Thursday, March 31, 2016

Watch a giant submarine break through Arctic ice

Rachel Becker, SLATE
30 March 2016
Thought scraping ice off your windshield was bad? Try shoveling it off the top of your submarine.
The U.S. Navy sent the submarines USS Hampton and USS Hartford to the Arctic for five weeks of biannual ice exercises, called ICEX2016. The submarine surfacing in this video is the USS Hartford, which left from Groton, Conn., to push through the ice near Camp Sargo, a command center floating on an ice sheet 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. After a crack in the ice appeared under Camp Sargo, 40 researchers were evacuated on Thursday, a week before the exercises were scheduled to end. The two submarines, however, are continuing their training and experiments.
Both the USS Hampton and the USS Hartford are Los Angeles Class submarines, which run on nuclear power and displace 6,900 tons of water when submerged. This class of submarine fits a crew of 140. Commander Tommy Crosby, a Submarine Force Atlantic spokesman who watched the USS Hartford surface, said that temperatures inside the sub hover around a luxurious 65 to 70 degrees, in stark comparison to the brutal 30-below-zero temperatures outside.
Ice exercises like this one have been conducted for decades, and, per Commander Crosby, are a combination of naval training and research expedition. Operating in the Arctic is particularly challenging, not just because of the cold water, but because the sea ice restricts a submarine’s access to the surface and interferes with both GPS and sonar navigational techniques.
Among the 35 organizations to participate, the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., has sent three teams of researchers to ICEX2016. One of these teams is investigating how Arctic conditions affect underwater acoustics and sonar. Another is using unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles to test navigation tools when surface ice blocks GPS signals and prevents surfacing. And a third team is setting up monitors to track how temperatures fluctuate at different depths. Water actually gets warmer at greater depths in the Arctic.
These ice exercises, Crosby said, help ensure the military can "operate when needed, whether it be transiting from one ocean to the other, or if any operations or science research that needs to take place in that area, we have the ability to do that.”
Undoubtedly, this is true. But also: it provides us with cool videos of nuclear submarines rising through Arctic ice. A solid outcome, no matter what else the exercises accomplish.

Russia's next two submarine projects feature very exotic tech

29 March 2016
Russia expects to complete detailed design work on its of its next-generation Project Husky-class submarine within two years. That’s what United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) officials told the Moscow-based TASS news agency earlier this week. However, the TASS report did not cite its source by name or offer direct quote.
Nonetheless, there some details that have emerged about the projected Husky-class follow-on to the Project 885M Yasen-class boats. For one, the new boats will come in two versions – which are being developed by the Malakhit Design Bureau – that will be based on a common hull design.
The primary difference will be in the two vessels’ weapon systems – the “interceptor” variant will not feature tubes to carry long-range anti-ship or cruise missiles. That version of submarine is expected to replace Project 971 Shchuka-B (NATO: Akula), the Project 945 Sierra and the remaining Project 671RTM Shchuka-class (NATO: Victor III) boats. The SSGN variant will replace the Project 949A Antey-class. The SSGN variant will also be armed with hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles.
The Russians are using the Project 855M Yasen-class as a starting point, but the new submarines will be smaller and cheaper than their Soviet-designed predecessors. Indeed, there are indications that Moscow will be extensively leveraging automation technologies developed for the Project 705 Lira-class attack submarine – better known in the West as the Alfa-class – for the new boats.
Russian analysts estimate that the next-generation submarines will displace no more than about 6,000-tons. Which means that another Soviet innovation might make a comeback – liquid metal cooled reactors. The Lira and several other Soviet designs used lead-bismuth cooled reactors, which produce much more power and are much more compact than pressurized water reactors. However, the disadvantage is that liquid-metal cooled reactors cannot be shut down and require specialized port facilities.
Russia will also incorporate composite structures in its next-generation follow-on to the Project 855M Yasen-class in the 2020s. The next-generation Russian nuclear submarines may use composite structures in an attempt to drastically reduce their acoustical signatures. But while the United States has used composite materials to reduce the weight, complexity and cost of parts for the Virginia-class submarine, the Russian efforts are far more ambitious. But this wouldn’t be the first time Moscow has experimented with novel materials to build submarines. Before its collapse, the Soviet Union pioneered the use of titanium hulls to increase the hydrodynamic performance of its boats.
“These are new multi-layer composite materials ... Their structure and composition reduce the sonar signals that are reflected from a submarine, isolate working mechanisms from vibrations, and so on,” said Valeriy Polovinkin, an adviser to the general director of the Krylov State Research Center, in an interview with the Russian-language daily Izvestia. “The opponent just will not get the required level of signal reflected from the submarine as the composite material has a high internal loss factor, or sound absorption properties can change when vibration occurs, completely preventing the spread of vibrational energy.”
The Russians hope to use composite materials for everything from the hull coating to the dive planes, rudders, stabilizers, propellers (or pumpjet propulsors), drive shafts and possibly even the hulls themselves. If the technology works, composite materials would greatly reduce the weight of various structures, increase the boat’s reliability and reduce operating costs. That’s because composites don’t corrode and thus wouldn’t need to be painted, Polovinkin said – reducing maintenance costs. Moreover, composite structures should simplify manufacturing by reducing part counts.
The new composite materials are still in testing, but Russia will test its first composite propeller design in 2018. “This is one of our institute’s most promising projects,” Polovinkin said. “This trend reduces vibration in the blades and increases the efficiency of the screw. These various effects will help improve the ship’s acoustic signature.”
Question as always with Moscow’s ambitious new projects is how Moscow hopes to pay for them even if Russia has the technical wherewithal to develop the technologies.

U.S. Navy orders ISIS imaging systems for sub periscopes

Michael Peck, C4ISR & Networks
29 March 2016
Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $9.5 million Navy contract modification for additional submarine imaging systems.
The company will provide five AN/BVY-1 Integrated Submarine Imaging Systems (ISIS), as well as spare parts, according to the Department of Defense contract announcement. The ISIS system includes replacing submarine periscopes with high-definition cameras, infrared cameras and image enhancement.
“ISIS rolls-up existing components and near term capabilities, and provides a robust architecture for efficiently inserting future capabilities as they become available for Technical Insertion Advance Processor Builds (TI/APB) Submarine Warfare Federated System process,” the Navy said.
It will be fitted to Los Angeles-, Seawolf-, Ohio- and Virginia-class submarines, as well as future vessel submarines.

$80 billion Ohio replacement plan is good news for Electric Boat

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Breaking Defense
29 March 2016
The Navy’s plan for building new nuclear missile submarines — the $80 billion Ohio Replacement Program — tips the balance between the nations’ sub-builders in favor of New England-based Electric Boat. Yes, the “Submarine Unified Build Strategy” carefully allocates work between EB, owned by General Dynamics, and Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding, owned by Huntington-Ingalls. Yes, the strategy was agreed to by both companies. Yes, there’s plenty of work to go around. But nevertheless the Yankee yard comes out ahead.
Electric Boat will do all final assembly for all 12 Ohio Replacement Program subs — each of which is roughly twice the size of a Virginia. Newport News will continue building key components, but it won’t do any of the final assembly. By contrast, under the current longstanding arrangement, Electric Boat and Newport News share equally in the work — and profits — for the Virginia-class attack submarine. (For a detailed analysis, read Congressional Research Service analyst Ron O’Rourke, who figured the plan out from Assistant Navy Sean Stackley’s testimony a month ago). Going forward, though, the Navy expects Electric Boat to get almost 80 percent of the Ohio Replacement work. In return, Newport News will get a larger share of work on the Virginias— but the plan doesn’t specify how much, because the Navy doesn’t know how much it’ll have to divvy up.
In the current setup, each yard specializes in building certain components, but take turns doing the final assembly, which includes the sensitive nuclear reactor work. (EB and NSS are the only yards left in the US that can build nuclear-powered vessels; NNS has an outright monopoly on aircraft carriers). Historically, the final assembly work was split 50-50, but the current block-buy contract for 10 Virginias is six to four in EB’s favor.
The Navy now buys two Virginias a year, one from each yard, and it desperately wants to keep buying two a year to keep pace with the rapidly growing Chinese navy. “The service can’t stop building multiple Virginias each year because the fleet would shrink to a point where it can’t cover intelligence gathering and other missions around the world,” said defense industry analyst and consultant Loren Thompson. “On the other hand, it must replace retiring Ohio-class ballistic-missile subs which carry most of the warheads in the nation’s nuclear deterrent” — which is increasingly relevant as China and Russia both grow more aggressive.
But even the Navy’s notoriously optimistic 30-year shipbuilding plan admits the service can’t afford all the vessels it needs. The official long-term forecast predicts Virginia production will drop to one attack sub in the years when the Navy also has to buy an Ohio Replacement.
Further complicating the calculations is that future Virginias will be larger and more expensive than the current ones, though they will be still far smaller and cheaper than Ohio Replacements. Since the fleet’s four cruise-missile submarines are aging out of service, the Navy wants to upgrade the Virginia class with a “Virginia Payload Module” that triples its cruise missile capacity. That’s a major military advantage that requires a major increase in workload.
“The Navy’s goal is make sure work is spread around so that neither Electric Boat nor Newport News is overburdened” or underused, said Thompson. Too much work at a given yard creates logjams and delays; too little, and the skilled workforce erodes for lack of practice.
So the Navy, as always, must carefully manage its industrial base, which is what this plan’s about. The open secret of naval shipbuilding is that good old-fashioned cutthroat competition is long dead, and the current market is much closer to how the Soviet Union allocated work between rival design bureaus — MiG and Sukhoi, for example — than to any kind of capitalism.
“With the introduction of OR [Ohio Replacement] and VCS with VPM [Virginia-class submarine with Virginia Payload Module], there is a significant increase to the workload of the nuclear shipbuilding industrial base,” Navy spokesperson Capt. Thurraya Kent wrote in an email. “During the time of OR submarine production, HII-NNS [Huntington Ingalls Industries – Newport News Shipbuilding] will perform approximately 22-23 percent of the work on OR as a subcontractor….. Given the priority of the OR Submarine Program, the delivery of VCS will be adjusted with HII-NNS performing additional deliveries.”
Note Capt. Kent doesn’t specify how many “additional deliveries” of Virginias there’ll be, if any. That’s because the Navy doesn’t know. The plausible worst case is zero.
It’s also worth noting that the new plan came from the Navy, which then got the companies to buy in. By contrast, the current division of labor on Virginia-class subs came from the companies, which then got the Navy to agree. “The VCS teaming agreement is between the shipbuilders and was developed at the start of VCS construction,” Kent said. “This optimal Submarine Unified Build Strategy was developed by the Navy and agreed to by the shipbuilders.”
All that said, a rising tide should lift all boats — or make it easier for them to submerge — and the tide is definitely rising for submarines as Pentagon leaders refocus from guerrilla warfare to naval battles and nuclear deterrence against Russia and China.
“Submarine work will be a growth market over the next 10 years,” said Thompson. “If I was picking a theme song that captures the meaning of this agreement for the submarine industry, it would be ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’ This segment of the defense sector is postured to thrive in the years ahead.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Royal Navy nuke sub to conduct ballistic missile test fir this summer

