Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Exclusive Pictures: Inside the Navy’s Newest Spy Sub

Discovery News - UNDERWAY ON THE U.S.S. MISSISSIPPI — The Navy’s newest fast-attack submarine is speeding down the Florida coast, on its way to its commissioning ceremony in its namesake state, at 15 knots. And it’s getting outraced by dolphins.

Hours before the U.S.S. Mississippi dives several hundred feet beneath the Atlantic, its sail juts proudly into the warm, whipping southern air. Submariners allow me to see the highest point on the sub for myself — provided I can keep my balance up three steep levels’ worth of ladder and hoist myself out onto a platform the size of a fancy refrigerator. A harness hooked to an iron bolt on the sail keeps me from falling to my death. There’s no land in sight, just blue water turned white around the sub’s wake, a tall BPS-16 military radar spinning in front of us, and a family of dolphins jumping out of the surf in front of the 377-foot boat.

Apparently it’s typical. Where subs travel in the southern Atlantic, dolphins tend to tag along, eager to say hi to their large, silent playmate. “Dolphins like to sing,” notes Petty Officer Joshua Bardelon, a 32-year old from Pascagoula, the site of the Mississippi’s destination, who supervises the boat’s sonar systems.

Those systems are part of why Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is eager to take possession of his newest Virginia-class submarine when it formally joins the fleet on June 2. As much time as it spends listening to dolphin symphonies, the Mississippi is everything from a weapon to destroy other ships to an electronic-attack system to a stealthy transport for Navy commandos.    

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