The nuclear-powered submarine USS Florida was lying in wait, quietly submerged off the Libyan coast, when the order came from then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to launch its cruise missiles.
It was the evening of March 19. Two days before, the U.N. Security Council had unanimously voted to approve Resolution 1973, authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya aimed at protecting civilians against the forces of Moammar Gadhafi’s repressive regime. To clear the way for the no-fly zone, the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy prepared a barrage of more than 100 precision-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles.
With a capacity of 154 Tomahawks, the Florida — a former ballistic-missile boat converted to non-nuclear missiles in 2006 — was by far the most powerful Tomahawk shooter off Libya. The night of March 19 she fired no fewer than 90 Tomahawks, with deadly accuracy. “I could see their professionalism and determination in their faces,” Chief Fire Control Technician Lee Taylor, from Florida‘s strike fire control division, said of his sailors. They hunched over their consoles, carefully managing the underwater missile launches over a period of hours.