Staff, The Sun
26 March 2016

A Royal Navy nuclear submarine will test-fire an unarmed Trident II ballistic missile in early summer.
The display of power will be Britain’s first such launch in almost four years and comes at a key time.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon warned terror groups like IS could develop a nuclear warhead of their own.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is campaigning against replacing the Trident fleet of Vanguard Class subs when their service ends in 2030.
The Government has promised MPs a vote this year on the £40billion deterrent.
The exact date of the launch, expected to be from the re-fitted HMS Vengeance, is being kept a closely guarded secret — even from crew.
But sources told The Sun on Sunday it would come in a matter of months.

Britain wants to hunt subs with American planes

28 March 2016
The U.K. is gearing up to start hunting submarines and other targets with U.S. aircraft, notably the P-8 Poseidon, a militarized version of Boeing Co.’s 737 commercial airliner.
The Pentagon recently notified Congress that Britain plans to buy up to nine of the so-called submarine hunters as part of a deal worth $3.2 billion. The Chicago-based aerospace giant also has contracts to supply as many as two dozen of the planes to other international customers including Australia and India.
The company’s biggest customer for the aircraft remains the U.S. Navy, which plans to purchase a total of 114 of the twin-engine jets at an estimated cost of $32.4 billion to replace its aging fleet of P-3C Orions, a four-engine turboprop made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and introduced in the 1960s. took a tour of the P-8A last year at the Paris Air Show during which a naval flight officer said what sets the plane apart are its sensors, radios and sonobuoy launcher, as well as work stations that allow crew members onboard to hunt targets ranging from submarines and surface warfare ships.
The officer couldn’t offer many details about the unit’s recent several-month deployment to the Pacific region, but he did highlight the 28 submarine decals painted on the side of the plane, each of which represented a foreign submarine identified and located by the squadron.
The P-8 sensor suite includes an active multi-static and passive acoustic sensor system, an electro-optical/infrared sensor and a digital magnetic anomaly detector. It also carries an inverse synthetic aperture radar.
The Pentagon’s independent testing office recently concluded that the aircraft’s sensor system “provides an early P-8A wide-area, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) search capability similar to P-3C MAC search capability,” but also noted that the technology “is strongly dependent on the environmental conditions present in the search area and the actions taken by adversaries to avoid detection.”
The test report also concluded that while the sensor system “provides an effective capability in some environments and scenarios, it fails to deliver the full capability described by the Navy P-8A ASW concept of operations and MAC operational requirement documents.”
In the past, company officials have said described the acquisition program as “incremental” and “evolutionary,” with upgrades planned over time. For example, the aircraft is slated to receive software improvements, anti-submarine warfare upgrades, network-enabled weapons and additional sensor enhancements by 2021.
While the aircraft is better known for its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance abilities, it also has four wing pylons and two centerline pylons to carry weapons, including MK 54 torpedoes and AGM-84D Block 1C Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Are Doomsday submarines doomed?

New wave of drones could track "boomers" wherever they go and make them vulnerable to a first strike.

David Hambling, Popular Mechanics
28 March 2016

The U.S. and the U.K. are both readying their next-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, the vessels that would launch nuclear weapons from the sea. While both navies are keen to go ahead with these project and replace their aging nuclear subs, British politician Emily Thornberry ruffled feathers recently by suggesting that maybe nuke subs won't have a place in the future.
If a new wave of underwater drones could track the "boomers" wherever they go, then that would make nuke-carrying subs vulnerable to a first strike and useless for deterrence. Some have hurried to dismiss the worry as "tired old science fiction," since Thornberry is far from the first person to suggest nuclear subs could be vulnerable to attack. But is science fiction becoming science fact?
During the Cold War, the Soviets found themselves on the wrong end of an underwater technology revolution. America and its allies laid a chain of ultra-sensitive microphones called SOSUS (SOund SUrveillance System) on the seabed between Britain and Iceland and between Iceland and Greenland. Unbeknowst to the Russians, every Soviet nuclear sub that passed over SOSUS into the Atlantic was detected and quietly shadowed by a NATO hunter-killer submarine, ready to unleash a spread of torpedoes if the order was given. "I felt very comfortable that we had the ability to do something quite serious to the Soviet SSBN force on very short notice in almost any set of circumstances," U.S. Admiral David Jeremiah told a symposium on Operational Intelligence in 1998.
The question today is this: Has underwater tech advanced so much since then that a new threat, nation-state or otherwise, could put our subs at risk? As Thornberry pointed out, there are two big challenges so such tracking: communications and battery life. Both are starting to look a lot less daunting.
Underwater communication has been improving rapidly over the last few decades, relying mostly on sound pulses with less bandwidth than radio frequency. Just as computer users have seen a shift from squawking, low-speed modems on analog lines to digital broadband, underwater communication speeds have lept forward. In the 1980's the standard was a mere 80 bits per second with no error correction. Now many kilobits per second are expected, and that's fast enough for underwater robots to be controlled wirelessly without the need for a tether. These improvements have come from new techniques for modulation and coding, aided by the ready availability of processing power. Speeds are still improving.
Underwater communications are typically limited to a few kilometres, but the other big development has been acoustic networking. Communications can now travel from one underwater vehicle in short hops via intermediaries, just like our own internet, so communication networks can spread over a wide area. A recent exercise by the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in
San Diego showed how multiple underwater and surface robots could be networked together to carry out a task cooperatively. Building a wireless version of the Cold War SOSUS starts to look like a viable prospect in the next few years.
The other great challenge is power—giving underwater drones the energy for long-duration missions. But there is one type of unmanned submarine which is uniquely well-suited to long-endurance missions. It's called the underwater glider. Developed by Teledyne Webb in 1991, these gliders are generally about six feet long and resemble a torpedo with wings. Instead of using a propeller, the glider increases its buoyancy and rises slowly, "gliding" forward underwater as it does so. When it reaches the surface, it reduces its buoyancy and glides on a shallow angle downwards. It's a slow but steady form of propulsion. In 2009, the Scarlet Knight glider from Rutgers University crossed the Atlantic in seven months.
With no engine noise to interfere, gliders can carry microphones so sensitive, as one researcher put it, that they can "hear a fish fart." In fact, one project used a glider to track shoals of fish off Florida by sound alone.
Naturally, the militaries of the of the world have been all over this technology. The U.S. Navy already has a number of projects using fleets of sea gliders. In 2010, an American counter-intelligence report noted that the Chinese were targeting this technology specifically. China's indigenous glider, the Sea Wing, was launched at the Shenyang Institute of Automation in 2011, and since then there have been a vast number of Chinese underwater glider projects. Most notable is the Haiyan or Petrel designed at Tianjin University. The Haiyan is a hybrid that has a propeller for rapid tactical maneuvering in addition to the buoyancy engine. Chinese state news reports indicated that the Haiyan may be used for mine-hunting and anti-submarine warfare, and analysts suspect the new Y-8GX-6 anti-submarine aircraft may act as a flying control station for a large number of Haiyan. The gliders would indicate the approximate location of a submarine, which the aircraft could pinpoint with its Magnetic Anomaly Detector (resembling a gigantic metal detector) before attacking.
The Haiyan can stay at sea for about a month, but China is working on ways of extending that. One solution is an underwater docking station where Haiyans plugs in and recharges. Another approach, one that Teledyne Webb considered with the original Thermal Glider, draws energy from the temperature difference at different depths. The "temperature difference engine," developed at Tianjin like the Haiyan was, would mean the glider would not require any external power for propulsion, only for its sensors and navigation. And in 2015, researchers at Northwestern Polytechnic University at Xi'an demonstrated a wave-power generator for gliders that taps the seas themselves to produce a trickle of power sufficient for the on-board electronics.
Other Chinese researchers are working on improving the dynamics of the glider design. Like U.S. Navy engineers before them, they are experimenting with flying-wing and blended-body concepts in which the glider resembles a manta ray with the wings and fuselage fusing into a single streamlined body. The U.S. developed this concept into the Liberdade series of gliders, which looked highly promising before being apparently canceled in 2011. This type of design gives more lift and less drag, making it faster and more energy-efficient, and may replace the traditional torpedo shape over the coming years.
Improvements in electronics, including the powerful, low-voltage processors produced by the smartphone industry, are making gliders and other underwater drones steadily smarter and cheaper with more effective sensors. While gliders are not capable of forming an all-seeing anti-submarine sensing network yet, the pieces are already falling into place.
The U.S. SSBN(X), America's next nuclear submarine that will cost $95 billion for 12 subs, will not come into service until 2031. The UK's Trident successor will be a year or two later, at a cost of about $44 billion for four subs. Both purchases are being made on the assumption that the new boomers will hide in the ocean depths and not, like the unfortunate Soviets, be spotted and tracked from day one. As such, defense strategists are counting on gliders and other drones not making much progress in the next 15 years…which would be surprising given their progress thus far.
Not long ago, a celebrity could walk down the street without seeing a camera. Now the mobile phone industry has produced billions of cameras, all with internet connections to make everything instantly sharable. If Thornberry is right, then the SSBN(X) will suffer the same fate as it leaves port, being mobbed by scores of small, cheap, digital sensors, unable to find seclusion and privacy anywhere.

