Politics We took a rare tour of one of the US Navy's most dangerous warships — nicknamed the 'Sledgehammer of Freedom'

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The USS John Warner, a Virginia-class attack submarine commissioned in 2015, is one of the US newest subs.

USS John Warner. play

USS John Warner.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

The USS John Warner, a Virginia-class attack submarine commissioned in 2015, is the US's third-newest sub.

We got the chance to tour the Warner as it was docked at Naval Station Norfolk.

Named after the former US senator John Warner — but nicknamed the "Sledgehammer of Freedom" by the crew — the Warner can perform a variety of missions for the US Navy, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and search and rescue, as well as launch land-attack missiles, torpedoes, and mines.

The Warner, and submarines in general, is highly classified and rarely seen by the public.

But we got to take a tour of it — here's what we saw.

We walked onto to the submarine pier at Naval Station Norfolk as the sun was setting and the crew members were loading a special-operations force box onto the Warner.

We walked onto to the submarine pier at Naval Station Norfolk as the sun was setting and the crew members were loading a special-operations force box onto the Warner. play

We walked onto to the submarine pier at Naval Station Norfolk as the sun was setting and the crew members were loading a special-operations force box onto the Warner.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


The Warner is 377 feet long, 34 feet wide, and about 50 feet tall. We weren't allowed to photograph the antennas atop the tower, as they are classified.

The Warner is 377 feet long, 34 feet wide, and about 50 feet tall. We weren't allowed to photograph the antennas atop the tower, as they are classified. play

The Warner is 377 feet long, 34 feet wide, and about 50 feet tall. We weren't allowed to photograph the antennas atop the tower, as they are classified.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

The ship also has a displacement of 7,800 tons and can hit depths of 800 feet or more.



We then met our tour guide, Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, who began by telling us about the cruise-missile-payload tubes on the front of the sub.

Overall, the Warner has a payload of 38 weapons along with special operating forces.



Now let's step aboard. This short video shows you how.



Commanded by Daniel Caldwell, the Warner is divided into three levels.

Commanded by Daniel Caldwell, the Warner is divided into three levels. play

Commanded by Daniel Caldwell, the Warner is divided into three levels.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

The upper level is mostly living and sleeping (or berthing) quarters for the crew, the middle level is operational space, and the lower level has the nuclear reactor and other engineering devices.



We entered the upper level of the ship, and this was our first glimpse inside. As you can see, it's a little tight in there.

We entered the upper level of the ship, and this was our first glimpse inside. As you can see, it's a little tight in there. play

We entered the upper level of the ship, and this was our first glimpse inside. As you can see, it's a little tight in there.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Eichenlaub showed us the "lockout trunk," a built-in Navy SEAL staging area.

Eichenlaub showed us the "lockout trunk," a built-in Navy SEAL staging area. play

Eichenlaub showed us the "lockout trunk," a built-in Navy SEAL staging area.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

"This is actually how we would get SEALs off the ship submerged," Eichenlaub said. "So you would stick a platoon of SEALs in here, 14 guys ... you fill this chamber with water until you match the outer sea pressure. Once the pressure in and outside the ship match, the hatch will lift off open, and they can swim out of a fully filled chamber into open ocean."

Once there, the SEALs can retrieve any weapons or gear from the SOF box (which we saw being loaded into the tower in the first picture).



A short video gives an even better look at the hatch that leads to open water.



As we made our way to the middle level, we ran into a group of sailors performing a preventative maintenance check of the ship's electrical components.

As we made our way to the middle level, we ran into a group of sailors performing a preventative maintenance check of the ship's electrical components. play

As we made our way to the middle level, we ran into a group of sailors performing a preventative maintenance check of the ship's electrical components.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


On the middle level, we saw the flare and countermeasure launcher, situated in a small office.

On the middle level, we saw the flare and countermeasure launcher, situated in a small office. play

On the middle level, we saw the flare and countermeasure launcher, situated in a small office.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Across the hall from the countermeasure launcher is a food closet, one of many that the ship needs to feed the crew for months at a time.

Across the hall from the countermeasure launcher is a food closet, one of many that the ship needs to feed the crew for months at a time. play

Across the hall from the countermeasure launcher is a food closet, one of many that the ship needs to feed the crew for months at a time.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


The closets go back about 15 feet, Eichenlaub said, and are packed strategically so the crew can essentially eat there backward.

The closets go back about 15 feet, Eichenlaub said, and are packed strategically so the crew can essentially eat there backward. play

The closets go back about 15 feet, Eichenlaub said, and are packed strategically so the crew can essentially eat there backward.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Service members eat here in the chow hall, the largest open space in the ship. There's even a soft-serve ice cream machine on the right.

Service members eat here in the chow hall, the largest open space in the ship. There's even a soft-serve ice cream machine on the right. play

Service members eat here in the chow hall, the largest open space in the ship. There's even a soft-serve ice cream machine on the right.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


On the opposite wall hangs the literal "Sledgehammer of Freedom." The crew began calling the Warner that after the commander used the moniker in a speech before their first deployment.

