The USS Aspro (SSN-648) is a Sturgeon-class submarine built for the U.S. Navy in the mid-1960s. She was the second ship of the U.S. Navy to be named for the aspro, a long freshwater fish found abundantly in the upper Rhone River. According to legend, the aspro fish comes to the surface only in bad weather, when other fish retreat to the bottom.
The U.S. Navy awarded the contract for the Aspro to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi in March 1963; her keel was laid down there in November of the following year. She was launched in November 1967, sponsored by the wife of Robert H.B. Baldwin, a notable banker who was appointed Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War. The Aspro was commissioned on February 20, 1969 under the leadership of Commander Roy Wight.
Fresh from her commissioning in February 1969, the USS Aspro stopped at Key West, Florida to be outfitted with her torpedoes. She then reported to her home port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by way of the Panama Canal. After several weeks of upkeep, she reported to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on the coast of Washington for work on her fire-control system, then conducted tests off the West Coast for a month before returning to her home port. Later in the same year, the Aspro was used as an educational setting for prospective commanding officers and conducted weapons and nuclear reactor safety testing.
The submarine stayed in the waters around Hawaii in early 1970, first for weapons trials and later for upkeep at the Submarine Base Pearl Harbor. In July, she left for her first six-month deployment to the Western Pacific. The deployment would bring her to Yokosuka, Japan; Okinawa, Japan; and the Subic Bay in the Philippines. In December, she participated in an antisubmarine warfare exercise in the Gulf of Tonkin as part of Vietnam War operations. The Aspro returned to Pearl Harbor in February 1971, where she stayed for the rest of 1971.
The following year, 1972, saw the Aspro deployed a second time in the Western Pacific, participating in Seventh Fleet operations. She visited Pusan, South Korea; Sasebo, Japan; and underwent two weeks of upkeep in Guam before returning to Pearl Harbor in November. She spent 1973 in overhaul at the shipyard where she was first constructed, Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She reported back to Pearl Harbor in June 1974 and completed operations in Hawaii for the rest of that year.
The Aspro prepared for her third deployment to the Western Pacific in 1975, setting off from Pearl Harbor on May 29. Her first exercise was with the destroyer escort USS Rathburne (DE-1057), and she then proceeded to Yokosuka for a weeklong stay. Over the next several months she took part in exercises with the Seventh Fleet, received repairs at Subic Bay, and carried out exercises with the attack aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). The Mariana Islands were her next stop, where she remained until October, when she left for Hong Kong. In December, she returned to Pearl Harbor. After a tour of duty off the west coast of North American, the Aspro reported to Bangor in September 1976.
After a lengthy overhaul, the Aspro voyaged to San Diego, conducting acoustic tests along the way. Once at her destination, she underwent repairs and proceeded on to her home port of Pearl Harbor, where she conducted training exercises and prepared for an upcoming deployment – her fourth to the Western Pacific. That trip took her again to Okinawa, Guam and Yokosuka before she returned home. She resumed her regular operations in the Hawaiian waters for the rest of 1980. A fifth deployment to the Western Pacific commenced in September 1981, returning in March of the following year.
In July 1982, the Aspro took a five-week cruise to the California coast, taking part in antisubmarine exercises and the fleet exercise FLEETEX 1-82. She returned in time to prepare for a deployment to a far different climate; in partnership with one of her sister ships, the USS Tautog, the Aspro traveled to the North Pole in November 1982.
The years 1983 and 1984 brought the Aspro back to familiar territory – the Western Pacific – with two more deployments, separated by a time in drydock receiving repairs. In 1985 she conducted local operations and again visited the West Coast before heading again to the Arctic for cold-weather drills. She completed additional trips to the Arctic and the Northern Pacific Ocean before traveling to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California for an overhaul in November 1986.
The Aspro’s overhaul at Vallejo was extended because of the addition of new sonar and fire-control technologies; she also had new acoustic materials installed on her hull, making the Aspro one of the quietest subs in the Pacific Fleet. She returned to Pearl Harbor in 1989 after her crew made outstanding marks on both the Post-Overhaul Reactor Safeguards Examination and the Tactical Readiness Examinations. Before her career ended, the Aspro would deploy twice more to the Western Pacific and twice more to the Northern Pacific, and her crew further distinguished itself with the Battle Efficiency Award and Meritorious Unit Commendation.
The Aspro was decommissioned on March 31, 1995 and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was scrapped at Puget Sound Naval Shipayard at Bremerton, Washington as part of the Nuclear-Power Ship and Submarine Recycling Program. The scrapping was completed in November 2000.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Aspro (SSN-648)
Navy veterans who once served aboard the USS Aspro, as well as people who worked in the shipyard where the vessel was built and serviced, could be at risk of lung disease. While they didn’t know it at the time, these individuals were being exposed to a toxic substance that has been the cause of death for many thousands of people worldwide – asbestos.
Asbestos was used aboard all Navy submarines from the 1920s until the 1980s in pipe covering, insulation in boiler and engine rooms, gaskets, tape and fireproof materials. The mineral made these products fireproof – an important quality for materials used in confined spaces like a submarine. However, when the products aged, the asbestos particles within them were released into the air in the form of a fine dust. When this dust was inhaled into a person’s lungs, tiny asbestos particles became lodged in a person’s lung tissue, making breathing difficult and, for some people, causing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma cancer.
Sadly, there is no cure for mesothelioma, but there are treatment options that can extend a person’s days and improve their quality of life. People diagnosed with mesothelioma may also wish to explore their legal options. If you or someone you know were exposed to asbestos aboard a Navy submarine, explore your options today by requesting a mesothelioma information packet.Sources
Wikipedia – USS Aspro (SSN-648)
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships – USS Aspro (SSN-648)