U.S. Navy names Electric Boat prime contractor on new class of ballistic-missile subs

Ana Radelat, CT Mirror
28 March 2016
WASHINGTON – The Navy on Monday released a new submarine construction plan that makes General Dynamic Electric Boat the prime contractor on the costly Ohio-class replacement sub program.
The Navy also said it would move assembly and delivery of some Virginia-class submarines to Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, but it does not say how many.
In December the Congressional Budget Office said the total price tag of the Ohio-class replacement boats will be between $102 and $107 billion. Congress still has to appropriate funds for the program.
In announcing its new Submarine Unified Build Strategy (SUBS), the Navy said it plans concurrent production of the ballistic-missile-firing Ohio-class replacement submarines and Virginia-class attack submarines. Construction of the first Ohio-class replacement sub is scheduled to begin in 2021, and deliveries of Virginia-class subs will continue through at least 2023.
The Navy’s new plan also calls for adding a new payload module into the Virginia-class boats that will make them longer and give them more firepower. To deliver all the boats on time and maximize efficiency, the Navy decided to adjust the workload between the two shipyards and shift assembly and delivery of some Virginia-class subs to Newport News. Currently both EB and Newport News build major components of the Virginia-class subs, and assembly is split between the two shipyards.
“To execute this strategy," the Navy said Monday, "General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation has been selected as the prime contractor for (Ohio-class replacement subs) with the responsibilities to design and deliver the twelve (Ohio-class replacement) submarines.
Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding will participate in the design and construct major assemblies and modules, leveraging their expertise with Virginia-class construction,” the Navy said in a statement.
The Navy also said, “Both shipbuilders will continue to deliver [Virginia-class submarines] throughout the period, with Electric Boat continuing its prime contractor responsibility for the program. Given the priority of the [Ohio-class] submarine program, the delivery of [Virginias] will be adjusted, with [Newport News Shipbuilding] performing additional deliveries. Both shipbuilders have agreed to this build strategy.”
Electric Boat, which has major facilities in Groton and nearby Quonset Point, R.I., did not have an immediate response to the Navy’s announcement.
But Connecticut lawmakers said it gives Electric Boat a big boost.
“For Connecticut, today’s announcement underscores the positive outlook for growth, not just at the Groton shipyard, but across the region and state," said Rep. Joe Courtney, whose 2nd congressional district includes Electric Boat’s shipyard and the New London Naval Submarine Base.
Courtney said, “With Electric Boat now firmly at the lead of this top national priority, in addition to the work already being done on our Virginia-class submarines, our region can continue to have confidence in the growing impact that this work is having on Groton and the hundreds of suppliers who work every day to support our submarine program.”
Courtney also said the Navy had told him it intended to maintain a two-a-year pace for building Virginia-class subs through at least 2023, including an added boat in 2021.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “Today’s announcement by the Navy solidifies Groton’s position as the Submarine Capital of the World.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. said, “The U.S. Navy continues to invest in Electric Boat for one reason: they're far and away the best company when it comes to advanced undersea warfare.”

Subs to become stealthier through acoustic superiority upgrades, operational concepts

28 March 2016
The submarine community is focused on maintaining access and boosting acoustic superiority after operating in relatively permissive environments for several years, two Navy officials told USNI News.
Director of Undersea Warfare Rear Adm. Charles Richard told USNI News in a March 22 interview that the submarine community knows how to operate in a stealthy mode, but “we’re not taking our stealth for granted and we’re not taking this competitive advantage we have for granted.”
To that end, he said, the Navy is building an upcoming Virginia-class attack submarine, the future USS South Dakota (SSN-790), with acoustic superiority features for the fleet to test out and ultimately include in both attack and ballistic missile submarines in the future.
Richard said the under-construction South Dakota will feature a large vertical array, a special coating and machinery quieting improvements inside the boat. The boat is on track to deliver early despite the changes, he said. Once South Dakota joins the fleet – in 2018, according to the boat’s commissioning committee – lessons learned from the acoustic superiority features will help inform enhancements built into future Virginia class boats and the Ohio Replacement Program boomers, as well as the legacy Ohio-class ballistic missile subs and some Virginia-class boats.
“Stealth is the cover charge, stealth is the price of admission, and while we have great access now we don’t take that for granted either,” Richard said.
“Making the right investments to maintain acoustic superiority over a potential adversary” is of high importance to the Navy today, and the South Dakota project represents “a clear national investment in acoustic superiority.”
Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley told USNI News in a March 3 interview that acoustic superiority items, some of which will be built into the ship and some of which will be added during the ship’s post shakedown availability, “will kind of become the standard for what we do in various forms between Ohio Replacement, future Virginias and even backfit some on the Ohios and some of the delivered Virginias to make sure that submarine force is pacing the threat of these new highly capable submarines that are being delivered” from other navies like Russia and China.
Jabaley added that as the Navy looks at its next class of attack submarines, the SSN(X), stealth will be a key factor in the design and could lead to the Navy selecting an electric drive or other advanced propulsion system to eliminate as much noise as possible.
“I’m not just talking about the propeller or propulsor, it’s the whole propulsion system from power generation to motion through the water,” he said in the interview.
“How am I going to get beyond the limitations of a rotating set of blades and the unavoidable noise that I just can’t get below?”
Richard said that operational concepts were also important to maintaining a stealth advantage. The Navy is capable of operating in a stealthy manner but hasn’t had to in recent years, making it important for submariners to practice command and control in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) type environments, where the submarine may not be able to report back up the chain of command to minimize its electromagnetic signature. Thinking about undersea warfare in the context of a peer competitor will help the Navy learn where submarines fit into various scenarios, whether it means getting into a restricted area and sharing information back to the fleet that other assets couldn’t access, or remaining stealthy and reporting back only after a mission is accomplished.

Arctic submarine maneuvers test capability below the ice

28 March 2016
ANCHORAGE – Diminishing Arctic Ocean ice due to climate warming has been blamed for everything from changing weather patterns to the decline of animals that rely on frozen habitat. But submarines? Seriously, the U.S. Navy has studied the Arctic ice for over half a century, using submarines to explore changes beneath the frozen surface. This invaluable data has a dual purpose.
Picture this ... an unbroken landscape of white stretching beyond the horizon. Suddenly, something dark breaks through from below, pushing through a six foot thick blanket of frozen seawater. On March 17, 1959 the USS Skate did exactly that, punching its hatch through ice at the North Pole, after having traveled three thousand miles in and under the ice for a month.
Said Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, “Submarines, they adjust their buoyancy and so that will cause them to surface, but with ice, it just takes a little more power. Then, you have to end up getting a crew out and then you have to sort of get the ice off the vessel, because there is still some of it, and if it is thick, two feet thick, pull out the chain saws and the ice picks and you go to town to clear a space for the hatch.”
Gallaudet is the oceanographer for the Navy and head of the Navy’s Meteorology and Oceanography Command. Gallaudet is just back from ICEX, this year’s Navy ice camp, located some 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, where he witnessed a similar submarine exercise.
He says the ice camps, which started in the late 1940s, have served to allow the Navy and scientists, to gather information on the region long before climate change became a household phrase. Research at the camps provides data for the National Ice Center, but the camps are primarily designed to assist the Navy’s defense preparedness.
“This is nothing new. We’ve done this for decades, over 65 years of Arctic operations with our submarine force. And that’s what this is, a continuation of maintaining that level of proficiency. In fact, the one submarine that surfaced, that I was on board, it is doing a transfer from San Diego to Portsmouth Maine, via the Arctic, because it is the fastest route.”
Gallaudet’s command keeps track of ice thickness, because the data helps route the submarines underneath the thinnest ice, so it is easier for them to surface. While underneath the ice camps, the subs are put through their paces to determine capability.
“Primarily, to do a submarine exercise, you want to know where the subs are, send directions to the sub commands, and observe their operations so we can learn how well they do them, and to do that you have to establish a camp, drill holes through the ice and put in hydrophones and acoustic communications devices to direct the submarine operations.”
One aspect of thinning ice has important applications – it has changed the Navy’s ability to read sonar.
“And because the ice has been retreating so rapidly, it’s all different now. We can now see a lot longer with out sonar, or listen is the right word. We can detect at much longer ranges at certain depths, when we listen or our subs or for other subs or activity, due to some interesting oceanographic phenomena that are occurring because there is less ice.”
He says an elite group of sub pilots is trained to read forward looking sonar to detect hazards, like ice formations that can drop down as far as two hundred feet underneath the surface.
Gallaudet says the Navy has published an Arctic Roadmap ... a plan that addresses what the Navy needs to do to respond to new requirements now that disappearing ice his leading to more human activity in the region. He says, at this time, the Navy is more concerned with future military threats, and the requirements to meet those threats, than it is with providing ice breaking capability for surface vessels.
This year, the Navy partnered with Canada, Norway and the UK in the ice exercise. The Alaska Air and Army National Guard provided support for the camps.

