"SSBN" - what does it stand for?

What does the abbreviation “SSBN” in connection with the navy mean?
Glossaries I’ve checked explained it as nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine or similar, but the initials don’t fit the letters. So what does SSBN stand for?


Thanks! But what does “Ship Submersible Ballistic (Nuclear)” mean? I know what the meanings of the single words, but it’s not a phrase, is it?

Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear means that it is a ship, that is submersible, carries ballistic missiles, and is nuclear powered. In other words, a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.

The military names things in reverse order. The most general description is first, and each following word is more detailed and specific. Instead of having one blue aircraft widget, you have a widget, aircraft, blue, one each.

First: The letters are codes; they are not an acronym.

Going back before WWII, the codes included
BB - battleship (Not BS)
DD - destroyer
SS - submarine

For cruisers, they were divided among
CA - heavy cruiser
CL - light cruiser
and (since the first carriers were built on heavy cruiser hulls and because the Navy had assigned the letter code “V” to mean heavier-than-air aircraft)
CV - aircraft carrier

Then the smaller destroyers called “escorts” were labeled

The various cargo and resupply ships generally began with an “A”.

After WWII, when the Navy began messing with super-sized destroyers (originally called frigates, later destroyer leaders) and began adding missiles to the armament and separating propulsion between oil-fired and nuclear, they began using three letters (then four and more letter) to add more meaning to the codes.
CV became CVA for (some) big carriers, CVE for escort carriers, then CVN for nuclear powered carriers. DDG started off as “destroyer with guided missiles” then was kept as a code even after all destroyers were given missiles, used to identify the destroyer leaders. The old CA and CL designations for cruisers got lost with the substitution of a “G” for guided missiles.

SSBN is a code that means a submarine (SS) carries ballistic missiles (B) and is nuclear powered (N).

You cannot “read” SSBN as a phrase, any more than you can “read” DDG as a phrase or “read” AK (fleet supply ship) as a phrase.

Here are the current designations by class of U.S. Navy ship:

wow, that was detailed tomndebb. Thanks to you and everyone else!

[innocent]Of course you can’t read DDG as a phrase. It’s a name… Duck Duck Goose!


Bonus points: What does SSGN mean? (I know, it’s what I’m working on).

Tomahawks? Cool.

I had long felt that the potentials for sub-launched guided missles was overlooked in favour of the boomers.

There’s also the FF’s

The Navy just LOVES these designators. I design DDGs, with other people who work on FFGs, CGs, LPDs and soon (we hope) DD(X)… Nothing’s worth a damn around here without an obfuscated designator. It’s how Naval hierarchy maintains its “part of the club” system. If you don’t know what it means, you are an outsider.

Slight hijack here, since the OP seems to have been answered.
As a onetime Air Force guy, does anyone know how the Navy developed its acronyms for commands, bases, etc? It seems to be that someone just removes a few letters and spaces and then strings it all together. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the military’s addressing structure. For example, to send a message to the commander of all Air Force trainer aircraft, I would address it to AETC/CC (Air Education and Training Command/Commander). To send a message to the commander of all Navy training aircraft it would be something like COMTRAWINGFIXSUBLANTTWO. I’m exaggerating but you get my point. Any reason for the difference?

pilot141: I would assume that they did that to make it more understandable than, to use your example, CTWFSAT. I used to have a sticker on my motorcycle when I was a dependant. If it had said FASWTP it could have meant anything. But FLEASWTRACENPAC is clearely Fleat ASW Traning Center, Pacific. BW is less descriptive than BuWeps. CIC is less descriptive than CINC. COMSOUPAC is more descriptive than CSP. So Naval abbreviations are much shorter than typing out the entire name, while at the same time being easy to understand.

A note on ship types. Aircraft carriers used to have “A” for “attack” in their designators. When I was a kid a family friend who was the ordnance officer on the Enterprise gave me a patch that said CVAN-65. Newer patches are CVN-65. I don’t know when the switch happened, but sometime between the mid-1970s and early-1980s.

The Navy also used different designators for their aircraft. For example, the Skyraider was an AD-5 (also AD-1 and AD-4). AD meant “Attack, Douglas”.

And since I’m still waking up and my mind is wandering… Ever wonder how the Bell Iroquois became known as the “Huey”? When it was introduced its military designation was HU-1 (Helicopter, Utility). So it was “HU” plus “-ey” in the same way Joe becomes Joey and John becomes Johnny. Later the designation was changed to UH-1, but the “Huey” name stuck. Hueys were initially unarmed, then later they were fitted with external gun- and rocket pods. Since the ones that did not have external stores were less draggy than the heavily armed ones, they became known as “Slicks”. The Hughes 500 was a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), and so became known as the “Loach”.

Ok…help me out. CVN = Carrier Vessel Nuclear…an aircraft carrier with Nuke power

And Battlships are BB…but what does each “B” stand for? Battleship Brigade?

CVN does not mean Carrier Vessel Nuclear.

The coding system is not acronym based.

(Some letters are initials of words, but each letter is not guaranteed to be an initial.)

When the first carriers were built, they were built on hulls intended for cruisers.* The Navy designations for cruisers were CA for heavy cruiser and CL for light cruiser. The Navy had already begun using the codes “V” for heavier-than-air planes and “Z” for lighter-than-air dirigibles and blimps. So they tacked the “V” behind the Cruiser’s initial “C” to get CV. They have simply never gone back and invented an entirely new letter for aircraft carriers.

*The USS Langley was a converted collier. The USS Lexington and USS Saratoga were built on hulls laid down as battle cruisers, and the USS Ranger was built to about the same size as a cruiser. Since they were all intended to support battleships, they were considered to be in the same philosophical category as a cruiser, hence the initial “C”.

BB was simply the code for battleship as DD meant destroyer and SS meant submarine. In fact, it could be argued that on any occasion where a type of vessel is described by a single word, the Navy has always simply doubled the letter. Cruisers always had two different letters because prior to the invention of the code, the Navy already had heavy cruisers and light cruisers.

Johnny L.A., I was once firmly corrected by an ancient Navy CPO that the trailing “A” in CA, CVA, etc. meant “heavy,” not attack.

Hmmm. Comes from Maine, works on DDGs. I think we might work for the same company.

Actually, I work for a company who works for a company which is a subsidiary of the company which I suspect is the parent of your company. Small world, isn’t it?

SSGN indicates a nuclear-powered submarine carrying guided missiles (as opposed to ballistic missiles). I would hazard a guess that it’s not commonly used as most submarines can now fire missiles via torpedo tubes, so there’s no need to point out the “G” as representing a unique capability.

Johnny LA:
The switch in Navy aircraft designation systems came in 1962, when then-secretary of Defense McNamara supposedly got confused at a breifing and decreed that the USN and USAF would use the same system for this purpose.

But it wasn’t really standardized, as I have said elsewhere, as the AF viewed and to some extent still views “Fighting” aircraft a little differently than the Navy. The Navy had separate type designators for aircraft primarily devoted to air-to-air fighting and air-to-ground attack, like the F-8 and A-4. The AF liked to designate aircraft oriented to the “interdiction” (long range attack) mission as “F” fighters, as in the F-105 and F-111. The later development of multirole aircraft and the adpotion of some Navy type aircraft by the AF kind of reduced this tendency, though since 1962 the AF has only accepted one specifically designated “A” attack aircraft as its own: the A-10.

Some historians might argue this percevied bias against attack/Army support aircraft is due to “leMay-ism”, the idea that wars can be fought and won exclusively by long-range strategic (and nuclear, if need be) bombing.