Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Growing Submarine Threat In The Black Sea

George Visan, Eurasia Daily Monitor
26 January 2018

In the four years that have passed since Russia annexed Crimea, the number of Russian submarines active in the Black Sea has grown from one to seven. These submarines pose a grave threat to the security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) eastern flank. And together with the Kremlin’s military build-up on the occupied peninsula, they have shifted the balance of forces in the region in Russia’s favor.
Immediately after the annexation of Crimea, Russia embarked on an ambitious program of modernizing its Black Sea Fleet, based out of Sevastopol. Originally, six Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356P/M) guided-missile frigates and six Kilo-class submarines were to be constructed and deployed in the Black Sea (Interfax, May 13, 2014). Both frigates and submarines are capable of launching Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles with a range of over 2,000 kilometers.
However, the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine has delayed the building of the Admiral Grigorovich frigates as Kyiv stopped supplying Russian defense contractors with the gas turbines necessary to power them (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 25, 2017; The Moscow Times, June 8, 2015). Presently, only three ships have been commissioned.
Nevertheless, all six of the Kilo-class submarines have been delivered and commissioned. Furthermore, four of these submarines have fired their cruise missiles in anger in support of the Russian intervention in Syria (the Rostov-na-Donu, Krasnodar, Veliky Novgorod and Kolpino). In operational terms, this means that their crews are battle-tested and have a high degree of confidence in their boats and weapons systems.
A veteran of the Cold War, the Kilo diesel-electric attack submarine remains a potent weapons system to this day. It is one of the quietest conventional submarines in service and one of the safest. In the confines of the Black Sea and of the Eastern Mediterranean, these submarines can strike targets with torpedoes and cruise missiles with relative ease, while being protected by Russia’s burgeoning anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) “bubbles” (ROEC, July 14, 2015).
Their capability to launch Kalibr cruise missiles makes them extremely dangerous, being able to hit targets well inside the Black Sea region, as well as in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. As such, the Kilo submarine is an A2/AD asset as well as an offensive power projection platform capable of hitting NATO facilities in Central and Eastern Europe or to threaten the Deveselu missile defense base in Romania (see EDM, February 16, 2017; September 19, 2017).
Among NATO members in the Black Sea region, only Turkey has fully developed anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and can meet the challenge posed by Russian undersea vessels. Furthermore, Turkey’s control over the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits allows for easy monitoring of transiting Russian submarines.
However, Ankara’s ASW capabilities are divided between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and its readiness is being put to the test by Russia’s assertiveness. Romania and Bulgaria, the other two NATO members in the region that possess navies, are struggling to offer up any kind of effective response.
For NATO, the writing is on the wall – it needs to increase its ASW capabilities fast in order to deter the Russian submarine threat. As part of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft have begun patrolling over the Black Sea in order to track these submarines and gather intelligence. Nevertheless, the
presence of Russian fighter aircraft as well as sophisticated air defense systems in and around Crimea makes the P-8s vulnerable to interception and/or interference (România Liberă, September 9, 2017). Clearly, besides a stronger NATO presence in the region, there needs to be an overall increase in regional ASW capabilities.
An obvious response to the Russian submarine threat in the Black Sea is increasing Romania’s and Bulgaria’s naval capabilities. Romanian and Bulgarian navies operate old ships equipped mostly with outdated Russian sensors and weapons systems. Both countries have not acquired military vessels since joining NATO, mostly due to economic reasons. Nevertheless, the Russian military build-up in Crimea has created a sense of urgency concerning naval capabilities for Bucharest and Sofia.
In 2017, Bulgaria announced plans to acquire two multi-role corvettes (Defense News, August 29, 2017), in effect reviving a program dating back to 2007 (Novinite, October 2007). Romania is also preparing to acquire multi-role corvettes, which it views as the single most effective type of surface combatant for littoral areas (MApN.ro, December 8, 2017). Bucharest is likely to purchase four such vessels in a program that will span seven years and is estimated to be worth $1.9 billion. Furthermore, the Romanian navy plans to modernize its vintage Type 22 frigates, acquired from the United Kingdom in 2003, using the offset agreement from the corvette purchase (MApN.ro, December 8, 2017). A decision concerning the corvette program is expected in 2018. Plans have also been drawn up to buy submarines; but such an acquisition process may not begin until sometime between 2020 and 2026 (Agerpres, January 26, 2017).
Besides looking to obtain new ships for their aging fleets, Romania and Bulgaria have been involved, since 2014, in numerous U.S.- and NATO-led naval exercises in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Exercises like Sea Breeze 2017 (C6f.navy.mil, July 25, 2017) have included not only a large number of NATO allies, but also Ukraine and Georgia, targets of Russian aggression. Increasing the number of NATO joint exercises in the Black Sea sends a clear deterrence signal to Moscow, while also increasing capabilities and readiness at a fraction of the cost of new military acquisitions.
In the short term, it seems that Russia has the upper hand in the Black Sea region due to its fast-paced rearmament drive and sophisticated A2/AD assets. However, NATO can overcome this threat by developing regional capabilities designed to thwart apparent Russian advantages. Smart defense investments in critical capabilities, such as anti-submarine warfare, combined with complex joint exercises can restore the regional military balance in favor of NATO.

Is China's Nuclear Attack Submarine Too Easy To Detect?