Navy sub construction strategy: Electric Boat to focus on Ohio replacement, Newport News more attack subs

28 March 2016
The Navy released a Submarine Unified Build Strategy (SUBS) for concurrent Ohio Replacement ballistic missile submarine and Virginia Class attack submarine production through at least 2023, with the plan calling for Newport News Shipbuilding taking on additional responsibilities with the Virginia class to help General Dynamics Electric Boat more efficiently deliver the new class of boomers, service officials told USNI News on Monday.
To deliver the first Ohio Replacement Program (OR) boats on time and cost without sacrificing performance on the Virginia-class submarines – and while adding a new Virginia Payload Module segment into the attack boats – the Navy decided to look holistically at the workload across the two yards and make adjustments.
“To execute this strategy, General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation (GDEB) has been selected as the prime contractor for OR with the responsibilities to design and deliver the twelve OR submarines. Huntington Ingalls Industries- Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) will participate in the design and construct major OR assemblies and modules leveraging their expertise with VCS construction,” Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya Kent said in a statement today.
“Both shipbuilders will continue to deliver [Virginias] throughout the period, with GDEB continuing its prime contractor responsibility for the program. Given the priority of the OR Submarine Program, the delivery of [Virginias] will be adjusted with HII-NNS performing additional deliveries. Both shipbuilders have agreed to this build strategy.”
Under the current Virginia-class delivery plan, each yard builds different sections of the submarine, and the yards rotate where final assembly and delivery takes place. The new SUBS plan will have Newport News take a larger role in final assembly and delivery to free up the workforce at Electric Boat so they can focus on the Ohio Replacement Program.
“This strategy aligns OR and [Virginias] to achieve best cost by analyzing key components including submarine shipbuilder construction capabilities and capacities, required schedules, contracting approaches, cross program procurement strategies, funding, legislative authority, material availability, and supplier capacity and capability while balancing warfighter requirements,” Kent said.
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), whose district includes the Electric Boat yard and who serves as the top Democrat on the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said today he was pleased that the plan also calls for continuing to build two Virginia-class subs a year through at least 2023 – whereas the Navy had previously called for building only one in 2021, the first year the service will buy an Ohio Replacement boat. The Navy is facing a submarine shortfall beginning in about 2025, and building the second attack sub in 2021 will go a long way in reducing the severity and length of that shortfall, Navy officials have said.
Director of Undersea Warfare Rear Adm. Charles Richard (OPNAV N97) told USNI News in a March 22 interview that building the second SSN in 2021 “is one of the best opportunities that we have to take action to address” the upcoming shortfall.
“It paints about 27 percent of that trough, so you get that back, and that’s an opportunity you won’t have after that point – you will have other opportunities, they just wont be as effective,” he said, explaining that the 2021 submarine would erase the shortfall in years the fleet will be short just one boat and will lessen the severity of the shortfall in other years.
“And from a program I think some have described as getting 10 for the price of nine (in the previous block buy), now that they’re giving you a chance to potentially get 10 for the price of 9.4 or something and do it again, I think that’s something that deserves a hard look in terms of can we take advantage of that opportunity.”
Courtney said in his statement that combatant commanders and Navy leadership have been increasingly urgent in their testimony recently about “the pressing need to also sustain the two-a-year build rate for new attack submarines.”
“Over the last two months, experts and major combatant commanders have made it clear that our current fleet is strained beyond its ability to meet the demand for undersea capabilities – and that we need to do all we can to mitigate the looming shortfall in the decade ahead.
“The plan released today leverages the deep talent and unmatched skills of the hard-working shipbuilders at Electric Boat, and their partners in Newport News, Virginia,” Courtney added in his statement.
“The replacement of our sea-based strategic deterrent is a pressing and multigenerational commitment to our nation’s defense. With the talent of our industrial base, we have risen to this challenge in the past, and by applying the same successful approach of the team
delivering the Virginia class submarines today, I am confident that we will do so again.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

French, German and Japanese submarine makers vie to impress Australia in underwater arms race

David Wroe, The Sydney Morning Herald
25 March 2016

After more than 30 years roaming quietly beneath the world's oceans, French nuclear attack submarine the Rubis is about a year away from a well-earned retirement.

Her missions are classified. But based on the type of operations these workhorses of the French navy have been doing in recent years, she might have patrolled the Caribbean Sea to stop drug smugglers, or if a merchant ship or oil rig were captured by pirates off Africa, French naval commandos might parachute into the sea from a plane to be picked up by the Rubis.

The submarine could then glide silently up to the hostage vessel and send the commandos swimming out through the torpedo tubes to board the vessel and overpower the pirates.

She might have captured vital intelligence on Muammar Gaddafi's regime from just off the Libyan coast. Or she might have provided protective muscle to the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier which has just returned from the Persian Gulf supporting air strikes against the Islamic State group.

Or she might have scouted the seas to clear the way for the ultra-secret French ballistic missile submarines, her bigger cousins who provide a nuclear deterrence year round and whose precise whereabouts even the French President doesn't know at any given moment.

"It's what we call in French a 'couteau Suisse' – a Swiss army knife," said Admiral Louis-Michel Guillaume, France's submarine forces commander, after Fairfax Media was given a tour of the Rubis as it goes through maintenance at Toulon on the Mediterranean coast earlier this month.

"Every time there is a crisis in the world which is close to the sea, I have my phone ringing up and the operational vice-chief of the defence staff saying, 'Can I have a submarine to go there?'"

France is one of three bidders – the others being Germany and Japan – in what has turned into a Herculean contest to build Australia's new submarine fleet at a cost of at least $50 billion.

As feats of engineering, submarines are rivalled only by spacecraft. And despite the best efforts of anti-submarine technology, the silent killers retain a fundamental stealth edge by being underwater, invisible to radar.

With global maritime trade increasing, control of the seas is more important than ever – one reason China's maritime assertiveness is causing such anxiety.

In response, the global defence market has spoken: emerging nations are spending their newfound wealth building up submarine forces, meaning half the world's submarines will be in the Indo-Pacific region within 20 years.

Each of the Collins replacement bidders is fiercely spruiking their assets. Japan is running partly on its strategic advantages, in that a partnership would tighten the brotherhood of democracies against the unsettling rise of China. Germany is running as a safe pair of hands, having delivered 161 submarines to 20 navies before.

France is pushing its technical prowess and in particular its status as a complete submarine power, making large ballistic missile submarines, smaller nuclear attack submarines and conventional, diesel-electric boats – the type Australia wants to buy.

A tour of French shipbuilder DCNS's shipyard at Cherbourg on France's channel coast shows the mammoth effort involved in designing and building a submarine.

The incomplete first boat of the new Barracuda class, named the Suffren – which will replace the Rubis next year – sits in a massive factory, naked-looking and covered in wiring, pipes and holes over which the outer pressure hull will be welded.

It is 100 metres long, has about 1 million components and will take 8 million man hours to construct. A car has about 3000 components and takes 23 man hours to make.

"The submarine is the most difficult thing in the world to make," explains Olivier Theret, who heads a team of 70 engineers doing testing and quality control. "The final objective is the safety of the person on board; they're the ones who sign up to go out there."

Theret tests everything that will go into the Barracudas. He has plates of steel sitting in salt water for up to 20 years to test for corrosion. He tests the welding work up to leak tolerances of three microns – narrower than the width of a human red blood cell.

In a neighbouring factory, steel sheets up to 20 centimetres thick are cut using super-high-pressure water jets containing gritty particles, which unlike a blowtorch don't damage the metal. The steel is then shaped into hull sections using massive presses that exert 12,000 tonnes of pressure.

Submariners themselves have already helped fine-tune the interior of the Suffren using virtual reality that allows them to walk around and get a feel for it. They've made thousands of suggestions to the design team.

All of this would have to be replicated in Australia if – as is virtually certain unless the government has lost its political marbles – the bulk of the construction work is done at the ASC shipyards in Adelaide. DCNS says a largely Australian construction would create 2900 direct jobs in Australia.

Australia's submarine needs are very particular, requiring a long range to reach places like the South China Sea but without the endurance of nuclear power. Without a

local nuclear industry, Australia is stuck with buying conventional diesel-electric boats, which are slower over long distances and cannot stay underwater indefinitely.

France is proposing a conventional version of the Barracuda class, which sounds rather like asking a horse to pull a Ferrari, though DCNS chairman Herve Guillou said last week the conversion was "very easy" and has been done before.

The other bidders face technical challenges as well. The Japanese Soryu submarine doesn't go far enough for Australia's needs. Its endurance must be improved.

DCNS's top executives caused ripples last week when they suggested the Japanese are rushing ahead with high-tech lithium ion batteries – despite being unproven and therefore possibly dangerous – because otherwise the Japanese boat won't go far enough.

The Germans meanwhile have never built a submarine as big as the one Australia needs.

On top of all this, Jacques Cousquer, Asia-Pacific director for the procurement branch of France's Defence Ministry, said that margins have to be built into new submarines so they can be updated and evolved over the next 30 to 40 years. This will include everything from improved sonars to better hull stealth coating to the ability to launch swarms of underwater robots.

"This is important because the threat is moving … and if you wake up and discover a new threat that you haven't thought about yesterday, it'd be a pity," Cousquer said.

Somehow all this knowledge and expertise must in turn be transferred to Australians so that we have some sovereignty over the technology and in particular the ability to maintain the boats.

