There have been reports that the US Navy is considering scrapping the $3.5bn nuclear-powered submarine after it crashed into an underwater mountain in October. The Sea Wolf submarines, which have been described by Military Watch Magazine as one of the US Navy’s “most highly prized assets”, are the most expensive submarines ever produced outside France.
Only three of a planned 29 were ever built due to their extreme costs.
Each vehicle displaces 8,600 tons and carries 140 crew, 50 cruise missiles and a range of torpedoes.
The US Navy says the vessels are “quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors”.
The incident occurred in the disputed South China Sea and led to the dismissal of three senior officers.
US Navy officials said two sailors had sustained moderate injuries and nine minor injuries, such as bruises and scrapes.
After the incident, the submarine retreated towards the port at Guam.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s most disputed and economically significant waterways, making the US navy crash particularly controversial.
For weeks, the cause of the incident had remained a mystery, with the US Navy initially saying that the submarine hit an “object” while underwater in international waters.
Washington provided limited information, revealing only that the submarine was stable, there were no life-threatening injuries, and that the nuclear systems onboard were not affected.
However, the risk of fallout following damage to the nuclear-powered submarine allegedly led to the US deploying a so-called “nuke sniffer” plane to identify any leakage, despite the US denying that any leakage occurred.
Speaking about the incident, a US Navy spokesman said: “The investigation determined USS Connecticut grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region.”
But Chinese officials hit out at the statement, with spokesperson Wang Wenbin saying: “The key is that the US military should stop sending warships and warplanes everywhere, showing its military muscles and violating other countries’ security.
“If not, this kind of accident will only take place more often.”
China has claimed ownership of almost the entire South China Sea under its controversial ‘nine-dash line’ and in recent years has built artificial islands and military outposts.
Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan also each claim parts of the sea.
But in 2016, the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s nine-dash line, ruling that Beijing had no historic title over the South China Sea.
The US has since been conducting “freedom of navigation” operations in the Sea to assert navigational rights and freedoms in line with international law.