Otto Kreisher, Seapower Magazine
24 June 2016
WASHINGTON — While the Navy’s top acquisition program is a replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, the admiral responsible for the Navy’s strategic systems said June 24 that his top priority is extending the service life of the Trident II missiles that arm the Ohios and will go into the first of their replacements.
The Trident II D5 missiles also are deployed in Great Britain’s Vanguard strategic submarines and will continue to arm their replacement, Vice Adm. Terry Benedict said during an Air Force Association breakfast June 24.
“The Trident was planned originally for a service life of only 25 years. However, it will serve throughout the remaining service life of the Ohio and Vanguard classes, and it will be the initial on-load of the Ohio replacement and [Vanguard] successor submarines,” taking it “long beyond its original service life,” Benedict, director of Strategic Systems Programs, said.
Life extension therefore “is essential to ensuring that the Trident remains the successful sea-based deterrent that it has been since the early ‘90s,” he told a forum on strategic deterrence.
Prolonging the operational life of the D5 requires upgrading or replacing all the strategic weapon systems and subsystems, including launchers, the navigation, fire control and guidance electronics and the W88 nuclear warheads in the Trident’s re-entry vehicles, he explained.
The continued reliability and accuracy of the updated missiles is being tested in an extensive schedule of flight tests that will total 14 shots over 18 months, in preparation for a planned initial operational capability in fiscal 2017, he said.
Benedict is part of the Navy team working to plan and then produce the replacements for the Ohio strategic deterrence submarines, which will begin to retire in 2029. The other team members are the program executive office submarines, which heads the overall design effort, and Naval Nuclear Reactors, which is developing the nuclear power
plant that is expected to last the entire service life of the new boat.
The admiral said his primary responsibility for the Ohio replacement was the middle section, which includes the common missile compartment (CMC) and the other strategic systems.
The CMC, which will have 16 missile tubes and the monitoring and control systems, also will go into the Vanguard replacements. The two navies worked closely to design the compartment and in a “truly unique” arrangement, each country will produce the CMCs it needs in its own shipyard, Benedict said.
Construction of the first 15 US missile tubes began in 2015, and the Navy is about to let a contract for the next 30, he said.
To reduce the technical risk for both the U.S. and U.K. programs, SSP is leading the development of the Strategic Weapons System Ashore integration and test site at Cape Canaveral, Fla., Benedict said.
The admiral praised the Navy’s historic cooperation on the strategic submarine programs with the British, and said that relationship would not be affected by Great Britain’s vote Thursday to “exit” the European Union.
Benedict said that based on a telephone exchange he had that morning with his Royal Navy counterpart, “I have no concern.” The Brexit vote “was a decision based on its relationship with Europe, not with us. I see yesterday’s vote having no effect.”
While concentrating on the service life extension of the Tridents, Benedict said his office also is beginning work on a new strategic missile to replace them sometime in the future. In that effort, he has been cooperating with the Air Force, which is actively seeking a replacement for its Minuteman III ground-based strategic missiles. That effort appears to be focused mainly on finding as many common subsystems as possible to help both services save money.
While expressing his support for all three legs of the nuclear deterrent Triad, which also includes the Air Force strategic bombers, Benedict noted that the Navy not only provides the “most survivable” leg, but is responsible for 70 percent of the deployed nuclear warheads under the 2010 New Start Treaty with Russia that limits each nation to 1,550 deployable warheads.