Liu Chen, South China Morning Post
28 January 2018

After a Chinese nuclear attack submarine was discovered by the Japanese navy while submerged near disputed islands in the East China Sea, military experts say it could be too easy to detect.
The PLA Navy's 110-metre Shang-class submarine surfaced in international waters with a Chinese flag on its mast on January 12 after it was followed by the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force for two days.
Some military experts believe the vessel was forced to surface, but others say there is not enough information to back up that theory.
China's defence ministry has not responded to inquiries from the South China Morning Post regarding the incident.
What is known is that the submarine entered the contiguous zone less than 24 nautical miles from the
contested Diaoyu Islands, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan.
Relations between China and Japan have long been tense because of historical issues and their territorial disputes over the tiny, uninhabited archipelago - which lies between Taiwan and the southern Japanese island of Okinawa - that is controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
It was the first time a Chinese navy submarine had come so close to the islands, leading to speculation that it was an apparent move by China to demonstrate its sovereignty claim.
But the early and long exposure of its underwater trajectory, according to military experts, suggests the vessel is not as quiet as it should be. Japan's defence ministry said anti-submarine ships and planes had been tracking the Chinese submarine since January 10.
China's nuclear attack submarine has been in service since 2006, carrying out missions in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. Two of the submarines, type 093, were built in the 2000s, and at least two more - the upgraded type 093A - were commissioned in 2016, according to a report to the US Congress in 2017.
Japan did not say whether the submarine spotted near its waters was one of the earlier vessels or the upgrade, but experts say it was the newer type. That submarine is believed to have a vertical launch system for anti-ship YJ-18 cruise missiles, and was expected to be on par with the United States' Los Angeles-class submarines - or at least much quieter than its notoriously noisy predecessor, the type 091 Han-class.
"This is such a shame for the navy," said a Beijing-based military source, who requested anonymity, adding that the vessel was detected because it was "too noisy".
The incident has also shown the strong anti-submarine capabilities of Japan, which has the technological backing of the US military, according to military commentator Zhou Chenming in Beijing.
"It's not so bad that they've been exposed, it could push the Chinese to work harder on making the submarines quieter," Zhou said. "As a strong military power China should be confident enough not to cover up its weaknesses and failures."
It is also unusual that a nuclear submarine - which could stay underwater for months - surfaced in front of another navy, given that they usually strive to stay unseen and undetected.
"Once a submarine has been exposed and its unique acoustics have been recorded, it puts them at a great disadvantage," said Li Jie, a researcher at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute in Beijing.
In 2004, a type 091 Han-class nuclear submarine was detected as it trespassed in Japanese territorial waters near the recent incident. But it remained submerged until it returned to Chinese waters, despite being chased by Japanese ships and planes dropping sonobuoys, which pick up underwater sounds and transmit them.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong believed the nuclear attack submarine was forced to surface, and said it was "dumb" of the Chinese navy to allow its features to be seen and photographed.
He also dismissed claims that the submarine was flying a Chinese flag to assert its claim to sovereignty over the Diaoyus, noting that it surfaced in international waters.
"If they wanted to claim sovereignty, why didn't the submarine enter the territorial seas of the islands?" Wong said.
Flying a flag is the general practice when a submarine surfaces in international or foreign waters.
But Li said there were other possibilities to explain why it surfaced, such as the need for clearer communication, positioning or technical problems. Li also noted that the Chinese submarine did not enter Japan's territorial waters so in tailing the vessel, the Japanese navy was actually breaching international law.
According to the Japanese defence ministry statement, a Chinese frigate was also seen on the second day near the disputed islands, but it was not clear whether the warship was still in the area when the submarine surfaced.
The Chinese navy plans to expand the fleet of nuclear attack submarines to six, according to the US Congress report, before it brings in the next generation type 095 - which it hopes will be substantially quieter when it is introduced in the 2020s.

China Needs More Nuclear Warheads To Deter US Threat, Military Says

Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post
30 January 2018

China must expand its nuclear stockpile so it can better deter and hit back at an enemy strike as geopolitical uncertainties mount and the US appears bent on a nuclear build-up, according to the Chinese military’s mouthpiece.
In the PLA Daily on Tuesday, a commentary said China had enough nuclear weapons to prevent “bullying” by other nuclear powers but still needed to respond to changes in US strategy.
“To enhance China’s strategic counterbalance in the region and maintain China’s status as a great power, and protect national security, China has to beef up and develop a reliable nuclear deterrence capability,” it said.
It also said China would still stick to the “no first use” doctrine, meaning there were no circumstances in which it would be the first to use nuclear weapons.
The commentary comes as the administration of US President Donald Trump is expected to unveil its new military weapons policy later this week.
A leaked draft of the document says Washington will ramp up new nuclear projects and deploy more “low yield” nuclear bombs, according to the Huffington Post.
Military analysts said China was poised to increase its own arsenal of nuclear warheads but there were no plans to rival the United States.
Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said China only needed to add about 100 warheads to its stockpile to counter threats from the US and India.
“Nuclear weapons are hugely expensive to maintain and China is very pragmatic. Beijing will not spend too much money on an arms race,” Zhou said.

China Stakes Its Claim to the Arctic

Marc Lanteigne and Mingming Shi, The Diplomat,
29 January 2018

After a long period of speculation, the government of China released its first White Paper on the Arctic on January 26. The document, entitled “China’s Arctic Policy” (《中国的北极政策》), was introduced by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kong Xuanyou at a Beijing press conference hosted by the country’s State Council Information Office. In addition to outlining Beijing’s specific objectives in the Arctic, the document also confirmed that China’s Arctic interests would be tied to the expanding Belt and Road trade initiative via a “Polar Silk Road.”
The opportunities that have been created in the Arctic for maritime shipping were a major part of the paper. China anticipates making extensive use of newly developing shipping routes, including the Northern Sea Route (NSR) north of Siberia, which has the potential to connect China with markets in Russia and Northern Europe, as well as the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic, and the Central Arctic Route, which may become more accessible in the summer months.
The White Paper brought together many strands of China’s Arctic diplomacy that had evolved over the past five years, including the idea of the country as a “near Arctic state” and a key stakeholder in the region in addition to linkages with the Belt and Road. The document stressed China’s geographic proximity to the Arctic, as well as the effects of climate change on the country and Beijing’s burgeoning cross-regional diplomacy with Arctic states. As the paper noted, as non-Arctic countries were not in a position to claim “territorial sovereignty” in the far north, countries south of the Arctic Circle have the right to engage in scientific research and navigation, as well as economic activities such as resource extraction, fishing, and the laying of cables and pipelines.
Although Beijing has sought to avoid being seen as challenging the status quo in the Arctic, its policies, summarized in the White Paper, have also reflected concerns about being marginalized from what the Chinese government sees as an economically important region due to the country’s lack of Arctic geography. As with other areas of emerging Chinese foreign policy, there was the promise that the Arctic would be approached via the concepts of “respect, cooperation, win-win results and sustainability,” including respecting the rights and responsibilities of both Arctic and non-Arctic states, and ensuring that the benefits of the Arctic are shared equally.
The document also encapsulated Beijing’s emerging goals in the far north as the need to “understand, protect, develop, and participate in the governance of the Arctic.” With each of these endeavors, Beijing pledged to work with Arctic governments but also with international organizations, including the United Nations and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in deepening its presence in regional affairs. This suggests that China is seeking a more comprehensive approach to engaging the region beyond scientific diplomacy, which had been the cornerstone of Chinese activities in the region since the country became a formal observer in the Arctic Council in 2013. Before that achievement, Beijing has been seeking to raise its presence in the region through its research base at Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard, exploration missions using the country’s icebreaker, the Xuelong (Snow Dragon) and supporting joint scientific projects. At the same time, however, the paper confirmed that Beijing was seeking to move beyond strictly scientific cooperation as its interests in the economic opportunities in the Arctic have grown as a result of climate change.
Among the economic possibilities that the paper elucidated, in addition to the further development of shipping routes, was the greater availability of fossil fuels and minerals and potential for sustainable energy such as wind and geothermal power, as well as seafood and service industries such as tourism. It was stressed, however, that Beijing was committed to the responsible development of these resources in partnership with local actors and in accordance with international law.
Moreover, the Arctic was further identified as a “blue economic passage,” which would be connected to the greater Belt and Road network, a status which was first mentioned in a June 2017 document released by the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Thus, the paper called for Chinese firms to participate in the development of Arctic development infrastructure. Over the past few years, examples of Chinese joint ventures have included support for the Yamal liquefied natural gas project, which formally came online in December of last year, potential investment in natural gas pipelines in Alaska, and emerging mining enterprises in Greenland. However, there have also been some setbacks, such as the decision made this month by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to withdraw from a potential offshore oil-drilling project in Iceland due to scarce initial findings.
From an institutional viewpoint, the paper reiterated China’s support for international law as well as regional cooperation on the governmental level, including the Arctic Council, as well as Track II organizations such the Arctic Circle forum and the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center. The environment was also listed as a priority for China’s Arctic engagement, including protecting the local ecosystems and addressing the impact of climate change. One of Beijing’s main justifications for referring to China as a near Arctic state was the links made between extreme weather conditions, as well as air pollution patterns, and Arctic climate change. The white paper also called for the promotion of peace and stability in the Arctic as well as support for the cordial resolution of disputes in the region and the promotion of maritime safety as the Arctic opens to greater commercial activity. In addition to cooperating bilaterally and multilaterally with the Arctic regional states, the paper cited recent cooperation with Asian neighbors, namely Japan and South Korea, on Arctic research.
Raising public awareness of the Arctic was mentioned both in the paper and at this week’s press conference. Although China’s involvement in the region can be traced back to almost a century ago, the Arctic for most of the Chinese public is still a remote novelty. Indeed, publicity has been increasing in the past few years to educate the country about the significance of the Far North. Rediscovering the Arctic, (the Chinese title being Beiji, Beiji! or Arctic, Arctic!), a 2016 documentary by China’s Central Television (CCTV), was produced to comprehensively introduce the region from the perspectives of international relationships, environmental and economic issues, as well as the various forms of Chinese regional engagement.
The environment and climate change in the Arctic, and how Beijing has been contributing accordingly, was discussed throughout the white paper, and can be regarded part of a broader picture of Chinese foreign policy as “a responsible major country” to tackle global warming. Notably, in 1997, China ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and in 2015, China was a major participant at the watershed climate summit in Paris, and conveyed its support for international cooperation to address climate change issues. China’s Arctic policy will be a major test of that commitment.
In the short term, the release of the White Paper confirms that China’s Arctic policy has begun to both mature and diversify behind scientific diplomacy, and also serves to stress that the region has grown in importance as the Belt and Road process accelerates and that China is determined to be counted as a major Arctic player.

