America’s next generation of ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) achieved an important program milestone, known as “Milestone A,” which gives the Ohio-class replacement program the green light to move forward with the Technology Development Phase of the Department of Defense life cycle management system.
The U.S. Navy’s Ohio Replacement Submarine program will be a class of 12 submarines to replace the 14 SSBNs in the current fleet. The Ohio-class originally included 18 SSBNs, known as “Trident” submarines because of their Trident missiles. Four of those – the first four of the class, including the lead ship, USS Ohio – were converted to cruise missile submarines, carrying conventional weapons instead of the Trident nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Navy plans to begin construction of the first Ohio-class replacement in 2019, with the second hull beginning in 2022, and then building one per year beginning in 2024, each with a hull diameter of 43 feet and 16 missile tubes that are 87 inches in diameter.
Sources tell Defense Media Network that the price is estimated to be $5 billion per ship.
“The Navy is committed to ensuring that an affordable replacement ballistic missile submarine is designed, built, and delivered on time with the right capabilities to sustain the most survivable leg of our triad for many decades to come,” said Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. Dave Johnson.
According to Alan Baribeau, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Navy projects that the average ship end cost (hulls 2-12, Navy inflation/deflation indices, excludes outfitting and post delivery will be $4.9 billion (base year 2010 dollars).
The fire control system and missiles for the new submarines will essentially be the same as on the Ohio SSBNs. “The Strategic Weapon System shipboard subsystems [Navigation & Fire Control] will be re-packaged and re-hosted on the new platform using the latest technology from the in-service Ohio-class fleet,” Baribeau says. “The initial outload of missiles for new construction Ohio replacement SSBNs will be taken from the mingled inventory pool of Trident II (D5) missiles deployed on the Ohio-class and Royal Navy’s Vanguard-class submarines.”
A life-of-ship core is being pursued for the Ohio replacement, so that the boats will not have to be taken out of service to be refueled. Modern naval nuclear propulsion plants have been designed for reduced acquisition cost, reduced total ownership and lifecycle costs, reduced manpower and maintenance requirements. “While the details of the reactor design are classified, advances in metallurgy, design and manufacturing have made life-of-ship reactors and components possible. While USS Nautilus had to be refueled after two years of operation, significant research and development efforts have given the USS Virginia a 30+ year life-of-ship core. A longer life core results in less time in the shipyard, more time to perform critical missions, and an overall reduction in number of ships required to execute the mission,” Baribeau says.
Baribeau says that the Ohio replacement must have improved stealth capabilities and performance to meet survivability requirements against projected threats for service through the 2080s. Further, they will fully leverage the Virginia-class’ design build methods, be designed to be built using modern modular construction techniques and maximize the use of open architecture, and incorporate a life of ship core that removes the need to refuel the ships.
The program achieved Milestone A on Jan. 10, 2011, following the endorsement of the Defense Acquisition Board, chaired by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Dr. Ashton Carter, on Dec. 9, 2010, together which validates the program’s technology development strategy and allows entry into the technology development phase during which warfighting requirements will be refined to meet operational and affordability goals.
According to a Navy statement, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review revalidated the recapitalization of the nation’s sea-based strategic deterrent. This study followed the May 2009 Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States that recognized submarine-launched ballistic missiles as the most survivable, and therefore most capable, of the three strategic deterrence legs of the U.S. nuclear triad. The Ohio replacement will leverage the successful Virginia-class acquisition program and carry the Trident II (D5) Life Extension missile, the nation’s most accurate and reliable strategic missile system with 134 consecutive successful flight tests.
Design, prototyping, and technology development efforts for the Ohio replacement are intended to ensure sufficient technological maturity for lead ship procurement in 2019.