Effects of the USS Thresher disaster upon submarine safety and deep-submergence capabilities in the United States Navy

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The loss of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Thresher (SSN 593) acted as a catalyst that accelerated improvements in submarine design, construction and operations. Such improvements resulted in a substantially safer submarine force, thereby making it more operationally reliable. The disaster also dramatically increased the influence of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover in submarine development by giving him the opportunity to promote the system of management he used as head of the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Branch. During Congressional hearings on the loss of the Thresher, Rickover convinced members of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy that his management system, based upon stringent standards of quality control and principles of engineering, was the standard that should be applied to submarine development. The disaster also highlighted the need for greatly improved deep-submergence capabilities within the fleet. Subsequently, deep-ocean search, location and recovery assets were developed, as well as improved deep-sea rescue capabilities.