No Leakages From Sunken Nuclear Sub, Yet

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer
25 January 2018

After more than 10 years on the seafloor of the Barents Sea, no detectable levels of radiation are measured from K-159.
The scrap of the 55-years old November class submarine should, however, be monitored closely, reads the recommendation in a newly published report by a joint Norwegian-Russian expert group that made measurements near the wreak during an expedition in 2014.
K-159, holding two nuclear reactors with spent nuclear uranium fuel, sank during towing from the naval base Gremikha towards the Nerpa scrapping yard north of Murmansk in August 2003.
Laying at a depth of 246 meters in one of the most important fishing areas of the Barents Sea, just west of the Kildin Island of the coast of the Kola Peninsula, the submarine has caused concern for possible leakages of radionuclides to the marine environment.
During inspection with a remote operated underwater vehicle (ROV), the radiation expert from Norway and Russia discovered damage and break in the outer hull of the submarine. After years of analyzing the samples from the area, both seawater and sediments, the results are now published in the report and show no urgent need to worry.
There is no indication of any leakage from the reactor units of K-159 to the marine environment.
Like most Soviet submarines, also the K-159 had two reactors on board. The reactor compartment, inside the inner hull, was not possible for the researchers to examine. Both reactors had been shut down for 15 years before the submarine sank.
Despite being old, the amount of radioactivity in the two reactors is still high and sooner or later the submarine should be lifted, both Russian and Norwegian experts agree.
Monitoring of the marine environment around K-159 should be followed closely, especially in connection with any future plans for the recovery of the submarine,> the report concludes.
The K-159 is the only nuclear submarine on the seafloor of the Barents Sea. The Kursk submarine, that sank after a huge torpedo explosion in 2000, was lifted and brought to land for decommissioning two years after.
In Arctic waters, the Komsomolets submarine lays at 1,600 meters depth in the Norwegian Sea with one reactor and two plutonium warheads. In the Kara Sea, east of Novaya Zemlya, 16 reactors are dumped on purpose, including the entire submarine K-27 and a reactor from the Soviet Union's first civilian nuclear powered icebreaker, the .

The Navy May Have No Way to Counter Russia's Status-6 Nuclear Torpedo (Yet)

Dave Majumdar. National Interest Online
23 January 2018
A leaked version of the Trump Administration's Nuclear Posture Review posits that Russia is developing a new nuclear-tipped torpedo with strategic ranges that can be used to target coastal areas of the continental United States. The weapon-called Status-6-would, in the short term present the United States Navy with a challenge that it could not counter without significant investment in new weaponry.
"If we assume that this is a real capability-that it will have a prototype built in 2019 and become operational in early 2020's-then this is a significant disruptive capability that the U.S. must be able to counter," retired U.S. Navy submariner Thomas Callender, currently a senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation told The National Interest. "Taking its top speed of greater than 56kts and depth of greater than 3280 feet into account, this would be a difficult target to kill with current weapons." Publicly available information about the U.S. Navy's Mk-48 ADACAP suggest that the weapon has a maximum speed of 55kts and a maximum depth of 2600ft, which means that the torpedo would have great difficulty in countering the Status-6.
"This would mean that if operating close to max depth, the Navy's primary ASW [anti-submarine warfare] weapon could not reach and kill it," Callender said. "This is not to say that the Navy could not build a torpedo in the next several years before Status-6 reaches operational status that would have sufficient speed and depth. If the Administration and DoD [Department of Defense] believe this is a capable threat, I am confident that they can find the money and the Navy would focus on rapid development." Given the Status-6's size, range and speed, certain assumptions can be made about it. "I would think that at speeds in excess of 50kts the UUV [unmanned underwater vehicle] would be fairly noisy, but I am unsure of how great the detection range would be," Callender said. "A small screw at high speed would create higher frequency noise that would not propagate as far as slower turning submarine screws and other lower frequency machinery noises."
Moreover, it would matter where the Russian would fire the Status-6 from-because its launch location would make a significant difference in how difficult the weapon is to track. "Depending from where they launched the UUVbased on endurance they could launch from the Barents [Sea] and reach the East Coast-if it can navigate properly with inertial navigation, "Callender said. "They mention that this could be launched from larger mother submarine, which could enable it to be relatively stealthily launched closer to the U.S. coast-reducing the response time before it reaches its target and detonates. I would expect it would still be several hours transit."
It would only be once the Status-6 reaches shallower waters that it would be vulnerable to interception. "Once it approaches the East Coast and crosses the continental shelf it must come increasingly shallower and make it easier to kill with current weapons-in the proper geometry," Callender said. "But the closer to the coast the greater the chance for contamination or damage if the warhead had secondary explosion from a U.S. weapon hitting it."
Moreover, given the sheer power of the Status-6's allegedly 100-megaton warhead, the U.S. Navy would have to ensure that destroyed the weapon completely before it gets to its target. "If it is indeed a 100 megaton warhead, we would want to make sure you killed it-potentially detonating the warhead and definitely spreading nuclear contamination-far from the U.S. coast in deep open ocean," Callender said. "It would come down to cueing of its launch and transit from acoustic arrays and MPA [maritime patrol aircraft] patrols (P-3/P-8). Based on its speed, the P8 would be my preferred kill platform."
One of the questions that puzzles naval expertsparticularly undersea warfare specialists-is how the Russian expect to control the Status-6 weapon. "That they mention that 'it would be controlled from surface ships' is interesting," Callender said. "Would it slow and come to 'periscope depth' periodically for a GPS fix and updated instructions? It could not maintain constant C2 [command and control."
At the end of the day, it might not matter too much. While the United States might not have a countermeasure to defeat the Status-6-assuming it actually exists-it will not take the Navy long to build a weapon to intercept it. It will be expensive and it will not be easy, but Congress would certainly appropriate the money if the Status-6 were a real problem to be solved. "I think the U.S. Navy could defeat this potential capability given some time and sufficient funding to develop or modify weapons and develop CONOPS [concept of operations] to most effectively detect, locate and kill the UUV," Callender said. "It would not be easy or cheap." But then with the Pentagon, when is anything ever cheap or easy?

