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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.”