Nuclear subs and their nuclear missiles

IMO this is a WTF question but I may be wrong so here we go.

I take it when a USN nuclear sub comes into port, barring some sort of long term maintanence, change outs, or various minor problems, the nuclear missiles stay in the sub. The SO claims they take them out everytime they come into port. IMO once those fuckers are in there it seems to me that the safest thing to do both physical danger wise and nuclear weapons security wise would to be leave em in the sub.

I don’t think those subs stay in port very long. They typically have 2 crews who alternate cruises with the boat. I don’t have stats on that, but I’ll bet they never unload other than for maintenance or upgrading.

They’re not usually removed. My boat was in dry dock for a short time and to my recollection they weren’t taken out even then (but it was overseas).

What would the presumed benefit be of taking them out of the sub?

Sorry to sort of change the subject, but on the topic of nuclear war, have any of you seen the BBC docu-drama “Threads”? I watched it the other night and was shook up for days! I’ve watched some messed up documentaries like Titicut Follies, Earthlings etc. but I’ve never seen something as disturbing as this.

Part 1 if interested! -

I thought a Nuclear Sub was just a sub powered by nuclear. Why put nuclear missiles somewhere they could be captured?

Once under way and under water subs are very hard to find, let alone catch. Subs can fight back. SSBNs are mobile missile platforms that can be almost anywhere, so they’re really hard for the Commies to take out.

They also make their own drinking water and thus avoid fluoridation.

Thus preserving their POE (aka precious bodily fluids)

At a guess, those missiles and warheads have a long shelf life, but occasionally they are probably sent back to the depot for x hours inspection, or separating the warheads to re-certify them.


With our ICBM’s the warhead is loaded in before launch. I’m guessing this is not the case on the sub based missiles. It’s my understanding the warheads radioactivity is detrimental to the components over time so we have reason not to keep everything together. What’s the shelf life of a fully assembled nuclear missile? How often do we pull them apart?

The original warheads used to be 30 days, after that they had to be sent back to be recertified, modern warheads probably have a life span of ten years.

But keep in mind, that unless you signed papers that you would not disclose stuff like this on the straight dope, its only a guess.


This. I don’t want anybody telling anything here they should NOT. Even in a roundabout way for that matter.

I toured an Ohio-class sub in dry dock with a scout group back in the 90’s and they said they removed the missiles before entering dry dock. I thought they said they took them out in case they accidentally dropped the sub or had some other sort of mayhem related to being in dry dock, but my adolescent mind may have just filled in that detail.

First of all, all subs are “nuclear” nowadays, in the sense that they all use nuclear reactors to generate their power.

You guys are specifically talking about “boomers”, subs which carry SLBMs, missiles launched from submarines that often (almost always) contain nuclear warheads. Their entire mission is just to sail around in circles, more or less, out in the ocean and be ready to launch their payloads when they get the call and the codes.

When I did a tour of one they didn’t mention anything about how often they are taken out. Tritium, however, has a pretty short halflife, and warheads are only good for so long before there is not enough tritium left for a decent nuclear reaction. If I remember correctly, the Boomers are often out for 2-3 months at a time. They carry dozens of warheads, and I doubt they would want to replace them all every single time they come back, so my guess is that there are probably a few warheads that are taken out and replaced with certified “fresh” warheads when they come into port.

I would suppose that as a security feature nukes on mobile platforms (subs, ships, aircraft) are deliberately manufactured with a limited shelf life, so that if they were ever stolen or lost they would become unusable after a certain period.

Tritium’s half-life is 12 years, according to Wiki. Even if all the Tritium were depleted, an H-bomb is sparked off by an A-bomb, so it’s a pretty big boom either way. You don’t want to be there when it happens. I’m sure there a re a bunch of safety precautions around nuclear weapons. I’ve never had to know personally, and I’m good with that bit of ignorance.

ETA: I just took the 30 seconds required to read the relevant sections of the wiki article on tritium. It’s worth a read - not a true H-bomb but a serious;y boosted A-bomb. I still don’t want to be there when it happens.

Been a long day. So not up for much typing or explaining at the moment. But here is the story that inspired this question.

All US subs are nuclear-powered. Other nations still use non-nuclear subs, as they are cheaper to build and operate, and have the advantage of being able to operate more quietly under some conditions. They are often favoured for short-range coastal defence.

I’ve seen it, after it had been mentioned on this board, and I do recommend it.