Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

USS Tullibee (SSN 597) Was a Small, Quiet, Hunter-Killer

Experimental sub tested turboelectric drive and a new sonar system

USS Tullibee (SSN 597) was the first of what was intended to be a series of quiet, nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines. She was designed for anti-submarine warfare, a new mission for submarines. Although the 14th nuclear-powered sub for the United States, she was the first with turbo-electric drive (TED), and could remain on station silently awaiting her prey, and pounce without warning. She had a low-frequency passive array for long range detection – called Passive Underwater Fire Control Feasibility System (PUFFS); and was the first to carry spherical bow sonar for localization and attack, which necessitated having her torpedo tubes located amidships instead of the traditional forward position.

She was designed for anti-submarine warfare, a new mission for submarines.

Built by Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., she was delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1960.

USS Tullibee (SSN 597)

The USS Tullibee was smaller than most of the other U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarines. U.S. Navy photo

She was not the first to carry the name. The World War II Gato-class submarine USS Tullibee (SS 284) was commissioned in 1943. The 311-foot sub displaced about 1,550 tons on the surface. She sank more than 35,000 tons of enemy shipping in one year before being sunk by one of her own torpedoes.

The nuclear Tullibee was not much bigger than her World War II namesake, displacing about 2,300 tons on the surface, and shorter at 273 feet in length. By comparison, USS Skate (SSN 578) and her three sisters were 267 feet long and 2,800 tons; while the USS Skipjack (SSN 585) and her five sisters were 20 feet shorter than Tullibee, but wider, heavier, and faster. Like the World War II fleet boats, Tullibee had a small crew. When commissioned she had seven officers and 60 enlisted men (SS 284 had six officers and 54 enlisted). Near the end of her career, her crew size was 13 officers and 100 enlisted men.

Her small size offered cramped quarters for the crew, especially for the long “stalking” missions for which she was envisioned.

Tullibee incorporated a turbo-electric drive propulsion plant. Many Navy surface ships have used this form of propulsion, including the first carrier, converted collier USS Langley, and several classes of battleships. Diesel subs traditionally used their engines to charge batteries, which could be used when submerged. TED uses steam or gas turbines to generate electricity. With TED, Tullibee’s nuclear power plant made steam that powered a generator to make electricity that drove the electric motor connected to the shaft. This eliminated large reduction gears to turn the shaft, whereas the electric motor was quieter, but required energy to be converted twice, and was thus less efficient.

If TED made Tullibee quieter, it also made her slower. Her small size offered cramped quarters for the crew, especially for the long “stalking” missions for which she was envisioned.

USS Tullibee (SSN 597)

The USS Tullibee was equipped with a variety of active and passive sonar systems for her role as a hunter-killer submarine. The “fins” forward and amidships are part of her PUFFS passive sonar array. U.S. Navy photo

In 1965, she underwent an extensive refueling overhaul – spending 754 days in drydock – at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Me. Her experimental sonar was replaced with a production model. Her long shipyard stay was partly delayed because of higher-priority work on the Polaris submarine program.

She was plagued by engineering troubles, and once had one of her sonars dislodged by a merchant ship following a collision.

Although the Tullibee design was not repeated, many of her design features, such as the bow-mounted spherical sonar array, became standard.

Tullibee was a pioneer in the Navy’s efforts to make a quieter submarine. Although the Tullibee design was not repeated, many of her design features, such as the bow-mounted spherical sonar array, became standard. The USS Glenard P. Lipscomb, commissioned in 1974, also had TED design. Twice as large as Tullibee, she was quieter and heavier, but, like Tullibee, also slower than other contemporary Navy attack submarines.

Tullibee was decommissioned in 1988 and towed from Portsmouth Navy Shipyard to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., for inactivation and recycling.

By

Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...