Australia isn't just buying a submarine, it's entering a technological marriage with another country for decades to come. The increasingly fractious public battle between the bidders – evidenced last week by DCNS's swipe at the Japanese over lithium ion batteries – suggests that marriage might be as complex as the futuristic submarines themselves.

Future undersea warfare will have longer reach, operate with network of unmanned vehicles

Megan Eckstein, USNI
24 March 2016
THE PENTAGON – The future attack submarine fleet will have a longer reach, deliver a range of kinetic and nonkinetic effects and be better able to share information without compromising stealth, the Navy’s Undersea Warfare Director (OPNAV N97) told USNI News this week.
Rear Adm. Charles Richard said the attack submarine fleet represents the Navy’s greatest asymmetrical advantage, and the undersea community needs to work to maximize that advantage as technologies and the operating environment evolve.
“How do you take greater advantage of the fact that you have access?” he said in an interview in his office on Tuesday.
“How can I improve my sensing capability? How can I grow longer arms with better missile capability, better torpedoes?”
On the weapons side of this effort, Richard said the Navy is working on several projects that will increase the strike range of the attack submarines. The service is adapting the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) to have an anti-surface ship attack capability, which will benefit the Navy’s surface ship and submarine fleets. Richard said the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request also contains funding for innovative torpedo prototype work, which would look at longer ranges, greater capability and multiple payloads.
Even the existing inventory of torpedoes is set for improvements, with the Navy creating a technology insertion program – modeled after the Acoustic Rapid Commercial-off-the-shelf Insertion (ARCI) combat system improvement program for the submarines themselves – to increase the heavyweight torpedoes’ sensors through hardware and software upgrades.
Looking ahead, Richard said that understanding how submarines use nonkinetic effects is one of his top priorities. The Navy needs to decide “what capabilities would be of benefit to a combatant commander in a situation that is somewhere in the gray between peace and all out war type conflict,” and which of those effects might be best delivered by a submarine.
Submarines today, and even more so in the future, will not only deliver weapons but will also carry a family of unmanned underwater and aerial vehicles to help extend their area of influence. Richard said the Navy has bought about 150 3-inch unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and about a dozen 21-inch UAVs that are fully integrated with the submarine and send information back. The submarine community also has 16 21-inch Littoral Battlespace Sensing Autonomous Underwater Vehicles coming into the fleet for additional intelligence-gathering underwater.
In the future, though, Richard said there will be more UUVs, but “they won’t always come by submarine, they may come by a number of mechanisms – you may launch them from a surface ship, they may be launched from the pier. It’s just a capability, a node in an undersea constellation that will include the seabed, fixed distributed systems. Not all UUVs are going to look like little submarines, there’s a bunch of different ways to put this effect in there.”
This idea plays into Richard’s view of the undersea domain – operations shouldn’t be platform-centric but rather domain-centric. In a graphic of future underwater operations, Richard said “the submarine’s not in the middle of the picture. That’s intentional to show that it is just part of a larger system that we’re putting out there.”
“In the end, what I have to get in an environment is sensing capability, command and control or decision-making capability, and effects. If you go back far enough in time, the only way to get it there was to bring it with you. That’s no longer true,” he said.
“I can put sensing into the undersea environment by having it mobile and carrying it on a submarine. I can put it potentially on an unmanned vehicle. I can fix it, distribute it and drop it in; maybe it has a little mobility. Or I can fix it to the seafloor. That’s the question you have to go ask yourself, what’s the best distribution of all of that.”
The Navy is hard at work starting to answer some of these questions. N97 released a report to Congress last month called “Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (AUV) Requirements for 2025,” which outlines with web of fixed and mobile undersea sensors, as well as charging stations on the seafloor and other support systems.
In addition to tackling current undersea missions – nuclear deterrence, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, strike, mine warfare and more – AUVs may take on new missions like deception, counter AUV, seabed warfare, electromagnetic maneuver warfare and nonlethal sea control. Some may be as small as today’s 3-inch vehicles, while others could be larger than seven feet across.
Richard said the Navy is identifying what technologies they should begin looking into for this 2025 vision. An N97 Future Capabilities Group was reenergized about a year ago and is leading the way in pursuing the ideas within the AUV roadmap.
Fielding this network of unmanned vehicles and seabed nodes will require advances not only in the unmanned vehicles themselves but also in undersea command and control, as well as a better understanding of how submarines can operate in the electromagnetic spectrum, Richard said, identifying that as another of his top priorities for the undersea warfare community.
“That’s the one we’re putting a lot of effort into, how do undersea platforms operate in the electromagnetic spectrum? So I see a lot of potential there for us to change our abilities, change our capabilities and make a bigger contribution to the force in that area,” he said.
“Several of my next [aspirational capabilities] involve electromagnetic spectrum, involve that command
and control piece. LPI/LPD – low probability of intercept, low probability of detect – communications.
In some cases, a submarine is the only sensor the Navy has in an area. While at times it’s most advantageous to remain stealthy and not communicate back to the fleet, the ability to use the EM spectrum in more situations “to feed [information] back to a larger picture at the operational level or a fleet scale is something we’re looking really hard at.”