Russian Navy “Exercise” Sure Looks Like a Submarine on Fire

Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics
22 January 2018

Video of what the Russian government claims is merely an “exercise” appears to show a submarine on fire.
The video, shot in the Russian fear eastern city of Vladivostok, shows a large fire and thick, black smoke close to several moored Russian Navy submarines. The Russian government says the fire was part of a planned exercise, but the fire and smoke look way too close to the submarines for comfort.
The video emerged yesterday on Twitter. According to Russia’s Pacific Fleet, the incident was part of “damage control exercises.” The video shows five submarines tied up at Vladivostok, with a raging fire close to the stern of one.
The submarine involved appears to be a Kilo-class diesel electric attack submarine. The Kilos dates back to the early 1980s, and has been the main Soviet/Russian non-nuclear submarine since then. Russia’s Pacific Fleet operates six Kilos and Improved Kilos, although it is unclear which submarine this is. The Russian Navy has used Kilo submarines based in the Black Sea to launch cruise missiles against targets in Syria.
In addition to Russia the submarines are operated by a number of countries, including India, Iran, Vietnam, and China. In 2013, the Indian submarine INS Sindhurakshak caught fire and sank portside in Mumbai. A fire in the forward weapons bay triggered explosions of torpedoes and cruise missile warheads in the fully stocked bay. The accident killed eighteen sailors and rendered the ship unrecoverable, and it was finally stricken from Indian Navy rolls in 2017.
The incident has gone quiet on the Internet in the last eighteen hours and is still a mystery. The large, raging fire is clearly too close to the submarine for comfort, and while it may not be directly on the boat the submarine itself is clearly in danger. If the incident began as an “exercise,” at some point it no longer was one and became a fire emergency.

ROK Navy's Latest Diesel-Electric Attack Sub To Deploy In May

Franz-Stefan Gady, The Diplomat
22 January 2018

The Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy’s seventh Son Won II-class (Type 214) diesel-electric air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarine, christened Hong Beom-do, will be operationally deployed beginning in May 2018, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced on January 19.
The sub’s crew has been undergoing intensive training for the past four months, the statement notes, and will soon be ready for its first patrol. The new boat will enhance the ROK Navy’s “underwater operational capability,” which is superior to North Korea’s, the head of DAPA said, according to the press release.
The Hong Beom-do, named after a South Korean national hero, was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI). The submarine was launched in April 2016. It was the fifth Son Won II-class submarine, a variant of the Type 214 submarine of Germany’s Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, built by HHI under license.
In September 2017, HHI launched the ninth and final submarine of its class under the ROK Navy’s Son Won II-class (also known as KSS-2) acquisition program. Overall, HHI built six KSS 2-class boats, with Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) assembling the remaining three.
Each Son Won II-class sub measures 65 meters (213 feet) in length and seven meters (22 feet) in width. The boat’s top surface speed is around 12 knots and up to 20 knots when submerged powered by its electric motor.
“With its air-independent propulsion system, built around Siemens polymer electrolytic membrane fuel cells, the submarine can stay submerged for up to two weeks and can dive up to 400 meters (1,312 feet) deep,” I reported elsewhere.
According to senior ROK Navy officers, the Son Won II-class, armed with long-range submarine-to-ground cruise missiles, boasts precision-strike capabilities and can attack ground targets deep inland. (DAPA is working on a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, for its sub force.) The Hong Beom-do is capable of detecting and tracking up to 300 targets simultaneously, according to DAPA.
As I noted elsewhere, South Korea is investing heavily into building up its submarine force:
The recent launch is part of a three-phased naval construction program to build up the ROKN attack submarine force. South Korea currently operates a fleet of nine 1,200-ton Chang Bogo-class diesel-electric attack submarines – a variant of the German Type 209 boat. Under the first phase, the ROKN is planning to upgrade all nine Chang Bogo-class submarines with air-independent propulsion and flank-array sonars over the next few years.
The nine Son Won II-class vessels are part of the second phase of the ROKN’s so-called Korean Attack Submarine program. The third and final phase (and also the most ambitious part of the project) will be the construction of nine indigenously produced 3,000-ton diesel-electric attack submarines – designated KSS-III – equipped with air-independent propulsion and multiple vertical launch tubes from which Hyunmoo-3C cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,500 kilometers can be fired.
The ROK Navy is expected to operationally deploy a total of 18 diesel-electric attack subs by 2019.

Just How Many New Columbia-Class Missile Submarines is the Navy Building?

