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SS-580 Barbel - Design Innovations

The first class of subs to employ the improvements pioneered by the Albacore was the Barbel class. The first ship of the class, the Barbel (SS 580) was launched in July 1958 and commissioned six months later on l7 January 1959. Though nuclear power plants were used in mid-1950s in the Nautilus and later in the Skate Class, the Barbels would be diesel-electric.

Diesel-electric subs under battery power were, and are to this day, quieter than nuclear ships. Though nuclear subs never have to surface, their reactors cannot be shut down, and the pumps that circulate coolant must be running constantly. Electricity, on the other hand, requires no pumps, no engines, no reactors, and very few moving parts, so the amount of noise they make is minimal and renders them nearly invisible to sonar when under battery power. At the time the three Barbel Class submarines were ordered in 1955, diesel-electric motor technology was proven. However, the Navy's changing priorities favored the fuel conservation and range advantages of nuclear submarines over the stealth of diesel subs.

Compared to her nuclear contemporaries, the Barbels were silent, efficient, and above all reliable. Blueback's engines were far simpler than a nuclear submarine's, and were far less prone to having engineering problems. The Blueback crew, to highlight that difference, created the Diesel Boats Forever (DBF) pin, which quickly became very popular. Submariners on diesel boats would wear a DBF pin as a mark of pride - the pin was equipped with slots for stars that could be added for each time the diesel boat was called on to "rescue" a nuclear sub that had broken down, a smug way of humbling their compatriots aboard nuclear boats.

Although only three of the Barbel Class subs were constructed, the class represents the pinnacle of diesel-electric technology. These were the first active duty submarine to include many of the advances in submarine design pioneered by the Albacore. The Barbels were, at the time of their launch, arguably the world's best submarines. Though not nuclear powered, the Barbels excelled at secrecy. At 21 knots submerged, they were faster than any other US submarine except the Albacore. Their hulls were far more hydrodynamic than any other sub in the world at the time - lending much greater maneuverability and noise reduction when submerged. Their internal electronics were better than any other active duty US submarine - airplane controls in the command center like inAlbacore, push button ballast and dive controls, and advanced BQS 4 active/passive Sonar equipment in the bow.

They were the first active duty subs to be constructed of HY-80 steel, which was stronger than previous types and allowed for much deeper dive depths. All subsequent submarine types in the US would be built of HY-80 steel. The Barbels were also among the most silent submarines in the world at the time. Masker emitters placed in the hull covered the sub with a small amount of white noise to distort the sub's shape to sonar, and the single propeller had been manufactured with extreme precision, to ensure it cut through thewater as quietly as possible.

Like the Albacore, the Barbels originally had their diving planes mounted to the sides of her nose, which was the typical arrangement for all previous submarine types. The dive planes are winglets that are designed to help point the nose of the subdown in a dive, and up in a surfacing maneuver. While the boat is on the surface, the planes rotate and fold up hydraulically, so they are held vertically to keep out of the way. However, it was quickly realized that this arrangement was only effective at low speeds, and that on a high-speed ships such as the Barbels the diveplanes were less effective in steering the ship and increased drag. The dive planes were relocated in 1964 to their current position on the sail, where they are permanently held horizontally. The change was subsequently mirrored in the design of other submarine types.

The Barbel's had other improvements as well. Submarines before the Albacore and the Barbels had a "conning tower" rather than a sail. The tower on the hull had a pressurized room in it that housed the periscopes and other equipment. ln these subs, sailors would have to climb up into the tower to use the periscopes, and would have to relay what they saw down to the command center. ln the Barbels, the conning tower was eliminated. The tower like projection on top of the hull simply stored the antennas, periscopes, and snorkel tubes, with no room for sailors. All functions of the conning tower were relocated to the command center, eliminating the need for a separate room and the chance of miscommunication. All subsequent su designs would follow the Barbels in doing away with the conning tower.

Other changes were made in the ship's systems. The Barbel-class submarines' command center was one of the most advanced found in any submarine at that time. The most advanced control, communication, and weapons systems of the time could be found onboard.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:42:18 ZULU