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USS Bremerton sails for Asian hot spots on last patrol

A U.S. Navy file photo of the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Bremerton (SSN 698).

STEVEN KHOR/U.S. NAVY

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 1, 2018

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The USS Bremerton, the oldest commissioned submarine in the Navy, is patrolling Asia hot spots along with other Pearl Harbor subs on what is expected to be the final deployment of its 37-year career.

The Navy said the 362-foot attack submarine arrived in Yokosuka, Japan, for the “final time” on Dec. 22 as part of its deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

“I think it’s important for Bremerton to make one last visit to Yokosuka,” the sub’s commander, Cmdr. Travis Zettel, said in a Navy-produced news story. “The region means a lot to the United States and its Navy.”

The Los Angeles-class submarine has a crew of 154 and can support a variety of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance. Los Angeles subs can be armed with more than three dozen Mark 48 torpedoes, Tomahawk cruise missiles, Harpoon anti-­ship missiles and mines.

Nicknamed “Bad Fish,” Bremerton was launched in 1978 and commissioned on March 28, 1981.

In early 2016 the sub visited Singapore, and Cmdr. Wes Bringham, then the commanding officer, said, “It is a testament to the training and professionalism of this wonderful crew and the design of the ship that we are bringing Bremerton back to Singapore almost 33 years after our initial visit. Ninety percent of the crew was not born when ‘Bad Fish’ first visited Singapore.”

Two other Hawaii subs also made recent port stops in Yokosuka as the U.S. continues to seek a way to stop North Korea’s nuclear missile program. The newer Virginia-­class attack submarine USS Texas moored alongside the Los Angeles­-class sub USS Tucson on Dec. 6 in Japan.

The 377-foot Texas can launch 12 Tomahawks, which would be key to inland strikes in a conflict with North Korea.

The Pearl Harbor-based Virginia-class sub USS Mississippi was the first U.S. submarine to visit South Korea’s Jeju Island on Nov. 22, while the Ohio-class guided missile submarine USS Michigan out of Bangor, Wash., pulled into Busan, South Korea, on Oct. 13.

The arrival of the Michigan revealed twin “dry deck shelters” to launch SEAL commandos attached to the massive 560-foot converted ballistic missile submarine, which can fire 154 Tomahawks. Both capabilities were probably not lost on North Korea. The Pentagon sometimes uses submarine port visits to reveal to a potential adversary that submarines are operating in the area mostly unseen.

Much of what a submarine does is classified. In one of the Bremerton’s more unusual publicly revealed missions, the sub was called upon in 1999 to sink the freighter New Carissa after it grounded off the Oregon coast and was damaged.

The ship, carrying fuel oil, eventually split in two. The 420-foot bow section was towed 300 miles off the coast and withstood 400 pounds of high explosives emplaced by an explosive ordnance disposal team, and then 69 rounds of 5-inch shells fired by the destroyer USS David R. Ray.

A Mark 48 advanced-capability torpedo from the Bremerton finally did the trick, exploding beneath the hulk and causing it to roll over and sink in waters more than 10,000 feet deep.

One publication reported Cmdr. Robert Thomas of the Bremerton saying, “We were surfaced outside of San Francisco ready to go in and pick up an engineering inspection team and we got the message at five in the morning … to cancel that personnel transfer, turn right around and submerge the ship, go deep and head up off the Oregon coast and be ready to shoot a warshot the next day.”

The Bremerton (Wash.)-­Olympic Peninsula Council of the Navy League is now preparing for the final chapter of the USS Bremerton.

“The USS Bremerton will be decommissioning in the near future. As one of our adopted units, we will look to ways to memorialize her service to the nation,” President Alan Beam wrote on the council’s website Dec. 17.

The Navy is slowing replacing Los Angeles-class subs at Pearl Harbor with newer Virginia-class attack subs, which now cost nearly $2.8 billion. Hawaii is now home to about 15 Los Angeles subs and five Virginia vessels with a sixth, the USS Missouri, expected soon.

The USS Jacksonville, another Los Angeles sub at Pearl Harbor, arrived at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton on Dec. 11 to begin the inactivation and decommissioning process.

Commissioned in 1981 like the Bremerton, the Jacksonville completed a deployment Aug. 10 after spending 208 days at sea, steaming more than 48,000 nautical miles and making port calls in Bahrain, Oman, Guam and Singapore.

The Navy said that during the inactivation process, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility will de-fuel the nuclear submarine.

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