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Navy Leaders Push SSBN Replacement

Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Pennsylvania (SSBN 735) returns to its homeport of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Maine in 2012. US Navy Photo

Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Pennsylvania (SSBN 735) returns to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Wash. in 2012. US Navy Photo

Ohio-Class Replacement nuclear ballistic missile submarine “is the right ship to operate in 2080” with construction scheduled to begin in 2021, the director of the Navy’s undersea warfare division told attendees during a panel discussion of future nuclear deterrence at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2013 at National Harbor, Md.

Speaking on 10 April, Rear Adm. Barry Bruner cited advances in ballistic-missile submarines being made by Russia, China, France, and the United States’ partner in the Ohio-class replacement, the United Kingdom, and have shown that they see “a lot of worth” in that kind of deterrence. “It’s also a survivability issue” that gives a “second strike” capability in the event of nuclear war. “We held the line on stealth” and the ship’s design is flexible enough for other kinds of payloads.

While a decision was made to slow design for two years, “there is no more room to slide the Ohio replacement to the right.” Plans call for 12 to be built.

Rear Adm. David Johnson, program executive officer for submarines, defended the Ohio replacement program as “affordable, capable and real progress” is being made in its design and development. He said he expects the cost to be $4.9 billion per vessel with $110 million projected to be spent on life-cycle sustainment.

The Navy and Electric Boat drove $3 billion out of design costs because “our focus has been on keeping this program affordable” while at the same time “rebuilding the SSBN industrial base.” Johnson said it has been 40 years since a ballistic missile submarine was designed in the United States and 16 years since the last ballistic missile submarine was built.

One way to control costs was to adopt lessons learned in producing the Virginia-class submarine, he added. Rear Adm. Terry Benedict, strategic systems program, said the replacement for the United States and United Kingdom would use the Trident II D-5 missile in its 16 tubes. Calling the sharing of missiles between the two nation “the most unique defense program,” he said the sharing “just makes sense” once there was agreement on a common missile compartment. The missile has a record of 146 successful test-flight launches.

As in other parts of the program, Benedict said a number of vendors of systems such as test tubes need to be recertified as production lines start up.

The administration and the Congress reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to nuclear deterrence in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, William Hoeft, group leader at Systems Planning and Analysis of Alexandria, Va., said. “We’ve tried the moral high ground” in nuclear deterrence even as nuclear weapons have proliferated since the mid-1990s. Now is the time the United States needs to “demonstrate firmness,” and “the element is the undersea leg” of the nuclear triad. “It’s essential we do not flinch.”

  • WRONG COAST Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Pennsylvania (SSBN 735) returns to its homeport of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Maine in 2012. Should be Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor as stated in the website you took the picture from, which is near Silverdale, WA.

  • Thanks for the correction to the photo caption.

  • Karl Schweickardt

    I served on 2 Tridents, USS Nevada (SSBN 733) & USS Alabama (SSBN 731), and I have a couple practical questions that non-Trident-submariner designers probably didn’t think about. So, maybe you can ask the “powers that be” and do a follow-up
    article. Thanks.

    (1) Most of the crew live in 9-man bunkrooms between the missile tubes in the 3rd level of the missile compartment (3-high: left, right and outboard with a passageway down the centerline of the ship). Going down to 16 tubes represents a commendable reduction in nuclear arms stockpile requirements and cost, BUT that’s also going to cut-out 8 bunkrooms, or at least 4 bunkrooms if they eliminate or move the Crew’s Study, Crew’s Lounge, COB’s Office and GUCL (General Use Consumables Locker). At a minimum, we’re talking about 36 crew members, and they all have jobs to do throughout the ship. Very few people onboard aren’t standing watch, so the crew size is necessary, or they would have reduced it long
    ago. I have to tell you, “hot-racking” sucks. Reducing the number of bunks by
    this much will necessitate “hot bunking”, because there simply won’t be enough
    places to move them in a smaller submarine. Don’t forget, they also want to increase the number of women on submarines.

    (2) Wouldn’t it make more sense to not reinvent the wheel, and simply improve the few design flaws in the Ohio class, like pipe hangers in a passageway at knee-height? Rather than eliminating any missile tubes, make new Tridents with updated technology, that can carry both conventional cruise missiles, like the SSGNs, and nuclear SLBMs, or even conventional SLBM bunker-busters. As world leaders
    negotiate down nuclear warhead numbers, more and more nuclear tubes can be
    converted to conventional, until the day comes when nukes are no longer needed.