Dave Majumdar , The National Interest
22 January 2018

The United States Navy may build more than 12 Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). While the Pentagon had previously stated that it needed 12 Columbia-class submarines, the new Nuclear Posture Review sets that number as a floor.
“The Columbia-class program will deliver a minimum of 12 SSBNs to replace the current Ohio fleet,” a predecisional version of the Nuclear Posture Review obtained by The National Interest reads.
“If Navy shipbuilding funding was not already insufficient to build 355 ship Navy, then building even two more SSBNs would provide greater margin to ensure the Navy can always maintain the minimum submarines required for uninterrupted alert coverage would be a worthwhile endeavor,” retired U.S. Navy submariner Thomas Callender, currently a senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, told The National Interest.
As Callender explained, the Navy needs a bare minimum of 12 Columbia-class boats to maintain 10 available submarines. “Six SSBNs in the Pacific and four in the Atlantic is the bare minimum required to provide uninterrupted alert coverage for the combatant commander. Geography is the reason for six in Pacific,” Callender said. “Twelve gives you 10 later in Columbia’s life when I have SSBNs undergoing depot maintenance. We needed 14 Ohios because they had mid-life refueling which took them out of operations for longer.”
However, with only a dozen vessels in the class, the Columbia program does not have any margin for failure. “Twelve doesn’t really provide any buffer were something unexpected to occur and take an SSBN out of operations for extended period of time,” Callender said. “This could be a hedge in language to use a bargaining chip with Russians or could signal intent to provide increased margin to operational minimum force.”
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association told The National Interest that calling for a floor of 12 Columbia-class boomers could be a way to insulate the program from any potential cuts. “Some military leaders have in recent years referred to 12 as a minimum. This could be a way to counter calls for less than 12,” Rief said. “But one could also imagine several reasons why the might want more than 12, such as delays or changes in scope to the upgrade efforts for the other legs of the triad, uncertainty about force structure requirements in the aftermath of New START, and concern about the future survivability of the sea-leg of the triad.”
Even if the Navy has good reasons to want more than a dozen Columbia-class SSBNs, the problem will be costly. “The problem, however, is that the cost of the current 12-boat program is already enormous and will be a significant challenge to execute without eating into non-nuclear shipbuilding requirements - to say nothing about getting to a 355 ship Navy,” Reif said.
Meanwhile, the Navy wants to continue building the Columbia-class past the initial SSBN version with a SSGN cruise missile carrier variant. “Combatant Commanders and SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command] have stated a desire to have a new SSGN,” Callender said. “The Virginia class with VPM [Virginia Payload Module] doesn’t provide the concentrated firepower of SSGN.”
Moreover, the Virginia-class lacks the space needed by the Naval Special Warfare community. ”A Virginia with VPM (Block V) cannot support dual dry dock shelters operations that provides redundancy for SOF [Special Operations Forces] operations,” Callender said. “Not to mention the loss of extra space for larger SOF teams and their equipment. The Tactical Submarine Evolution Plan (TSP) shows where submarine leadership is thinking of potential future submarine classes.”
The problem for the Navy will be industrial capacity if it chooses to build a new Columbia SSGN variant. “There is currently no slack or industrial capacity to build an SSGN until the 12 submarine Columbia SSBN build is complete,” Callender said. “I think a future SSGN is a possibility, but it will depend on funding and the competing need to build surface fleet to in attempt to reach 355 ships.”
However, a decision will have to be made relatively soon. “The last Columbia-class SSBN is procured in 2035 per current plan,” Callender said. “That means the Navy could procure its first SSGN in 2036 if the design is mature. That means the Navy needs to decide and begin design no later than 2026 (based on average of 10 years for acquisition program development). They should be able to compress this some since not a completely new design, just modifying Columbia design.”
But all of that depends on the Congress getting its act together to consistent pass budgets.

General Dynamics Firm Hires As It Preps To Build Ballistic-Missile Subs

AP Staff, Defense News.com
22 January

General Dynamics’ Electric Boat says its workforce continues to grow as it prepares to build a new class of ballistic-missile submarines.
The Day of New London reports Jeffrey Geiger, president of the U.S. Navy contractor, said Monday Electric Boat has 16,200 employees, the highest headcount in nearly 25 years. He discussed the company’s future at a hotel in Groton.
The Groton-based company plans to hire 2,200 employees in 2018 in Connecticut and at its Rhode Island manufacturing facility.
It hired more than 3,000 people last year after receiving about 81,000 applications.
Electric Boat is doing the design and development work for 12 ballistic-missile submarines to replace the current fleet of 14. It’s building Virginia-class attack submarines.
More than $7 billion in federal funding was spent on submarine programs last year.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Government urged to protect submarines amid defence budget cuts (UK)

Staff, In Cumbria
12 January 2018
UK - MP John Woodcock has challenged the defense secretary over “woefully inadequate” funds and pledged to protect the submarine budget no matter what.
MP for Barrow and Furness John Woodcock took part in a debate in the House of Commons today where he called on the defense secretary to listen to MPs over the squeezing of the defense budget, and urged the government to maintain the submarine budget despite cuts to overall defense spending. 
Mr. Woodcock vowed to take the fight to the Treasury, suggesting the Dreadnought program should be taken out of the Ministry of Defense budget and funded using their reserves.
In his speech, he paid tribute to Britain’s defense forces and remarked on the unique capabilities the industry provides, but warned of the 'deeply worrying' complacency the government is showing over the threats facing our country.
Mr. Woodcock warned of the dangers posed from Russia and the "mortal threat from the evil ideology” which created Islamic State. He also warned the government benches that the same forces which had created the terrorist organization would resurface and that there would be 'question marks' over the UK's capability to intervene.
Paying tribute to the personnel who play such a vital role in defending our realm, The Barrow MP said he was saddened by the recent departure of Will Blamey from BAE, before welcoming its new head, Cliff Robson before saying challenges facing the submarine program should not be laid at the door of those who work at the shipyard, but on a central mismanagement of the program by the government in Westminster.
Concluding his speech, Mr. Woodcock said this was “a time for seriousness” and expressed concern over the conduct of the defense secretary on an issue fundamental to our nation’s security.

Saab set to demo an underwater drone that pretends to be a sub

David Larter, Defense News
11 January 2018

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Swedish defense firm Saab is set to demonstrate for the U.S. Navy an underwater drone that simulates a submarine, making it easier for ships and aircraft to practice anti-submarine warfare.
The company announced Tuesday that it was preparing to demonstrate its AUV62-AT drone for the Navy as part of the Foreign Comparative Testing program. The testing will start in the summer of 2018 and there is an option for more resting in 2019.
The drone, which is based on the company’s T-62 torpedo, mimics the acoustic signature of a submarine so that ships can get in their reps and sets on ASW, but spares the Navy the need to dispatch one of its busy submarines to aid with that training.
The company claims the AUV62-AT “fully replaces the use of a submarine in the role as a maneuvering training target,” and says it is already in use in several countries around the world

NAVSEA Officials Seek Accelerated Acquisition, Modular Approach To Unmanned Systems 

