Friday, January 28, 2011

Navy embarks on replacements for Trident submarines

Rear Adm. David Johnson
The first Ohio-class submarine arrived at Naval Submarine Base Bangor. Suddenly, the ballistic-missile subs are pushing 30, and the Navy is preparing to replace them.

Rear Adm. David Johnson spoke about the changeover Thursday before a luncheon crowd of Navy supporters. Johnson, as Program Executive Officer, Submarines, in Washington, D.C., is responsible for new submarine construction programs.
Rear Adm. David Johnson
Fresh out of the Naval Academy, he was assigned to Bangor's Trident Refit Facility in December 1982, coming just as the USS Ohio returned from its first patrol. Much has changed since then. Silverdale was horse pastures and an Elsie's restaurant, he said. There was a Soviet Union, and a Cold War.

Today, stores have overtaken fields, and the USS Ohio doesn't even carry nuclear warheads anymore. It and three sister ships were converted to conventional weapons. Fourteen ballistic-missile subs remain — eight at Bangor and six at Kings Bay, Ga. Over the next three decades, they'll give way to a dozen new ones. The new nuclear fuel cores will last as long as the boats themselves, unlike the Ohios that need a two-year midlife refueling, so the Navy can cover the same ground with fewer subs, Johnson said.
Construction of the first new boat will begin in 2019, be completed by 2026 and it will be patrolling by 2029, Johnson said. The Navy intends to add one per year, through 2040. With a 42-year life span, matching the Ohios, the final boat will remain on duty until 2082, 70 years from now. The first Ohio-class sub will be retired in 2027, followed each of the next 13 years by another.
The Ohio-class boats have 24 tubes for D-5 ballistic missiles. Each missile can carry eight warheads. New subs will keep the D-5 missiles, at least to begin with, but pare down to 16 missile tubes.
"We took a little risk in the number of missile tubes," said Johnson, explaining that the Navy is balancing capabilities with cost so the price doesn't get out of control and threaten other shipbuilding programs.
Development and design work have begun. The Navy received $497.4 million in research and development funding in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget for what's called the SSBN(X) program, and requested $672.3 million more in FY2011. The first boat is expected to cost $6 billion to $7 billion, with the ensuing ones possibly dipping to $5 billion, according to a congressional report.
Johnson has credentials for containing prices. He helped reduce the costs of the new Virginia class of fast-attack subs by $4 billion, and the program won major awards for value engineering and acquisition excellence. He'll use that program as a model, he said.
"They were delivered at less cost, more complete and more deployment-ready out of the chute," he said.
The new Tridents will have a conservative design, fewer missile tubes, use proven D-5 missiles and components from Seawolf- and Virginia-class subs to keep down costs, Johnson said.
"There's a long way to go, but we're making great progress," Johnson said. "I really, really look forward to the work ahead."
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