Richard R. Burgess, Seapower Magazine
22 March 2018
The director of the Navy's strategic missile programs told Congress the service will begin planning for a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile next year.
The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released in February, calls for development of a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile. The review also calls for a low-yield nuclear warhead for the Navy’s Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
“With regard to the sea-launched cruise missile, we will begin that effort in fiscal year ’19 with the standard analysis of alternatives on what the requirements would be for that type of a weapon and where it would be based from sea, either surface or submarine,” Vice Adm. Terry J. Benedict, director, Strategic Systems Programs (SSP), said during March 22 testimony before the of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee.
Benedict is responsible for developing and sustaining the Navy’s strategic deterrent weapons, most notably the Trident, which is deployed on the Navy’s 14 Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) and scheduled to be deployed on the future Columbia-class SSBN.
“That work will begin in fiscal year ’19, per the direction of the NPR, and the Navy today, under the direction of the CNO [chief of naval operations] and the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, are beginning that planning,” Benedict said.
Benedict also said the Navy is “beginning planning on the low-yield concept for [W76 warhead] and that’s, from our perspective, well on its way to support the direction out of the NPR.”
The W76 warhead is one of the warheads installed on the Trident D5 SLBM.
Benedict said the Navy’s 2019 budget request includes funds for “to begin modifying a small number of warheads to provide a low-yield option. This near-term capability is being accomplished in partnerships with the Department of Energy and my counterpart here, Administrator Gordon Haggerty at the NNSA [National Nuclear Safety Administration]. It will not increase the overall number of deployed ballistic warheads and will, in fact, bolster our deterrence posture.”
The Navy has been upgrading its Trident D5 SLBMs to the D5LE [Life Extension] configuration to enable them to serve for the remainder of the life of the Ohio class and well into the service of the Columbia class.
“All of our life-extension programs remain on track and on budget,” he said. “Our life-extension efforts will ensure an effective and credible sea-based strategic deterrent on both the Ohio- and the Columbia-class until the 2040s.
“The Navy is also taking steps to ensure a credible weapon system is available beyond 2040,” he said. “In fact, the Nuclear Posture Review directs the Navy to ‘begin studies in 2020 to define a cost-effective, credible and effective SLBM that we can deploy throughout the life of the Columbia SSBN through the 2080s.’”
The testimony likely will be Benedict’s last before the subcommittee. He is retiring and concluding eight years as SSP director.