to sit and listen quietly to safely line up a kill.

US Navy

The South Dakota can detect ships and subs with an offboard array of sensors that it can communicate with in near real time. This represents a breakthrough in undersea warfare and a first for the South Dakota.

But submarines are only as good as their crews. The South Dakota will live or die based on its crew's ability to stick together and problem solve.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jared Bunn

See Also: