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First US sub to fire Tomahawk missile in combat retires after 34 years of service

USS Louisville (SSN 717)
US Navy file photo of USS Louisville (SSN 717)

The US Navy bid farewell to Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Louisville (SSN 717) in a decommissioning ceremony on March 9, marking the end of the boat’s 34-year service life.

Louisville arrived in Bremerton, Washington, to begin the inactivation and decommissioning process at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, in October 2019, after completing its final deployment five months earlier.

While capable of supporting a multitude of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike warfare, and surveillance and reconnaissance, Louisville made naval history by firing the first submarine launched Tomahawk cruise missile in combat.

The launch took place during the Gulf War as part of operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The submarine conducted a 14,000 mile submerged, high-speed transit across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Red Sea, launching the Tomahawk missile shortly after noon on January 19, 1991. Louisville returned to combat operations in 2003 during operation Iraqi Freedom where she made history as the only Pacific Fleet SSN to have twice launched cruise missiles in combat when she fired numerous salvos into Iraq.

Crew members from ex-USS Louisville (SSN 724) remove the commissioning pennant during transfer of authority ceremony at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington, March 9. Photo: US Navy

Though COVID-19 mitigation prevented the gathering of Louisville crews, families and supporters from bidding farewell to the submarine in person, the crew was able to assemble and to lower the ensign from USS Louisville for the last time together.

“This crew has embodied our motto “best of the breed,” said Cmdr. Christopher Brown, from Wilmington, Ohio, Louisville’s final commanding officer. “While this is a bittersweet day, it is also a proud one. Throughout her life, Louisville and her crews have always risen to the occasion and I think this crew will take that spirit out into the fleet to ensure the memory, work ethic and excellence of Louisville lives on.”

Commissioned in November 1986, Louisville was the fourth US Navy vessel to be named for the city of Louisville, Kentucky. At 360-feet long and 6,900 tons, Louisville could be armed with MK48 advanced capability torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles.