I read earlier today that the US Navy’s new SSBN class is expected to serve until the 2080s. I wondered whether that was even remotely plausible. As American ships go, USS Kitty Hawk had a good run of it, hitting almost 50 years. I couldn’t find any American examples with a longer service life than that in commission and in active service today, but it turns out there are some out there. Here are four of the oldest warships in active service, by original commissioning date.
#3 – BAP Almirante Grau, formerly De Ruyter, Dutch-built cruiser in Peruvian service, November 18, 1953
Almirante Grau was laid down in 1939 by the Dutch, and launched in 1941 by the Nazis, so by that standard, she is indeed the oldest actual warship on this list. She’s also the most functional: a major refit between 1985 and 1988 gave her then-modern sensors and decoys, Otomat AShMs, and OTO Melara rapid-fire guns in place of her old Bofors mounts.
#2 – ROCS Hai Shih, formerly USS Cutlass, Tench-class submarine in Taiwanese service, March 17, 1945
Deserving of extra acclaim because she’s apparently still a reliably-submersible submarine built in the closing stages of the Second World War, she saw an actual war patrol in her days as Cutlass. She was transferred to the Taiwanese Navy in 1973, and has been in active service since. Her sister ship, ROCS Hai Pao, was commissioned in 1946 and transferred in 1976. They serve primarily as training ships and aggressors, and, incredibly, are still cleared to submerge 70 years after their commissioning.
#1 – BRP Raja Humabon, formerly USS Atherton, Cannon-class destroyer escort in Philippine service, July 26, 1943
The Philippine Navy is the oldest navy, on average, in the world; seven members of the Rizal and Miguel Malvar classes also date to before Hai Shih, and the Philippine Navy had two more Cannon-class ships before storms and whatnot sank them. Rajah Humabon is rather light on capabilities these days. Her ASW fit was removed due to lack of spare parts for Second World War-era sonars and depth charges; her gun director is no longer present; her weapons fit is exactly the same otherwise as in 1943.
Honorable Mention – U17 Parnaíba, Brazilian river monitor, March 9, 1938
After a brief huddle with parvusimperator, we decided that a river monitor is not a real warship, and doesn’t count. That said, Parnaíba is the oldest armed ship I was able to find in service with a navy, and deserves a spot on the list. She was commissioned before the next-oldest ship on the list, Almirante Grau, was laid down. She’s also definitively the oldest warship in service built by a yard in the country in which she currently serves, likely by at least two decades.
There you have it. A 65-year service life, as the Navy is proposing for the SSBN(X)-class, isn’t impossible, but it does seem highly suspect. All of these vessels were state of the art on their construction; the only one I wouldn’t instantly designate for scrapping is the Almirante Grau, and even with its modernizations, it probably isn’t worth the upkeep. 65 years from now, will the Navy’s new boomer be any different?