How shoddy parts disabled $2.7 billion attack submarine

The Virginia-class attack sub USS Minnesota

David Larder, Navy Times
27 March 2016
In early 2015 engineers on a brand-new submarine made a troubling find: A pipe joint near the innermost chamber of its nuclear-powered engine showed signs of tampering.
The defective elbow pipe, used to funnel steam from the reactor to the sub's propulsion turbines and generators, showed evidence of jury-rigged welding that could've been designed to make it appear satisfactory. But the part was already installed, the sub already commissioned.
These defective parts, each probably valued on the order of $10,000 or less, have kept the $2.7 billion attack submarine Minnesota languishing in an overhaul for two years, while engineers attempt to cut out and replace a difficult to reach part near the nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, Navy engineers are scouring aircraft carriers and other submarines for problems and criminal investigators are gathering evidence.
The unauthorized parts are impacting three new Virginia-class attack submarines, likely extending the post-shakedown overhauls for the other two subs and adding greatly to the final tab at a time these fearsome vessels are needed around the globe to defend carrier groups and strike America's adversaries. It's also trapped its crew in limbo as repair deadlines come and go, while other subs must take their place.
The Minnesota, the 10th Virginia-class attack boat, was delivered 11 months ahead of schedule. But it has been in the shipyards at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut for two years - more than twice as long as a normal post-shakedown availability. It still has months to go. The plankowner crew has spent only a handful of days at sea since joining the fleet and experts say they're likely to forfeit their whole deployment cycle, forcing fleet bosses to make tough decisions about whether to extend deployments or withhold forces from missions overseas.
News of the lousy parts first emerged in August, a month after the Minnesota was to have finished its overhaul. Since then, a Justice Department-led investigation is examining the quality control issues that led the shoddy part to be installed in the $2.7-billion sub.
The same shoddy elbow joints were installed aboard attack subs North Dakota and John Warner, forcing the Navy to spend millions of dollars and many more months to repair them. If these pipes ruptured, they would leak steam and force the submarine to take emergency measures that would impair its combat effectiveness.
Minnesota's repairs should be completed sometime this summer, according to Naval Sea Systems Command, but for many of the officers and crew that may be too late. They'll have to report to their next tour of duty without having deployed, which they worry could hurt their careers, said Brian Skon, the head of the Minnesota Navy League, who helped sponsor the commissioning ceremony and stays in touch with the crew.
"They're frustrated," Skon said. "They want to be underway, they want do a deployment. I spoke with the chief of the boat and he's been very clear: he wants to be a COB on deployment."
At the center of the debacle is pipe-maker Nuflo Inc., a Jacksonville, Florida-based manufacturer that is the focus of the investigation into quality control issues, according to two Navy sources familiar with the inquiry. The investigation has delayed the repairs so that agents can recover evidence, sources said.
With 120 employees, the pipe maker bills itself as "the primary manufacturer of fittings for U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers and Submarines," according to their website. Nuflo has provided parts for the carrier Theodore Roosevelt's recent mid-life refueling overhaul, as well as for the new carrier Gerald R. Ford, according to various news reports. Neither the Nuflo's CEO or spokesperson responded to repeated calls and emails for comment by March 25.
The setback for what has been the Navy's most successful shipbuilding program is startling because Virginia-class has been in production for more than 15 years, according to a defense acquisitions expert.
"This is an unusual situation, especially since this is a relatively mature program," said Dan Goure an analyst with the Lexington Institute, based in Arlington, Va. "It's also surprising that the yards would have had this problem."
Making matters worse are concerns that the flawed pipe fittings may extend well beyond the three identified attack submarines. In a statement, NAVSEA, which oversees ship construction and maintenance, said it has sent inspectors across the fleet to test Nuflo-made fittings on other ships.
"As part of an ongoing investigation into a quality control issue with a supplier, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Incorporated, Newport News, determined that fittings supplied by the vendor in question required additional testing and repair due to incorrect test documentation, incorrect testing, or unauthorized and undocumented weld repairs performed on these fittings," a NAVSEA spokeswoman said in the statement. "The fittings, which are used in various piping applications aboard new construction submarines, are also installed on other ships. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, the Navy, in coordination with its industry partners, has been performing additional inspections and surveys throughout the fleet to fully bound the issue."
The full scope of the problem remains unclear. NAVSEA declined to comment on whether any other shoddy parts had been found on other ships, citing the ongoing investigation.
"NuFlo has been doing business with the Navy's nuclear enterprise for some time now," said one industry source who asked to speak anonymously due to the Justice Department investigation.
The Virginia-class submarine is a joint project between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls. A spokeswoman for HII declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation. A spokesman for Electric Boat deferred all questions to NAVSEA.
'Gold standard'
The Minnesota's plankowners in the late summer of 2013 were eager to take one of the fleet's most lethal ships out for a spin.
"I think it will be one of those defining moments in our careers," said Senior Chief Machinist's Mate (SS/DV) Jody Reynolds in a Navy release, marking all the effort to establish a great command.
At its commissioning ceremony, the brass took a victory lap. The sub was delivered 11 months ahead of schedule and they cited it as proof that the Virginia-class program was the "gold standard" in defense acquisitions.
Then Minnesota entered the yards. It was supposed to last less than a year.
The post-shakedown availability would repair problems identified at inspections and in sea trials. The work, valued at $57.2 million, would be completed by February 2015.
That was extended to July, which became public a month later when the deadline was missed and Navy Times' sister publication Defense News reported that the joints were sidelining three submarines.
NAVSEA's latest completion estimate is sometime "this summer," according to their statement. This means Minnesota's post-shakedown repairs will have lasted more than two years - as much time as it takes to refuel a Los Angeles-class attack sub.
By contrast, the post-shakedown availability for the Virginia-class attack submarine California, the eighth of the class, was completed in 2013 in just 11 months.
All of this is ending up on the shoulders of the crew. If the PSA had gone off without a hitch, Minnesota would be nearing its first deployment, said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer. To top it off, a big chunk of the plankowners are likely never to deploy with their boat.
"For the crew it sucks because most of them came on not long before commissioning with the understanding that they would be doing a post-shakedown period in the yards, then work-ups then a deployment," said Clark, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "Now you've got a whole crew of people who will spend their whole time in the shipyards or work-ups but never deploy."
Mounting pressure
Meanwhile, the demand for attack boats, capable of running spy missions or delivering stealthy special operations teams against well guarded adversaries, is nearing Cold War levels.
In February, U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Harry Harris, whose forces must respond to the growing tensions between China and its neighbors, testified that attack subs were among his most pressing needs; the fleet was only meeting 62 percent of his demands for attack boats, he said. In October, the 6th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. James Foggo, said he needed more attack boats in Europe in part to counter Russia moves.
"The Russians have always fully funded their submarine capabilities and as they've evolved, they've become better," he said. "They've become quieter and more capable adversaries. So we need to watch that more carefully and we need to watch our presence in the undersea domain."
Spokespeople for the Navy and NAVSEA declined to provide an estimated cost for Minnesota's extra year in the shipyards or to say how much it will likely cost to fix the John Warner and North Dakota. The Navy spokesman acknowledged that maintenance delays affect what ships are sent on deployment, but declined to go into any specifics about how other crews were affected.
"Generally speaking, delays in maintenance periods will impact the overall operational availability of the submarine force," Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said. "Leaders regularly review operational schedules and adjust them based on force availability and presence requirements. Attack submarines, which are always in high demand, will continue to be deployed when and where they are needed most."
No subs have been recalled from deployment for related repairs, NAVSEA said. But the parts must be replaced within a few years of its commissioning to reduce the risk that the joint will leak or even burst in a combat scenario.
It the pipe joint were to rupture, it would not cause a radioactive incident. But it could effectively render the submarine unable to operate for weeks or months until fixed. The crew of the attack submarine Jefferson City discovered a water leak in the propulsion plant; finding and fixing that kept the sub stuck in Guam for five months in 2014.
A ruptured steam pipe inside the reactor compartment could short out sensors and electronics, said a retired submarine engineer who spoke on background. The crew would need to shut down the reactor, vent the compartment and ultimately enter it to address the issue, which would be extremely hot and pose a heat stress risk.
While this kind of rupture isn't catastrophic, it would disrupt operations, the former engineer said.
'Difficult' job
The flawed fittings are joints in the 10-inch pipes that direct steam heated by the reactor core to the propulsion turbines and electrical generators that power the sub. These parts are to designed to maneuver by obstructions and around corners and often resemble pieces of metal macaroni.
Defense News reported in August that the Minnesota had one of the bad elbows installed; John Warner has three and North Dakota has six. The Nuflo-made parts initially failed magnetic test inspections that showed "minor surface indications," then successfully passed ultrasonic test inspections after minor repairs.
But further testing by Electric Boat using acid etch inspections, which can reveal cracks in metal, showed the unauthorized welds.
When parts are delivered to the builder, one industry source explained, they have to be certified with documentation showing who made it, with what tools and where, and how it was tested to meet the standards. So when the undocumented welds were discovered, red flags went up.
The repairs to Minnesota are time-consuming and expensive, according to two sources familiar with the work. The reactor must go through a lengthy process to set the right conditions before a repair worker can enter the compartment, which was designed never to be refueled. For this reason, these parts were built to last 35 years or beyond, the full life of the submarine. And these fixes require highly skilled technicians to work in areas where radiation limits how long they can be in the space.
"This is a really complicated and difficult cut and weld job," one Navy source said.
What's not clear is how long the repairs of John Warner and North Dakota will take, how many other ships have these deficient fittings, and what the total cost will be in terms of money and lost operational time.
The Navy refuses to comment while the investigation grinds on.
Defense News Staff Writer Chris Cavas contributed to this report.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Russia's 1st Yasen-Class sub is combat-ready

Staff, Maritime Executive
24 March 2016
Russia’s first Project 885 Yasen-class submarine, Severodvinsk, is now combat ready.
The vessel and crew have undergone a range of tests including deep-water submergence and the use of the navy’s submarine rescue vehicle.
The 120-meter (390-foot) Severodvinsk was commissioned in December 2013 and is the first of up to six in its class (sometimes also referred to as Graney, Granay or Severodvinsk class).
The next, Kazan, is expected to be launched later this year. Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Arkhangelsk are under construction.
Severodvinsk is speculated to have cost around $1.6 billion.
Armaments include 24 vertical launch tubes for various cruise missiles including the P-800 Oniks which have a range of about 300 kilometers (186 miles). The submarine also has eight 650-mm torpedo tubes for torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.
The submarine has a crew of about 90, suggesting a high degree of automation, although some sources put the number as low as 50. U.S. Virginia-class submarines have a crew of 134.
The hull is made of low magnetic steel, and the vessel has a spherical bow sonar. According to Western intelligence estimates, the Severodvinsk is probably only slightly quieter than the improved Akula-class submarines it is superceding. However, it has expanded missions with better anti-submarine capabilities including the first Russian spherical sonar.
The new multipurpose submarines are all being built at the Sevmash yard in northern Russia. Sevmash is the largest ship-building complex in Russia, and the only shipyard in the country to focus on building nuclear submarines for the navy.

General characteristics
Displacement: Surfaced: 7,700–8,600 tons, Submerged: 13,800 tons
Length: 120 meters (390 feet)
Beam: 15 meters (49 feet)
Propulsion: 1 x KPM type pressurized water reactor
Speed: Surfaced: 20 knots, Submerged (silent): 28 knots, Submerged (max): 35 knots
Range: unlimited except by food supplies
Test depth: 600 meters (2,000 feet)
Complement: 90 (32 officers)

France pitches nuke submarine option for Australia

Staff, Sky News
24 March 2016

Australia's new submarines will need the range and endurance to patrol far out into the Pacific or Indian Oceans or up into the South China Sea.
For that, a nuclear boat would be ideal. Nuclear subs - nukes - can travel fast and stay submerged almost indefinitely, without the need to come to periscope depth every few days to run a diesel engine to charge batteries.
Submariners refer to this periodic need to come to the surface as the 'indiscretion rate'. It's when a submarine is most vulnerable to detection.
Successive Australian governments have ruled out the nuclear option for the 12 next-generation subs which will replace the Navy's six Collins boats.
But a future government could head down the nuclear path, perhaps around mid-century, and Australia
would be part of the way there should it choose French shipbuilder DCNS' Shortfin Barracuda as our new sub.
That's because this design is a derivative of the company's new Barracuda nuclear attack submarine, fitted with diesel-electric propulsion instead of a nuclear reactor. As part of its sales pitch, DCNS is touting a nuclear growth path.
'If, in 2050, Australia wants a nuclear submarine, they can design a nuclear submarine,' DCNS chief executive Herve Guillou told AAP this week in Cherbourg.
The DCNS bid offers Australia the eventual capability to come up with our own submarine whether nuclear or conventionally powered.
Deputy chief executive Marie-Pierre De Bailliencourt says the Shortfin Barracuda was conceived from a vessel designed to nuclear standards, especially safety.That's all way down the track.
In the meantime DCNS has to convince the Australian competitive evaluation process panel its proposal is better than those of Germany or Japan.
German firm TKMS is proposing its 4000-tonne Type 216, a new design based on its widely exported Type 214.The Japanese government is offering its 4200-tonne Soryu-class boat, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation.
Of the three designs, only the Soryu actually exists and is in service with Japanese navy. However, it would still need substantial modifications to meet Australian requirements for range and endurance.
Whichever design is chosen, it will certainly be built wholly or mostly in Australia at the ASC yard in Adelaide, with the first entering service in the early 2030s.This will be Australia's biggest-ever defence procurement by a large distance, costing as much as $50 billion for acquisition and perhaps $150 billion through their life.DCNS has emerged as a strong contender.
De Bailliencourt believes the Australian government and defence force only accepted their's was a serious bid after former defence minister Kevin Andrews and defence chiefs visited the DCNS yard at Cherbourg where the first of the new Barracuda-class is under construction for the French navy. It will be launched next year.
DCNS is the only shipbuilder in the world constructing both nuclear and diesel-electric subs. Its Scorpene conventional design has been exported to India, Malaysia, Chile and Brazil.
The 4500-tonne Australian version will be 2.5 metres shorter and 200 tonnes lighter than the nuclear Barracuda. 'De-nuking' the design is no trivial technical challenge.
The reactor, a unit about the size of a Smart car, and its shielding, steam turbine and back-up diesels will make way for six large diesels.
There will be a large bank of conventional lead-acid batteries. A major design change will involve creation of a large tank around the rear hull for diesel fuel.
Shortfin Barracuda will retain Barracuda's innovative and secret pump-jet propulsion. Gone will be the traditional periscope, replaced by mast-mounted TV and infrared cameras. Some technology will be familiar - the all-important Thales sonars are similar to what's used on the six Collins subs.
DCNS isn't offering air-independent propulsion (takes up too much space) but may eventually offer lithium-ion batteries, a promising technology but one not yet proven as sufficiently safe for use in submarines.
The company is scathing of Japan's proposal to power its Soryu boats with lithium-ion batteries from the outset.'We know that the technology is the same one used in cars and in cars they explode,' De Bailliencourt said.
It's also scathing of Japan's proposal for technology transfer - the country has never exported any defence equipment, let alone something as complex as a submarine.
Guillou likens this to learning rock-climbing by starting with Mount Everest.
Many security analysts have pointed to the strategic benefits of Australia buying Japanese subs, especially as the US focuses more on the Asia-Pacific.
But DCNS says Australia will remain a close strategic partner of Japan whether we buy the Soryu or not, simply because of geography.
Buying French brings its own strategic benefits. France has military forces in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and is an active partner in the fight against Islamic State in the Middle East, which neither Japan nor Germany can claim.
'Japan is a given. Why don't you given yourself Europe on top of it,' De Bailliencourt said.
Defence correspondent Max Blenkin travelled to France as a guest of DCNS.

