Navy Needs To Begin Looking For New SSBN Design, Navy Says

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Since 06-21-05

Excerpted from NSL UPDATE 06-15-05


By Geoff Fein, Defense Daily, 10 Jun 05

With the first of the 14 Ohio-class fleet ballistic missile submarines set to retire in 2030, the deputy director of Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) believes the Navy must begin designing a new ballistic submarine before
2015.

The first fleet ballistic missile submarine retires in 2030; one year after the next generation ballistic missile submarine would be deployed. After that, the Navy will lose one Ohio-class SSBN per year, said Capt. Craig Rankin, deputy director of Strategic SSP.

"The new design would have to be initiated in 2015. Maybe that needs to start early," he told Navy and industry representatives at the annual Navy Submarine League Symposium in Alexandria, Va.

SSBNs back-fitted for the Trident II D-5 ballistic missile will remain in service to at least 2042, Rankin said.

Extending the service life of SSBNs forced the Navy to extend the life of the sub's strategic weapons from 30 to 45 years, Rankin said. That has created a number of concerns.

"The LE [life extension] program is a very challenging one," he said.

For example, the missile production rate has slowed to a minimum of 12 per year until the LE missiles come online in 2013, Rankin said. The Navy will build 108 additional LE missiles in the following eight years, but then there "maybe a long drought in missile production until the next missile system arrives," he added.

Another issue is the reliability of the missile motors.

"The plan for missile inventory assumes missile motors do not reach out 30 years. This is not a conservative assumption," Rankin said.

Currently, the Navy has not identified any trends to show the motors won't last 45 years, he said. "But 45 years is far beyond the current experience with large high performance rocket motors." The Trident IC4 motors are just now approaching 27 years in service, Rankin added.

The program is exposed to some risk in the event that the Navy encounters problems with the motors. In that case, the service would have to restart motor production capability, Rankin said.

Although the SSBN tactical weapon system production schedule is tight, Rankin said he is confident the Navy will meet the FY '07 initial operational capability (IOC) date. Next week testing of the system begins on the USS Ohio (SSBN-726).

The SSBNs have also taken on several new missions, Rankin said. Last summer, SSP was assigned responsibility for the Large Diameter Launch Tubes for the SSGN, SSBN and Virginia-class submarines.

"The range of payloads and sensors that might go into these tubes is almost limitless," Rankin said. "SSP's challenge is to ensure that the tactical weapons system integrated into the Trident hole is flexbile enough to accommodate future, and as of yet unidentified, systems."

The Navy is looking at two types of interfaces for future payload deployment: cables that would penetrate the launch tube; and a wireless system from the submarine to the tube and between the tube and the payload or capsule, Rankin explained.

There are two types of deployed payloads to be integrated nonmarinized which use a tassel to hold payload, much like a Tomahawk cruise missile, and it would either be ejected from capsule or the capsule would be ejected and the payload deployed after the capsule surfaces, Rankin said.

The other type is a marinized payload that would likely be supported by a common cradle or elevator assembly that also provide docking and recovery if needed, he added.

In the area of non-deployable payloads, the Navy is looking at intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance packages that would use standard interfaces. Rankin said there is the potential to use the Trident C4 launch tube as basis for the design.

"We are moving ahead in this area. We assigned a senior executive service to take charge," he said.

Emerging missions for the SSBN fleet could include the sub launched intermediate range ballistic missile. Rankin said it could provide rapid and precise capability.

And SSP is also partnering with the Army to develop the Tactical Missile System Penetrator. "SSP is working under the Army to develop a conventional penetrator warhead for the Army tactical missile system," he said.

The third test launch is planned for July. Once that is completed, six will be deployed to U.S. forces Korea, Rankin said.

The missile would improve the capability to penetrate hardened targets and deep and buried targets, Rankin said. The missile has a maximum range of 137 miles.

"It's a great opportunity for SSP to develop this technology," Rankin said. "It could one day transfer to a sub launched missile."