Written by Kaye S.
There are two types of subs, "fast attacks" and "boomers."
Fast Attack subs serve two functions: (1) accompanying an aircraft carrier group to protect it from bad guys or (2) deployed alone on special missions as "hunter-killers" (searching for bad guy subs). They are designated with "SSN" in their name. They carry mostly torpedoes (for attacking) and a few Tomahawk missiles for firing onto bad-guy ships or land. They are small and agile, easy to manuver. Crews are smaller and space is very tight everywhere. There's only one crew, so their deployment lasts as long as the boat is on a mission. A regular schedule, when assigned to a carrier group, is generally a longer deployment (6-9 months) & shorter "at-homes" (3 months) because they must go where the mother ship goes. But, on solitary deployments, there's no way to predict what the sea time might be. When cruising with the carrier group, attack subs get to make ports 'o call to foreign places, which is exciting. Communication with families is available via phone during these stops or via short emails when the sub is at communication depth.
Ballistic Missile Submarines, or "Boomers" for short, are "lone wolves." They are designated with "SSBN" in their name. They disappear into the ocean, purposely staying hidden, to do reconnaissance and peace-keeping. They carry Trident nuclear missiles (for peace-keeping) and some torpedoes (for self-defense). They are huge (2 football fields long and 3 stories high), but slower and not as agile. There are two crews, designated as "Blue" and "Gold." The crew is larger than an SSN and more space is available for moving around (for instance, there's no racking amongst the torpedoes and little hot-racking). Their cruises are shorter than attack subs' (3 months), but they remain underwater constantly. The only communication with families is via short emails whenever the sub surfaces to communication depth. Their "at-homes" are longer though (5-6 months) making it easier on the personal life. Guided Missile Submarines are essentially boomers which have been outfitted to also transport and deploy special forces personnel, and will support ground warfare. They are designated with "SSGN" in their name.
ALL submariners must become qualified (earn their "Dolphins" pin). Unqualified guys get the bum end of every work detail, shift, and rack until they do. They must earn this pin within about 12-14 months of coming on board or they'll be reassigned to a carrier. And, since sub crews are not 5000+ (like a carrier) and they cross-train extensively, the men know each other across functions (e.g. machinists know sonar techs). There's less formality between enlisted and officers, so the crew knows the command better and vice versa.
Submarine crews have been the last Naval area to accept females. A pilot program begun in 2012 placed female officers on a select group of boomer subs to assess eventually making the entire sub force gender-integrated.
On aircraft carriers, sailors have a more traditional ocean experience, such as getting to see spectacular sunrises and sunsets as sailors have for thousands of years. They'll also see the foreign ports 'o call and have the ability to phone home during cruises. But, there are strict chains of command and very little interaction between enlisted sailors and officers. There's also less interaction between functions (e.g. machinists don't know sonar techs). The PBS series titled "Carrier" would be excellent for a view into "skimmer" life (what sumariners call surface sailors). You can rent it from Netflix or buy it from www.PBS.org.
One other consideration from the mommy-viewpoint is that, if he can handle the no-sun and cooped-up atmosphere, I'd rather have my sailor underwater where bad guys are less likely to shoot at him!
For more information:
1) Go to the "Pages" area on the Sub Moms page for additional reference info on submarines.
1) Go to www.navy.com. Click "About the Navy" (on the gray bar at top)... then "Navy Equipment" (mid-page with photo of jet)... then "Vessels" (under video; second gray tab)... then "Submarines" (under video; sixth gray tab).
2) Check out the Discussion Forum for additional sub discussions. Only 3 show at a time, although there are many more... click on "View all" in this area and you'll have two pages of more sub talk to read.