Russian sub combat patrols nearly doubled in 2015

Franz-Stefan Gady, The Diplomat
23 March 2016
Russian submarines conducted almost twice as many combat patrols in 2015 as during the previous year, the Russian Navy deputy commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov, said on a Russian television channel last week, according to TASS.
“Since January 2015 and up to now the time they’ve spent on combat patrol missions increased almost twice,” Fedotenkov stated. This comes on top of a 50 percent increase in the number of combat patrols from January 2014 through March 2015, TASS explains.
Fedotenkov’s statistic is supported by Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, commander of NATO’s Maritime Command, who said in February 2016 that Russia has been deploying its submarine force in the Atlantic Ocean at the highest levels since the end of the Cold War.
NATO sub commanders have seen “more activity from Russian submarines than we’ve seen since the days of the Cold War,” Johnstone said. This is “very different from the period of quiet submarine activity that perhaps we’ve seen in the past,” he noted (See: “Russian Submarine Activity at Highest Level Since Cold War”).
As I reported back in February:
Simultaneously, the technical capabilities displayed by Russian submarines have increased. It is “a level of Russian capability that we haven’t seen before,” the admiral says. The Russian Navy accomplished this “through an extraordinary investment path not mirrored by the West” and has made “technology leaps that [are] remarkable, and credit to them.”
Russian submarines currently patrolling the oceans “have longer ranges, they have better systems, they’re freer to operate,” he underlined. In addition, NATO has “seen a rise in professionalism and ability to operate their boats that we haven’t seen before,” explained the admiral.
In a February 2016 testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry B. Harris, emphasized that Russia has also stepped up its activities in the Asia-Pacific region. “Russian ballistic missile and attack submarines remain especially active in the region,” Harris said. “The arrival in late 2015 of Russia’s newest class of nuclear ballistic missile submarine (Dolgorukiy SSBN) in the Far East is part of a modernization program for the Russian Pacific Fleet and signals the seriousness with which Moscow views this region.”
The Russian Pacific fleet is currently operating one Borei-class (aka Dolgorukiy-class), Project 955, fourth generation nuclear-powered ballistic submarines (SSBN) and is slated to receive another sub of the same type in August or September 2016.
The Russian Navy also recently announced that its first Yasen-class nuclear-powered multi-purpose attack submarines (SSGN) has completed operational trials and will soon begin combat drills. “Operations trials of the [Yasen-class] Severodvinsk submarine are over and the submarine is ready to fulfill its designated missions. The Severodvinsk’s crew is currently completing measures necessary to put the submarine into service and to take to sea for planned combat training sessions,” a Russian military spokesperson told TASS.

Get ready, China: Tech breakthrough could turn U.S. subs into carriers

Harry J. Kazianis, The National Interest
22 March 2016
The mighty American nuclear-powered attack submarine: they were, at least until very recently, supposed to be the secret sauce, the big stick that America and its allies would use against China or Russia if things got ugly – and for good reason.
With both nations along with Iran and others developing anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities that make it tough for traditional power projection tools like aircraft carriers to patrol critical waterways in a crisis, stealthy American submarines seemed the best way to ensure tactical and strategic advantage – waging war below the waves of deadly A2/AD battle-networks. U.S. attack subs were even at one point the main ingredient for America’s main effort to turn A2/AD on its head, the always controversial and misunderstood Air-Sea Battle Concept.
But as all things, advantages that once seemed long-lasting can erode and decay over time. With advances in new ways to detect submarines that move far beyond simple acoustics and with China beginning to place critical sonar nets in places where U.S. submarines would surely sail in times of trouble, many have begun to worry that America’s technological sophisticated subs could become the “battleship” of the twenty-first century.
So what is America’s best and brightest to do? There has been discussion in professional circles of having American subs fight from range – i.e. turning them into something akin to underwater aircraft carriers launching undersea style drones, or what is many times referred to as UUVs, to take the fight to the enemy from a distance. And if impressive early research that is making the headlines today bares fruit, submarine-style underwater carriers could become a reality – with some important bonuses.
According to a press release from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, researchers have crafted “an innovative unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can stay on station beneath the water, then launch into the air to perform a variety of missions.”
While such research seems to be in a very early state, such news is a promising development, for sure. If – and this is a big if – such a UAV could be scaled into something larger and adapted with an offensive role in mind, like being able to deploy out of a submarine torpedo tube or vertical launch tube, carry sensors and some sort of weapons load, the U.S. Navy would have a platform that can perform surveillance and go on the attack from distance. Such a platform could go a long way in negating the challenges U.S. submarines could face in the years to come. In fact, U.S. subs could really become underwater flattops that could conduct surveillance and attack from the air and in the water – two-domain flattops, if you will.
It gets better. The systems in the works has some interesting feature sets worth mentioning and are different than my own vision and what most experts think of when it comes to merging subs and UUVs – indeed, something far better.
The system John Hopkins is building, the Corrosion Resistant Aerial Covert Unmanned Nautical System – or CRACUNS – is described as “a submersible UAV that can be launched from a fixed position underwater, or from an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) [my emphasis]. A team from APL’s Force Projection Sector worked with fabrication experts in the Research and Exploratory Development Department to
create a new type of unmanned vehicle that can operate effectively in two very different arenas: air and water.”
Make special note of the mention that this UAV could be launched from a UUV. Imagine this possible scenario, if the research pans out: a future U.S. attack submarines launching a drone-like UUV that goes out hundreds of miles on a surveillance or strike mission that can launch its own UAV – into the water or up into the sky. Yes and read that right, underwater drones having their own drones. Wow.
The release also raised the possibility that such a platform could be developed in large numbers, creating some amazing advantages, stating: “CRACUNS’ low cost makes it expendable, allowing for the use of large numbers of vehicles for high-risk scenarios.” Maybe UAV swarms? Yes, it’s OK to get excited now.
“Engineers at APL have long worked on both Navy submarine systems and autonomous UAVs,” explained Jason Stipes, a project manager for CRACUNS. “In response to evolving sponsor challenges, we were inspired to develop a vehicle that could operate both underwater and in the air.”
And it seems this new system could have some amazing potential. According to the release CRACUNS “enables new capabilities not possible with existing UAV or UUV platforms. Its ability to operate in the harsh littoral (shore) environment, as well as its payload flexibility, enables a wide array of potential missions” and that it can also “remain at and launch from a significant depth without needing structural metal parts or machined surfaces.”
CRACUNS also has an interesting feature that would be of extreme importance in an underwater drone: the ability to operate in the harshness of saltwater. To make that happen, researches explained that they had to seal “the most sensitive components in a dry pressure vessel. For the motors that are exposed to salt water, APL applied commercially available protective coatings. The team tested the performance of the motors by submerging them in salt water. Two months later, they showed no sign of corrosion and continued to operate while submerged.”
“CRACUNS successfully demonstrated a new way of thinking about the fabrication and use of unmanned systems,” noted APL’s Rich Hooks, an engineer who was responsible for the additive manufacturing techniques developed for CRACUNS.
All this sounds great. However, back to that big “if” again – can this all be adapted into a truly usable surveillance, and ideally, strike platform? Could this be scaled up and used as a primary UUV weapons platform or will this stay as an extension of a UUV, only being launched from larger UUVs? How much range can this have – above and below the water? What would be the sensor and weapons loadout?
As you can see in this video from APL, the design of today looks rather small and unsophisticated. Could this basic concept be developed into something much more robust? Whatever the case, the research that went into this design could always be the start of something much more advanced in the years to come, as is often the case with military tech.
Lots of questions, but it all seems very exciting – and likely to keep planners in Beijing and Moscow scratching their heads. All a big win, no matter how you slice it and dice it. Keep your torpedoes crossed.
Harry Kazianis is a non-resident Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute as well as a fellow for National Security affairs at the Potomac Foundation.