Matthew Beinart, Defense Daily
11 January 2018

Navy officials are looking to move forward with a modular systems approach to speed up acquisition of incremental capabilities and focus delivery efforts for its unmanned maritime systems. 
Building on several unmanned undersea vehicle programs started last year, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) leadership intends to fund multiple training operations through 2018 in the hopes of opening up the opportunity for industry to test payloads in 2019.
"We want the latest and greatest, but it's got to work before we put it on a system. We got out and test it, but before we go and inject it into a program of record we want that technology to be as proven as it can," Capt. Jon Rucker, Navy program manager for unmanned maritime systems, said during a briefing Thursday at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium in Arlington, Va. "Especially on unmanned systems, which frankly need to get out there quicker."
Rucker pointed to unmanned minehunting units for the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships as an urgent operational need.
Navy officials are in the process of developing incremental capabilities for its Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MCM USVs). The boats can currently handle sweep payloads, and the next step is loading sonar minehunting payloads, according to Rucker.
Raytheon [RTN] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] have been contracted to deliver designs for integrating sonar payloads for the MCM USVs. Rucker expects to select a design for future payloads once the first crafts are delivered around the end of 2018.
The MCM USVs have been adapted to the family of systems approach to allow for modular crafts with easily integrated electrical and mechanical interfaces, according to Rucker.
After standing up its Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) program in 2017, Rucker said NAVSEA is now looking to move forward with accelerated acquisitions to complete military designs.
The Snakehead large displacement UUV program, intended for long-range ISR missions, was completed in September and is now in the detail design phase for hull materials.
The second accelerated acquisition project, the Orca Extra-Large UUV, also received requirements four months after the program started, instead of the usual process of two to three years.
"Nobody thought we would do what we said we were going to do...from the day we got signed requirements, both the Snakehead and the Orca are accelerated acquisitions," Rucker said. "From the time we got signed requirements to the time we competitively awarded two contracts was 238 days. That's the fastest it's ever been done."
The Navy has Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] under contract for the UUV program's design phase, which is expected to run through the first quarter of FY '19, according to Rucker.
Rucker believes an incremental approach with a focus on open architecture and modular systems will help shepherd NAVSEA's unmanned systems through 2018.
"This family of systems approach, from the surface and undersea side, if I were to show you what it looked like before, it was helter skelter. Now these focused lines of effort have helped us work with industry to focus on where to invest our technology dollars," Rucker said

U.S. Navy Officials Speed Up Acquisition of Unmanned Maritime Systems

Jon Harper, National Defense Magazine
11 January 2018

The Navy is steaming ahead on a number of unmanned undersea vehicles and unmanned surface vehicle projects, as program officials face pressure to accelerate the acquisition of new capabilities.
 Pentagon leaders are gung-ho on the technology, which is seen as a way for the United States to maintain its military edge over advanced adversaries.
 The past 12 months have been “a banner year” for unmanned undersea vehicles, Capt. Jon Rucker, Navy program manager for unmanned maritime systems, told reporters Jan. 11 at the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium in Arlington, Virginia. Rucker oversees the service’s USV and UUV projects.
 The Navy recently established the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island, where many of the military’s UUVs will be housed, maintained and operate from, he noted.
“We are working with them to determine the next facilities we need to be able to support the larger vehicles” that will be developed in the coming years, he added.
 The Navy also stood up the first unmanned undersea vehicle squadron in Keyport, Washington, Rucker noted.
 In 2017, the service and its industry partners worked through the kinks that had plagued the Knifefish system, a medium-sized unmanned minehunting vessel, he said.
“Technical challenges were resolved,” he said. The Navy is hoping to complete sea acceptance trials in February.
 Preliminary design of the Snakehead large displacement UUV was completed in September. The vessel is intended to conduct long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Detailed design work has begun and initial long-lead hull materials have been ordered, Rucker said.
 The Orca extra-large UUV mine warfare system program also kicked off last year. As with the Snakehead program, it is an accelerated acquisition project.
“We have been given special authorities to do accelerated acquisitions,” Rucker said. It only took about four months to establish requirements after the program was established, he noted.
“From the time we got signed requirements to the time we competitively awarded two design contracts was 238 days,” he said. “That’s the fastest it has ever been done.”
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are currently on contract for the program’s design phase. In early 2019 the service aims to make a source selection and then go into production, he added.
 Two “innovative naval prototypes” from the Office of Naval Research recently transitioned to Rucker’s office. Operators will use them to test various UUV capabilities during 2018.
“We will then in ’19 open it up to industry if they want to come out and bring their sensors or payloads … [to test them] on a vehicle that the fleet operates so we inform the programs of record with the technologies we need,” Rucker said.
 The Navy is also working on a variety of unmanned surface vessels.
 The Garc — a small, optionally-manned armed coastal patrol platform — is slated to be tested later this year. Navy special operators will also test the Adaro, a 20-pound man-portable ISR platform.
 USVs come in a variety of sizes. The very small are less than 7 meters in length, while the largest ones typically range from 12 meters to 50 meters, he said. But the Navy is looking to acquire larger ones.
“We’ll be pushing that envelope … as we move forward in the next year or two pushing beyond 50 meters,” Rucker said.
 Service leaders recently established an executive steering council to determine how best to test technologies to inform the analysis of alternatives for the future surface combatant USV, he noted.
 Meanwhile, program officials are under pressure to speed up the acquisition of unmanned maritime capabilities.
 James Geurts, the new assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, visited Naval Sea Systems Command about a week ago, Rucker said. Geurts is famous within the acquisition community for his efforts to fast-track procurement at U.S. Special Operations Command when he was SOCOM’s acquisition chief.
“One of the things he really challenged us on is how do we do things differently [and] how do we go faster,” Rucker said.
 Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson suggested that the service should “accelerate the entire family of UUVs,” Rucker said. “That was something we looked at.” An assessment was recently completed and Richardson will be briefed on the results next week, he added.
 To stay on track with unmanned systems, the Navy must avoid trying to do too much at once, Rucker said.

“We’re following the proven philosophy of incrementally delivering capability,” he said. “The Navy initially was working to try to deliver a Cadillac right off the bat … [but] if the system doesn’t work it doesn’t do much good to the user.”
Key to taking an incremental approach is having modular and open systems architectures, he said.
“As the technology is ready we will insert it into the systems we’re developing,” he said. “Every system I show you, whether it’s an unmanned surface vessel or unmanned undersea vessel, we are ensuring that we develop that modularity and have the interfaces, so as technology is ready we can insert it into the production line — not break the production line — and ensure we stay on track to deliver that capability.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

Foreign submarine enters Japan's contiguous zone 

Staff, NHKWorld.com
11 January 2018

Japan's Defense Ministry says a foreign submarine was sailing underwater in the contiguous zone just outside territorial waters in Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday and Thursday.
 Ministry officials say the submarine apparently belongs to the Chinese Navy, as a Chinese frigate was spotted nearby.
 The officials say a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel on Wednesday afternoon spotted a submarine sailing underwater off Miyako Island in the southern prefecture.
 They say the submarine continued to move northwest and left the contiguous zone into the East China Sea without resurfacing.
 The officials say the submarine again entered Japan's contiguous zone on Thursday morning off Taisho Island of the Senkaku Islands.
 International law requires submarines to surface and hoist the national flag when navigating through territorial waters of other nations, but not in contiguous zones.
 Also off Taisho Island, a Chinese Navy frigate reportedly entered the contiguous zone twice on Thursday.
 The officials say neither vessel entered Japanese territorial waters. They say both left the contiguous zone on Thursday afternoon.
 The ministry is closely monitoring the submarine's move and collecting information.
 Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama summoned Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua to lodge a protest on Thursday.
 Sugiyama expressed grave concern and stressed that China should not stem the tide for improving Japan-China relations.
 Japan controls the Senkaku Islands. The Japanese government maintains that the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. China and Taiwan claim them.
 Ministry officials say Cheng rebuffed Japan's protest, saying the islands are part of China's territory.
 After the meeting, the ambassador left the ministry without responding to reporters' questions

