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US nuclear submarine makes rare appearance at Strait of Gibraltar

The USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) visits a British port at the Strait of Gibraltar.
November 02, 2022

A nuclear-capable U.S. submarine recently surfaced for a rare public appearance at the Strait of Gibraltar. The appearance comes amid growing concerns surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear war.

The USS Rhode Island stopped at a public port in Gibraltar for a scheduled visit on Monday, Nov. 1, the Navy announced.

The Rhode Island is one of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, known as SSBNs, that patrol the seas carrying about 20 missiles that can each be armed with as many as 14 nuclear warheads, according to the War Zone. 

SSBNs are the most resilient component of the U.S. “nuclear triad” and ensure surprise attacks can be retaliated against, according to the Defense Department.

Capt. John Craddock – commander of Task Force 69, which oversees U.S. submarines in Europe and Africa – said the Rhode Island’s visit to Gibraltar “reinforces our ironclad commitment to our allies and partners in the region.”

“The U.S. and U.K. share a strong history of cooperation, through exercises, operations, and cooperation activities such as this, that enhance our combined capabilities and partnership,” Craddock said. “The complexity, lethality, and tactical expertise of Rhode Island epitomizes the effectiveness and strength of the submarine force.”

The War Zone reported that it’s rare for the Navy to reveal the activities of its SSBNs. The outlet’s analysis suggested the Gibraltar visit could have been a signal to deter Russian nuclear threats, a response to Russian allegations that the U.K. was involved in the Nord Stream pipeline blast, or simply a demonstration of the nuclear subs’ global range.

The Rhode Island’s visit came just two weeks after the Navy announced another SSBN just like it was operating in the Arabian Sea, which the War Zone reported came amid rising tensions with Iran.

Prior to that, the Rhode Island itself made a port visit in Scotland in July announced by the Navy. And the Strait of Gibraltar was previously visited by another SSBN in 2021, the War Drive reported.