U.S. Navy replacing Doomsday nuke subs with even stealthier ones

Scott Tharler, Maxim
22 March 2016
The fact that the United States currently has 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines trolling unknown waters just waiting to initiate a nuclear counterstrike against anyone foolish enough to fuck with us is one good reason why nations don't. And the Navy's executing a program to replace these powerful, stealthy vessels—known as SSBNs or "boomers"—with even more advanced subs.
The key to its survivability and effectiveness will be an electric-drive propulsion train, making it quieter than its mechanically-driven predecessors. Also, as opposed to requiring a lengthy 4-year midlife nuclear refueling and overhaul process, these new SSBN(X) models will only need a 2-year overhaul, since their nuclear cores will be designed to last throughout their entire 42-year tenure.
Another ramification of this lifelong fuel supply is that a smaller fleet of these submarines—only a dozen—will be able to do the same job, since their time out of the water will be shorter.
Each SSBN(X) will be equipped with sixteen 87-inch wide tubes to launch missiles carrying multiple nuclear warheads each more powerful than what was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
These Ohio replacements will be procured by the Navy over a 14-year span starting in 2021 and actually go into service starting in 2030, by which point several of the original SSBNs will have been decommissioned.
The total cost for this program will be nearly $100 billion, including $11.8 billion in research and development and another $84 billion for the subs themselves. After the first (and traditionally most expensive) one is procured for $14.5 billion, the Navy hopes to get the cost of the others down just below $5 billion each. Not a bad price to pay for "strategic nuclear deterrence."

Congressional, U.S. Navy leaders break ground for vital 'next era' ballistic missile facility

John Joyce, Southern Maryland Online
22 March 2016
DAHLGREN, Va. - Congressional and military leaders broke ground for a new facility considered vital to the Navy's Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Program, March 18.
Four speakers—Capt. Brian Durant, Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.—described the building as crucial to the top-priority SLBM program responsible for 70 percent of the nation's nuclear deterrent capability.
SLBM systems have provided a reliable, secure strategic deterrent for the nation since 1960.
"What you do here today and in the future is absolutely critical to the defense of our country," Benedict, the Navy's Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) director, told a civilian and military audience, predominantly Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) personnel.
"The Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) and United Kingdom's Vanguard Successor Program will require the expertise of Dahlgren in order to be successful," said Benedict. "Your efforts have specifically resulted in the 60 plus years of success for SSP and the Fleet Ballistic Missile Program."
Wittman called the $22 million building, "a great milestone" for the development of submarine launched ballistic missiles, stating that it will enable Navy civilian scientists and engineers to keep "our Fleet Ballistic Missile Programs on track".
The facility will feature state-of-the-art labs, offices, and equipment for more than 300 NSWCDD Strategic and Computing Systems Department scientists, engineers, and technical experts who develop, test, and maintain the SLBM fire control and mission planning software.
"Our facilities are part of generating readiness," said Wittman. "We want to ensure that you are working in facilities that will enable you to do that job. Thank you for the fantastic work you do."
NSWCDD has been a key member of the SLBM team since the program's inception, and will continue throughout the next generation of submarine known as the new Ohio-Replacement Program.
The first Ohio Replacement Submarine—a future nuclear submarine designed to replace the Trident missile-armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines—is scheduled to begin construction in 2021.
The speakers emphasized that the NSWCDD facility will help ensure that the Ohio Replacement Submarine remains a strategic deterrent into the 2080s.
"Ohio Replacement submarines are important to how we keep this nation safe," said Kaine, adding that, "this program is helping our greatest ally (Great Britain) help make the world safer."
In addition to the new NSWCDD Missile Support Facility, the Ohio Replacement Program will use facilities managed by the Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and several industrial and shipyard sites to perform early evaluation of ship systems and subsystems.
In his welcoming remarks, Durant recounted Dahlgren's history, especially its ability to deliver unique solutions to the warfighter, from a tractor mounted gun during World War I to the current laser weapon system deployed on USS Ponce (AFSB-1).
"As we break ground on this new facility housing our Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile program, we mark another great milestone in the history of NSWC Dahlgren," said Durant, pointing out that the SLBM program has a long association with NSWCDD.
"From the beginning, the Navy looked to Dahlgren for a solution," he recounted. "Our engineers demonstrated that the division was uniquely qualified to undertake the work, in large part because of its experience in ballistic computations and the computing capability that existed at that time at Dahlgren."
The command's SLBM accomplishments culminated in Jan. 7, 1960 with the first launch of a Polaris missile from a submarine—the USS George Washington (SSBN-598).
Over 56 years later, the NSWCDD commanding officer reflected on the impact of that launch at the groundbreaking for the command's new Missile Support Facility.
"As a testament to the high quality of work performed here at Dahlgren, the commander of the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) relayed to President Eisenhower the success of the first submarine launched ballistic missile: Polaris—from the deep to target—perfect," said Durant.
Over the years, the Polaris Program evolved to the Poseidon Program and then to the Trident Program, each with greater targeting accuracy requirements.
"In 1970, roughly five branches with 75 people were working on SLBM programs," said Durant. "Today, our Strategic & Computing Systems Department has nearly 300 people still working on SLBM. This new facility is a testament to the value of their efforts and what it provides to the nation and will continue to reinforce the foundations of the SLBM program here at Dahlgren."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Russia confirms higher level of submarine activity

Karl Soper, Washington DC - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
23 March 2016
The Russian submarine force has significantly increased its operational tempo, according to local media reports marking Submariners' Day on 19 March.
Russian Northern Fleet nuclear-powered submarines were underway for 1,500 days last year, 50% more than in 2014, navy spokesmen reported.
These at-sea days included the initial combat patrol of the first Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Yury Dolgoruky and patrols by Delta IV-class SSBNs Karelia and Novomoskovsk , Oscar II-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarine (SSGN) Smolensk , Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) Pantera , Victor III-class SSN Obninsk , Sierra II-class SSN Nizhny Novgorod , and others, according to Vice Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, the commander of the Northern Fleet's submarine force.
Adm Moiseyev also indicated that Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) Kaluga and Vladikavkaz conducted patrols, and that the fleet's SSKs were underway for 200 days in 2015.
Vice Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, informed the media that Russia's submarines have almost doubled the time they spend conducting combat patrols and combat duty since the start of 2015. Submarines on combat duty remain in port, but are in a high state of readiness so they can put to sea on very short notice.

Sen. Murphy details weekend arctic trip aboard USS Harftord

Julia Bergman, NEW LONDON DAY
22 March 2016
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would like to make a Navy exercise that evaluates operational readiness and furthers scientific research in the Arctic an annual event to send "an important message to the Russians" that the U.S. is serious about the future of the region.
The Navy is currently participating in Ice Exercise 2016, a five-week-long exercise involving four nations and more than 200 participants. The exercise, which happens every two years, will cost approximately $6.3 million this year.
During a conference call with reporters following a weekend trip to the Arctic, Murphy said he'd like to find a way to fund the program annually.
"The Russians are increasingly making claims on the Arctic, and running submarines in and around the region as a way to stake those claims ... ICEX is a way for
us both to have a military presence, but also a research presence," he said.
While in the Arctic, Murphy received classified briefings on "the incredible pace of Russian operations" in and around the region.
Outside the Arctic, Russian boats have ventured closer than ever before to the U.S. and its European partner ports "in immensely provocative ways," he said.
"No one is suggesting that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is contemplating a nuclear launch against a NATO country, but it's not clear how tethered to reality Putin is, and it should make us nervous that many of his submarines are starting to get dangerously close to the U.S. and our allies," Murphy said.
Murphy spent most of his trip aboard the Groton-based USS Hartford (SSN 768), one of two Los Angeles-class submarines participating in ICEX 2016.
With the trip under his belt, Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he'll now be in a better position to advocate for submarine funding going forward. He is in favor of the Navy's proposal to now build 10 Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines instead of nine from 2019 to 2023, which, if approved by Congress, would help mitigate an expected decline in the size of the attack submarine force.
"I think I can speak with greater firsthand experience now about the importance of keeping a full complement of submarines in the water to protect the Arctic, to chase down Russian and Chinese boats and to conduct counterterrorism activities," Murphy said.
During his time aboard the Hartford, Murphy said he was struck by both the capability of the crew, who were "oozing competence," and how important it is that the Navy retain these sailors.
"When you invest millions of dollars in training them up on the most complicated piece of machinery that our military produces, you want to keep them around so that they have a chance to ultimately become part of the leadership teams on these boats," he said.
Murphy is "more committed than ever," he said, "to making sure that we're doing the right things to build the quality of life for these sailors both on the boat and when they're home ... to keep them a part of the submarine fleet as long as possible."
As part of the exercise, the Hartford will practice operating in the Arctic, surface at the North Pole and work with the National Science Foundation and other organizations to collect data such as changes in the salinity and temperature of Arctic water and sea ice measurements.
The crew is maintaining close ties with the Hartford's namesake city even in the northernmost part of the Earth. Paraphernalia from Hartford's new minor league baseball team, the Yard Goats, such as banners and jerseys, is "all over" the inside of the submarine, Murphy said. Once the top enlisted submariners on the boat achieve certain levels of competence, they get to wear a specially designed Hartford Yard Goats cap around the boat, he said.
Murphy was able to enjoy some down time with the crew. While the self-proclaimed "New Haven pizza connoisseur" was skeptical at first, he enjoyed some "surprisingly good" pizza, and had the unique experience of watching "The Hunt for Red October" with a four-star admiral.
Adm. Frank Caldwell, director of Naval Reactors, traveled to the Arctic with Murphy, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Reps. Steve Womack, R-Ark., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.
It was fun to hear submariners critique the movie "600 feet under the surface," Murphy said.