The United States' newest Aircraft Carrier, the USS Ronald Regan, has just begun full operational duty, and most mornings a church service is held on deck to bless the ship and crew.
However, this is not always possible, because some mornings the deck is not accessible. For this is a new class of dual-role ship. The incredible truth is that the Ronald Regan is not only a super-carrier, but also has limited submarine capabilities.
The subsea functionality has been kept secret throughout its manufacture and early deployment, but is now being made public for the first time. Although the capability was designed in when the carrier was built in the late 1990's, the actual underwater systems were only retrofitted last year as part of a major overhaul.
Obviously a ship of this size and complexity will never have the same undersea functionality as the Virginia or Sea Wolf class submarines, but it does add stealth features to a ship designed to deliver aircraft into a potential war zone. The Ronald Regan takes just under an hour to fully submerge, and has an operational maximum depth of 150 metres. Its dual Westinghouse nuclear reactors give it a surface speed of 30 knots and an underwater speed of 12 knots.
Its weaponry is extremely flexible, but now includes Mark-48 torpedoes in addition to the usual batteries of Sea Sparrow and RAM surface to air missiles. The addition of submarine systems has reduced the aircraft carrying capacity to 72 fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters from the original 90.
Although there has not yet been confirmation, it is thought that the Ronald Regan may also be fitted with the Vertical Launch System Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, which would technically offer nuclear capability. However, deployment of nuclear warheads would be restricted under Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty agreements.
Undersea trials of the ship have been taking place over the last six months, and are reported to have been extremely successful. Observers have said that a one-thousand-foot-long aircraft carrier breaking surface on the edge of San Diago Bay is an awesome sight. The US Department of Defence say an operations video showing the USS Ronald Regan's surface and submarine capability is expected to be released to news agencies and the public soon.