Paul Edward Parker, Providence Journal
20 November 2015
Governor Raimondo and the state’s congressional delegation joined officials from General Dynamics Electric Boat on Friday to celebrate the opening of a new facility where the shipbuilder will construct the hulls of the next generation of the nation’s ballistic missile nuclear submarines.
The company’s automated frame and cylinder facility portends thousands of new manufacturing jobs coming to Rhode Island. It also is the most visible evidence of progress toward replacing the aging fleet of Ohio-class submarines, part of the country’s nuclear triad of land-based missiles, long-range bombers and sub-launched missiles.
“Today is a shining symbol of the momentum we have going here in Rhode Island,” Raimondo told a crowd of Electric Boat employees gathered in front of a giant American flag in the new building, which cost $50 million to build and will house $75 million of specialized hull-building equipment.
Electric Boat, which has hired 600 workers at its Quonset Point shipyard in the last year to reach a total of just under 3,700 employees, expects to boost that number to 6,000 to build the new ballistic missile submarines.
“The Ohio-class replacement is the Navy’s No. 1 priority,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said. “From a national security perspective, this is the most important program that is under way right now.”
Current plans call for 12 ballistic missile submarines to replace the Ohio class of 14 subs. Two fewer subs are needed because the new ones will be designed so
that the nuclear reactors that power the ship do not need to be refueled during the lifespan of the submarine. Refueling an Ohio-class sub takes several years, so the additional subs are needed to cover patrols while subs undergoing refueling are in drydock.
The new submarines are expected to be 561 feet long — two feet longer than the Ohios — and 43 feet in diameter — a foot wider than the Ohios. They will have 16 missile tubes, compared with 24 on the Ohios.
“We may be Little Rhody, but we build big things,” U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.
While Electric Boat will start building the missile compartment of the lead ship in the new class next year, construction of the full ship is not expected to start until 2020. The first ship is expected to take seven years to build, while those later in the class will take closer to six years. The 12th and final sub of the new class is expected to be ordered in 2035 and delivered to the Navy in the early 2040s.
The missile compartment is being built ahead of the rest of the boat, in part, to accommodate the British Royal Navy, which is also beginning to replace its ballistic missile submarines. The two nations will share a common design for the missile compartment. Electric Boat will design the compartment and build the first as a prototype, and then each nation will build the missile compartments for their own submarines, Electric Boat President Jeffrey S. Geiger said.
William P. Lennon, the company’s vice president for engineering and design programs, said the missile compartments will be built with an innovative construction technique in which sets of four missile tubes, called a “quad pack,” will be fitted into a section of the hull as it is built, rather than the tubes being installed after hull construction.
That won’t be the only new technology used to build the submarines or found in them. “This next submarine has to get you to 2080,” Lennon said.
Most of that new technology is classified, he said, but some of it can be seen in the Virginia-class fast-attack submarines that the company is now building. As an example, a system of electronic cameras and sensors mounted on a “photonics mast” and hooked to computer display screens have replaced the traditional submarine periscope.
The Virginia class has been built in a teaming arrangement with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, with each company building parts of all the boats and alternating which shipyard finishes a submarine and delivers it to the Navy. Reed said that will change with the new ballistic-missile submarines. Newport News will build some components, but final assembly of all boats will be done by Electric Boat.
While fast-attack submarines are designed to hunt and sink surface ships and other submarines, ballistic-missile subs head out to sea and disappear, hiding in the depths with their nuclear arsenals, ready to destroy any nation that attacks the United States, hopefully deterring such attacks in the process.
“It’s the strongest leg of the nuclear triad,” Reed said. “They’re the hardest to find. They’re mobile.”
And, he said, they’re needed as much today as in the chilliest periods of the Cold War.
Russia and China are developing new military technology, he said. “And then you have rogue states like the North Koreans.”