On the opposite wall hangs the literal "Sledgehammer of Freedom." The crew began calling the Warner that after the commander used the moniker in a speech before their first deployment. play

On the opposite wall hangs the literal "Sledgehammer of Freedom." The crew began calling the Warner that after the commander used the moniker in a speech before their first deployment.

(Screenshot/Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

This one is for the crew, while officers have their own: "the Sledgehammer of Democracy."



The officers, on the other hand, eat in the officer's chow hall and are served by kitchen staff through the door in the back right. The commander sits in the star chair in front of the "Sledgehammer of Democracy."

The officers, on the other hand, eat in the officer's chow hall and are served by kitchen staff through the door in the back right. The commander sits in the star chair in front of the "Sledgehammer of Democracy." play

The officers, on the other hand, eat in the officer's chow hall and are served by kitchen staff through the door in the back right. The commander sits in the star chair in front of the "Sledgehammer of Democracy."

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Here's a close-up.

Here's a close-up. play

Here's a close-up.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


This is mission control, the most classified area of the ship. As such, all the monitors were turned off, and we cropped, blurred, and darkened anything sensitive.

This is mission control, the most classified area of the ship. As such, all the monitors were turned off, and we cropped, blurred, and darkened anything sensitive. play

This is mission control, the most classified area of the ship. As such, all the monitors were turned off, and we cropped, blurred, and darkened anything sensitive.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Sonar, fire control, and navigation computers are all in mission control. Eichenlaub goes into detail about mission control in this short video.



The sonar system onboard is designed with a Large Aperture Bow Array that uses life of the hull hydrophones to detect sound waves produced by other ships and even sea life.

The sonar computers. play

The sonar computers.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

The Warner, interestingly, does not have a periscope and instead uses photonic masts built into the outside tower that provides a view above water that feeds into any monitor on the ship.



Eichenlaub then told us more about fire control, where torpedoes and cruise missiles are launched.



And this computer is where flares and countermeasures are launched.

And this computer is where flares and countermeasures are launched. play

And this computer is where flares and countermeasures are launched.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


This nine-second video shows the two voyage-management systems, which plan and navigate the ship.



As we exited mission control, Eichenlaub showed us what the crew calls the Fishbowl.

As we exited mission control, Eichenlaub showed us what the crew calls the Fishbowl. play

As we exited mission control, Eichenlaub showed us what the crew calls the Fishbowl.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

Sailors assigned to the ship are not considered submariners until they receive their warfare qualifications saying they are proficient in every system aboard. Until then, their personal seals are put in this case for motivation.

Every US submarine has a "fishbowl."



The bunks for sailors, or berthing areas, are spread out all over the ship.

The bunks for sailors, or berthing areas, are spread out all over the ship. play

The bunks for sailors, or berthing areas, are spread out all over the ship.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


And they're a little snug.

And they're a little snug. play

And they're a little snug.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Eichenlaub showed us the XO's sleeping quarters.



Now let's enter the torpedo room. Behold!



Using a "pump-jet propulsor," Mark 48 Advanced Capability torpedoes can travel at more than 50 mph — but its top speed is technically classified.

Using a "pump-jet propulsor," Mark 48 Advanced Capability torpedoes can travel at more than 50 mph — but its top speed is technically classified. play

Using a "pump-jet propulsor," Mark 48 Advanced Capability torpedoes can travel at more than 50 mph — but its top speed is technically classified.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

Read more about the Mark 48 »



Eichenlaub said sailors often named the torpedoes, like the one below, after their significant others.

Eichenlaub said sailors often named the torpedoes, like the one below, after their significant others. play

Eichenlaub said sailors often named the torpedoes, like the one below, after their significant others.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


Here's one of the four torpedo launchers in the torpedo room. How quickly they can reload and shoot, however, is classified.

Here's one of the four torpedo launchers in the torpedo room. How quickly they can reload and shoot, however, is classified. play

Here's one of the four torpedo launchers in the torpedo room. How quickly they can reload and shoot, however, is classified.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


The submariners and sailors who work in the torpedo room also sleep next to the torpedoes.

The submariners and sailors who work in the torpedo room also sleep next to the torpedoes. play

The submariners and sailors who work in the torpedo room also sleep next to the torpedoes.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


We were allowed to see only the backup diesel engine on the lower level, as the nuclear reactor is highly classified.

The engine. play

The engine.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)

The S9G pressurized water nuclear reactor propels the ship to 25 mph and beyond.



Near the diesel engine is the O2 generator, which provides oxygen to the ship through a ventilation system.

Near the diesel engine is the O2 generator, which provides oxygen to the ship through a ventilation system. play

Near the diesel engine is the O2 generator, which provides oxygen to the ship through a ventilation system.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


This marked the end of our tour. It was a very cool sensory-overload experience for which we thank the US Navy.

This marked the end of our tour. It was a very cool sensory-overload experience for which we thank the US Navy. play

This marked the end of our tour. It was a very cool sensory-overload experience for which we thank the US Navy.

(Daniel Brown/Business Insider)


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