Friday, June 28, 2013

SSBN-X: What It Will Not Look Like

     Yesterday at Navy Live RDML Richard Breckenridge posted some facts about the SSBN-X that have solidified by this time. RDML Breckenridge specifically discussed the ideas for a stretched Virginia with a module for Trident SLBMs, A stretched Virgina with a new missile, and restarting the Ohio production line. Read:

Virginia-based SSBN design with a Trident II D5 missile. An SSBN design based on a Virginia-class attack submarine with a large-diameter missile compartment was rejected due to a wide range of shortfalls. It would:
  • Not meet survivability (stealth) requirements due to poor hull streamlining and lack of a drive train able to quietly propel a much larger ship
  • Not meet at-sea availability requirements due to longer refit times (since equipment is packed more tightly within the hull, it requires more time to replace, repair and retest)
  • Not meet availability requirements due to a longer mid-life overhaul (refueling needed)
  • Require a larger number of submarines to meet the same operational requirement
  • Reduce the deterrent value needed to protect the country (fewer missiles, warheads at-sea)
  • Be more expensive than other alternatives due to extensive redesign of Virginia systems to work with the large missile compartment (for example, a taller sail, larger control surfaces and more robust support systems)
We would be spending more money (on more ships) to deliver less deterrence (reduced at-sea warhead presence) with less survivability (platforms that are less stealthy).
Virginia-based SSBN design with a smaller missile. Some have encouraged the development of a new, smaller missile to go with a Virginia-based SSBN. This would carry forward many of the shortfalls of a Virginia-based SSBN we just discussed, and add to it a long list of new issues. Developing a new nuclear missile from scratch with an industrial base that last produced a new design more than 20 years ago would be challenging, costly and require extensive testing. We deliberately decided to extend the life of the current missile to decouple and de-risk the complex (and costly) missile development program from the new replacement submarine program. Additionally, a smaller missile means a shorter employment range requiring longer SSBN patrol transits. This would compromise survivability, require more submarines at sea and ultimately weaken our deterrence effectiveness. With significant cost, technical and schedule risks, there is little about this option that is attractive.
Ohio-based SSBN design. Some have argued that we should re-open the Ohio production line and resume building the Ohio design SSBNs. This simply cannot be done because there is no Ohio production line. It has long since been re-tooled and modernized to build state-of-the-art Virginia-class SSNs using computerized designs and modular, automated construction techniques. Is it desirable to redesign the Ohio so that a ship with its legacy performance could be built using the new production facilities? No, since an Ohio-based SSBN would:
  • Not provide the required quieting due to Ohio design constraints and use of a propeller instead of a propulsor (which is the standard for virtually all new submarines)
  • Require 14 instead of 12 SSBNs by reverting to Ohio class operational availability standards (incidentally creating other issues with the New START treaty limits)
  • Suffer from reduced reliability and costs associated with the obsolescence of legacy Ohio system components
Once again, the end result would necessitate procuring more submarines (14) to provide the required at-sea presence and each of them would be less stealthy and less survivable against foreseeable 21stcentury threats. 
     Emphasis is mine. The objections to using the Virgina-class are new, but the problems brought to light are accurate. Same for new build Ohios. However, with the SSBN-X the boomer fleet will be reduced to 12 from 14, and the SSBN-X will carry 16 missile tubes instead of the Ohios 24 tubes. This is a reduction of 140 missiles, almost 50% of the Navy's capability. I'm curious is this because of budgets, NEW START, or something else? 

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