Raytheon Looking to Next-Generation Long-Range Attack Weapon for Navy

Richard Burgess, Sea Power Magazine
10 January 2018

ARLNGTON, Va. — Raytheon Missile Co., approaching the end of new production of the Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile, is looking for ways to keep the production line warm so that the company is in a better position for competing for the Next-Generation Land-Attack Missile (NGLAW). Despite its name, the NGLAW will have a maritime strike capability, as does the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) being built for the U.S. Navy.
Speaking to reporters Jan. 10 at the Surface Navy Association National Symposium, Christian Sprinkle, Raytheon’s senior program director for the Tomahawk, said the line will be busy for a few years recertifying the U.S. Navy and U.K Royal Navy’s Block IV Tactical Tomahawks for additional 15 years of shelf life. An undetermined number of some 3,000 Tactical Tomahawks will be modified into Maritime Strike Tomahawks while going through recertification, at a rate of 200 to 300 per year. The United Kingdom has expressed interest in converting its Block IVs into MSTs.
Raytheon is keeping its options open for Foreign Military Sales of the Tomahawk beyond the United Kingdom.
“We have designed in a capacity for Foreign Military Sales,” Sprinkle said.
He said the company wants to be well positioned in 2030 for the NGLAW program, noting that “we want to have the ability to reconstitute [the production line] if we need it.”
Sprinkle said the current minimum sustaining rate for the Tomahawk production is 196 missiles annually.
“We can produce even less than that (sustainably),” he said, noting that the company is evaluating the number and in six to eight months “before we find that sweet spot is. Now is the time to make that move.”
“With recertification, you don’t need to keep it at 196,” said Chris Daily, Raytheon’s program director. 
The Navy has added $2 billion to the Future Years Defense Plan to add MST capabilities to the Tomahawk, including a new radio suite, a multi-mode seeker, M-Code global positioning system. The Joint Multi-Effects Warhead currently is unfunded, but may make the cut in 2018. Raytheon has devoted $55 million in international research and development funds to mature the MST technologies, which the company may leverage in weapons developed by its “new programs division.” 
“We’ve made a very robust seeker which can serve the life of the missile,” Sprinkle said. “We have demonstrated an outstanding search and attack capability.”
Raytheon is in the process of retiring the Navy’s Block III Tomahawks — about 1,000 of the existing 4,000 missiles — the last of which will be demilitarized in fiscal 2018.

Putin’s submarines spur Nato to boost its UK nerve centre

Deborah Haynes, The Times (UK)
10 January 2018

NATO plans to expand a naval command post in Britain after a "significant" increase in Russian submarine activity off British waters and across the alliance, The Times understands.
Allied Maritime Command (Marcom) at Northwood, a sprawling base in northwest London, would increase by 100 to 200 NATO personnel from its present strength of 300 under the proposals, according to military sources.
An Atlantic command is also expected to be revived in the United States after a similar structure was disbanded at the end of the Cold War, when NATO relaxed its focus on ensuring the safe passage of reinforcements from America to Europe in a crisis.
A rise in Russian underwater maneuvers in recent years has prompted the rethink. This includes activity from six improved Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines in the Black Sea and Mediterranean. NATO is also concerned about Russian boats interfering with transatlantic communication cables.
"You see them [Russia] active across the entire NATO area of interest," a NATO official said. "It is significant, it is growing . . . They are able to hold much of NATO maritime forces, as well as much of NATO critical infrastructure, at risk from their maritime forces."
A Royal Navy frigate yesterday escorted Russian warships through the Strait of Dover in an increasingly common occurrence. A particular challenge is the enhanced capability of Russian submarines, which are faster and quieter than during the Cold War, making them harder to detect. This has eroded NATO's advantage in quieter boats. It has also made it more difficult for the Royal Navy's four nuclear-armed submarines to avoid detection, something they achieved throughout the Cold War.
Keeping the on-duty Trident submarine undetected is a founding principle of Britain's nuclear deterrent, guaranteeing the ability to fire back if the UK were ever under nuclear attack.
Another problem for NATO is its failure to maintain investment in anti-submarine warfare over the past 25 years when land-based campaigns in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have dominated. This has resulted in fewer submarines, frigates and submarine-tracking aircraft.
Admiral Sir George Zambellas, a former first sea lord, said that whoever controlled the underwater domain controlled the surface, the air and also, in future, space. "If you don't invest in that arena in peacetime you are not able to respond in war, when the potential enemy has been doing the reverse," the admiral said.
The size of the Russian navy, including its submarine fleet, has also shrunk since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it kept partly finished submarines on the production line and maintained its engineering and submariner skills, analysts said.
When the Kremlin increased military spending about a decade ago, the navy and in particular submarines benefited, they said. Russia believes it could use its underwater prowess to exploit NATO's weaknesses.
A final decision has yet to be made on increasing manpower at Northwood and creating the new Atlantic command. No such decision is expected to be reached until a NATO summit of alliance leaders in July in Brussels.
Under the proposals US Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk could provide leadership in the Atlantic at a time of crisis. This would complement the role of Marcom, which is led by a Royal Navy officer.
A second NATO official said: "Details about the geographical footprint and force levels of the new command structure have not yet been determined and will be discussed in the coming months."

Will the Navy's New Missile Submarine Become the Next 'F-35'? 

