Staff, Seapower Magazine
28 September 2017
WASHINGTON — The Navy’s Strategic Systems Program office has been focusing on a multifaceted life-extension effort for the Trident II D-5 missile system, which will keep those missiles ready and reliable through the service life of the Ohio-class strategic ballistic-missile submarines and provide the initial weapons load on the Columbia-class replacement boats, the program director said Sept. 28.
That effort is upgrading the missiles, their nuclear warheads and the shipboard systems essential to launch the Tridents, all of which will facilitate development of the Columbia, said Vice Adm. Terry Benedict.
“That’s going very well and we’re actually ahead of schedule,” Benedict told a conference on the nuclear deterrent Triad.
Other speakers at the conference emphasized the renewed threat the nation is facing due to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and Russia’s belligerence.
“Nuclear attack is still the most consequential threat this nation may face,” Vice Adm. Charles Richards, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said. “We need to modernize the Triad,” and the nuclear command and control system, he said.
Benedict said keeping his programs on schedule is essential because “there is no float, no slack,” in the projected time line for putting the first Columbia into service.
Benedict, who is in the last year of his eight-year tenure at Strategic Systems, noted that USS Kentucky conducted four test launches of D-5s last year, which were “the last tests of the latest D-5 system. From now on, every missile that we fly will be a D-5 life-extended missile with a new guidance subsystem and a new set of missile electronics.”
Although when most people think of the Trident life extension, they think of the missile, much of the work his office has been doing is on the shipboard systems, “which, I think, is much more complicated,” he said.
That work is upgrading fire control, communications and navigation systems and the launch tubes, he said.
Doing the onboard work is challenging because it has to be done during the 35 days the boats are in port between their 77-day patrols. And “every time I replace a piece, I’m not allowed to affect the reliability and accuracy of the system when the sub goes out to sea for 77 days,” Benedict said. Strategic Systems did that more than 30 times last year and will do it more than 20 times this year.
The office does that “because the system will get to a stable point in the early ’20s. And that is the system that I will baseline and will install on Columbia and Dreadnaught,” which is the British Navy’s replacement for its Vanguard ballistic-missile subs. “So, what we’re doing is using Ohio and Vanguard to make all the changes and that we will baseline and that will be the initial system on the replacement boats.”
That will reduce the risk in developing the new subs and “we’ll have the greatest confidence that when Columbia and Dreadnaught enter the fleet that those systems will work the first time they go to sea,” Benedict said.
The admiral added that his office, “in cooperation with” the Energy Department, is working on life extension of the Tridents’ nuclear warheads, which also will arm the replacement submarines. And he is supervising tests of future missile launch tubes at ground test facilities at China Lake, Calif., and Cape Canaveral, Fla., that will enable production of the launch tubes in Columbia and Dreadnaught.
“That design is correct and that design is ready to execute,” he said.
Wrapping up, Benedict said, “we’re programmatically on track. … We will sustain the life extension of Ohio and Vanguard through early ’40s. And, most importantly, as we execute life-extension programs when we deliver Columbia and Dreadnaught we will have absolute confidence that those two new platforms will enter operational service with no reliability or system performance problems because they been demonstrated on Ohio and Vanguard.”