The SUN, USS Nebraska will move to West Sound late next year, underscoring the new role the Pacific Fleet is playing in world affairs
A third East Coast-based Trident submarine will move to West Sound by this time in 2004, defense sources confirmed Thursday.
The move is the latest evidence of the Pentagon's strategy to beef up naval forces in the Pacific to counter potential threats in Asia and the Middle East.
The nuclear-armed Trident sub USS Nebraska will move to Naval Submarine Base Bangor a year from now from Kings Bay, Ga., home of the Atlantic-based Trident fleet.
It will arrive in West Sound at about the same time the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis arrives in Bremerton from San Diego.
The move will equalize the size of the Pacific- and Atlantic-based Trident fleets, with seven on each coast. Until last year, the Atlantic fleet boasted two more subs than the Bangor fleet.
Four other Tridents will be out of the fleet by late next year, undergoing conversions to cruise-missile launchers.
Two will be based on each coast after the conversions are complete.
The Navy would not confirm the Nebraska's change of home port Thursday.
“There's nothing official that anything is moving,” said Lt. Barbara Mertz, spokeswoman for the Bangor-based Trident fleet.
But defense sources said an official announcement on the Nebraska move is imminent. It must first meet congressional approval before the decision is finalized.
The arrival of the Nebraska, which will bring a combined crew of more than 300, signals a shift in Defense Department philosophy to bolster Pacific Fleet forces.
With North Korea building up its nuclear weapons program and China becoming a military force, the Pentagon feels the Pacific is where most of the world's problems will occur over the next decade.
The Defense Department is even mulling whether to move an East Coast aircraft carrier to the Pacific Fleet, likely basing it in Hawaii.
“You're seeing with the carriers a realization that the major area of concern is going to be in the Pacific,” U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said last week. “I would not be surprised should they move more Tridents to the West Coast.
“In the past, during the Cold War era, more of our targets were set toward the Soviet Union. That's a very significant change now.”
Kings Bay has always had more Trident subs than Bangor. The previous balance was 10 in Georgia, eight at Bangor when the fleet was at 18.
The Trident fleet is shrinking to 14 next year as the four oldest Tridents — USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia — will be in various stages of refueling and conversion at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Virginia's Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Those subs will be converted to cruise-missile launchers under a $4 billion project. They will no longer hold nuclear ballistic missiles.
Last year, the Kentucky and Pennsylvania moved to Bangor to make up for the loss of the Ohio and Florida, which left last year for its three-year East Coast shipyard period beginning this month.
The Ohio is about to start its second year at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which just finished the one-year refueling portion of the project.
The Florida and Georgia will move to Kings Bay when they are finished with their conversions. The Ohio and Michigan will remain at Bangor.