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven
10 January 2018

The Navy is defending the technological maturity of its now-in-development Columbia-Class submarine in response to a recent Government Accountability Office report claiming that many of the boat's technologies might not meet necessary standards of technical progress.
"The Columbia Class Submarine Program is well positioned to provide needed capability at an affordable price on the timeline needed to meet national strategic deterrent requirements," William Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven in a written statement.
Citing the submarines Integrated Power System, nuclear reactor, common missile compartment and propulsor, the GAO report says additional testing and development are required to assess technical progress.
"It is unknown at this point whether they will work as expected, be delayed, or cost more than planned," the report states.
While quick to emphasize that the service welcomes input and critical assessments, Navy officials responded to the GAO's central claims by explaining that the technological systems in question are engineering and integration efforts, as opposed to technology maturation efforts.
Also, Navy developers told Warrior Maven that the Columbia-Class acquisition program has met all of its requisite DoD metrics, therefore reinforcing and validating the program's progress. In particular, Couch said the Columbia program complied with all Navy, DoD and statutory requirements for conducting a 2015 Technology Readiness Assessment. He added that while some of the systems have not yet been tested in an operational environment, they are showing substantial promise and reliability in various developmental assessments.
Responding to a claim in the GAO's report that Navy developers underestimated some of the risks associated with the technology, Couch added that "the Navy continues to actively manage all Columbia program costs, schedule and performance goals, including engineering and integration risks."
The Navy response also emphasizes, according to Couch, that Columbia-Class submarine developers regularly brief DoD leadership and Congress to "ensure all risks are transparent and fully understood."
The GAO report does praise the Navy for its thorough effort to explore and complete design specifications early in the acquisition process - so as to set proper requirements and pave the way toward successful construction.
Overall, the issue raised in the GAO report is of critical concern to many throughout Congress and DoD for both budget and strategic reasons. Many regard the Columbia-Class submarines, slated to enter service in the early 2030s, as the number one DoD priority. Added to this equation is the fact that there has long been concern that there were not sufficient budget dollars available for the effort.
Perhaps of equal or greater significance is the fast-evolving current global threat environment which, among other things, brings the realistic prospect of a North Korean nuclear weapons attack. Undersea strategic deterrence therefore, as described by Navy leaders, brings a critical element of the nuclear triad by ensuring a second strike ability in the event of attack. Quietly patrolling in often unknown portions of the global undersea domain, Navy nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines are intended to perform a somewhat contradictory, yet essential mission.
By ensuring the prospect of massive devastation to an enemy through counterattack, weapons of total destruction can - by design - succeed in keeping the peace.
Columbia-Class Technology
Although complete construction is slated to ramp up fully in the next decade, Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat developers have already been prototyping key components, advancing science and technology efforts and working to mature a handful of next generation technologies. 
With this in mind, the development strategy for the Columbia-Class could well be described in terms of a two-pronged approach; in key respects, the new boats will introduce a number of substantial leaps forward or technical innovations - while simultaneously leveraging currently available cutting-edge technologies from the Virginia-Class attack submarines, Navy program managers have told Warrior in interviews over the years.
Designed to be 560-feet- long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-Class submarines will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol the global undersea domain.
While Navy developers explain that many elements of the new submarines are not available for discussion for security reasons, some of its key innovations include a more efficient electric drive propulsion system driving the shafts and a next-generation nuclear reactor. A new reactor will enable extended deployment possibilities and also prolong the service life of submarines, without needing to perform the currently practiced mid-life refueling.
By engineering a "life-of-ship" reactor core, the service is able to build 12 Columbia-Class boats able to have the same at sea presence as the current fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines. The plan is intended to save the program $40 billion savings in acquisition and life-cycle cost, Navy developers said.
Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s.
Construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said.
The US plans to build 12 new Columbia-Class Submarines, each with 16 missile tubes, and the UK plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic submarines, each with 12 missile tubes.
Regarding development of the US-UK Common Missile Compartment specified by the GAO report, early "tube and hull" forging have been underway for several years already.
The Columbia-Class will also use Virginia-class's next-generation communications system, antennas and mast. For instance, what used to be a periscope is now a camera mast connected to fiber-optic cable, enabling crew members in the submarine to see images without needing to stand beneath the periscope. This allows designers to move command and control areas to larger parts of the ship and still have access to images from the camera mast, Electric Boat and Navy officials said.
The Columbia-Class will utilize Virginia-class's fly-by-wire joystick control system and large-aperture bow array sonar. The automated control fly-by-wire navigation system is also a technology that is on the Virginia-Class attack submarines. A computer built-into the ship's control system uses algorithms to maintain course and depth by sending a signal to the rudder and the stern.
Sonar technology works by sending out an acoustic ping and then analyzing the return signal in order to discern shape, location or dimensions of an undersea threat.
Navy experts explained that the large aperture bow array is water backed with no dome and very small hydrophones able to last for the life of the ship; the new submarines do not have an air-backed array, preventing the need to replace transducers every 10-years.
In January of last year, development of the new submarines have passed what's termed "Milestone B," clearing the way beyond early development toward ultimate production.
Last Fall, the Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $5 billion contract award is for design, completion, component and technology development and prototyping efforts.

Nuclear Submarine INS Arihant Back in Action After Damage in Propulsion Chamber

Staff, India.com
8 January 2018

NEW DELHI - India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant is back in action after being crippled for the last several months following a major damage which resulted in water entering the warship’s propulsion chamber. Almost 10 months ago a possible human error led to water entering Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN) INS Arihant’s propulsion chamber rendering it unfit to sail.
Navy officials say the accident took place when INS Arihant was reportedly at Vishakhapatnam harbour. The damaged pipes and other instruments were replaced to make the warship operational again. The incident came to light just a few weeks after the Navy admitted nuclear submarine INS Chakra’s SONAR, known as the eyes and ears of a submarine in the water, was damaged in early October 2016 after either hit something or while docking at Vishakhapatnam. INS Chakra, a nuclear-powered Akula II class Nerpa submarine, was taken on a 10-year lease from Russia in 2012.
INS Arihant was commissioned into Indian Navy in August 2016 and completed India’s nuclear triad. The submarine will carry either 12 nuclear-tipped 750-km range K-15 Sagarika short range Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) or four 3500-km range K4 SLBMs, which can be fired from four vertical launch tubes. The 112-metre log, 6,000-tonne INS Arihant is powered by a 83 MW pressurised light water reactor and has been built under the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project at the Ship Building Centre in Visakhapatnam, one of the key bases of Indian Navy.
India joined a select group of five nations – USA, Russia, China, France and the UK – to build and operate a SSBN with the commissioning of INS Arihant. The second SSBN under ATV project, INS Aridhaman, is undergoing sea trials. The submarine will be commissioned into the Navy only by 2019 and its nuclear reactor will go critical only after sea trials.
India is already building two more SSBNs under the ATV project which have more advanced features and weapons systems giving the Navy blue water capabilities.

State Department Approves $98.4 Million Missile and Torpedo Deal with Mexico

Matthew Beinart, Defense Daily
5 January

The State Department has approved a possible $98.4 million deal with Mexico for six RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, 23 Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and six MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress on Friday of the foreign military sale (FMS).
"Mexico has been a strong partner in combating organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.  The sale of these ship-based systems to Mexico will significantly increase and strengthen its maritime capabilities," the DSCA said in a statement. "Mexico intends to use these defense articles and services to modernize its armed forces and expand its existing naval and maritime support of national security requirements and in its efforts to combat criminal organizations."
The Mexican government has also requested missile round packs, two MK 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes triple tube launchers, 250 rounds of AA98 25mm high explosive and semi-armor piercing ammunition, 750 rounds of A976 25mm target practice and tracer ammunition, 480 rounds of BA22 57mm high explosive programmable fuze ammunition and 960 rounds of BA23 57mm practice ammunition.
The deal also includes spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, and training and logistical services.
There is no prime contractor for deal, and equipment will be provided from U.S. stocks.
Mexico will use the new weapon systems for its Navy Sigma 10514 class ship.