Today’s commissioning of the submarine USS New Mexico (SSN-779) provides us with an outstanding opportunity to look back at the history of the first ship to be named after Land of Enchantment, the Battleship New Mexico (BB-40). The Battleship New Mexico made history when it was launched on March 23, 1917 because it introduced turboelectric drive to American capital ship design.
In a traditional steam turbine ship, the turbines drive the shafts and screws directly through a series of reduction gears. In a turboelectric ship, the turbines drive electrical generators, which provide electricity to motors that drive the shaft and screws. Turboelectric drives were heavier and more expensive than traditional designs, but they allowed greater subdivision and system isolation for damage control, and provided more efficient power both ahead and astern.
Turboelectric drive was used in the New Mexico class, Tennessee class, Colorado class, the never-built South Dakota class, and the aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga, which were originally designed as battle cruisers. After this burst of construction, the extra weight of turboelectric plants made their use prohibitive under 1920s naval treaties that limited warship displacement. But the concept has been revived for future warship design as a way to provide fuel-efficient, survivable, reconfigurable electrical power for warship combat and propulsion systems.
Welcome to the Fleet New Mexico (SSN-779)!