While much of our energy is spent on current challenges and looking ahead at the bright future of the submarine community, it is important to occasionally reflect upon and recognize the major milestones our Force has accomplished along the way.
The past six months have highlighted some of the incredible work being done community-wide to make the Submarine Force stand out as a leader in our nation’s defense.
When it comes to operational excellence in the Submarine Force, our Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN) achieved a significant milestone in February when we celebrated the accomplishment of our SSBN Force during ceremonies held in Kings Bay, Ga. and Bangor, Wash. These events marked the 1,000th successful TRIDENT strategic deterrent patrol since the first patrol of USS Ohio (SSBN-726) in 1982. At the Kings Bay ceremony, the then-Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Donald C. Winter; the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright; the Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. Kevin Chilton; and the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, all stressed the continued importance of strategic deterrence in today’s world and how our 14 Ohio-class SSBNs support that crucial tenant of the Maritime Strategy.
In January, a Secretary of Defense Task Force on DoD [Department of Defense] Nuclear Weapons Management provided a detailed assessment of how our nation’s nuclear forces train, perform maintenance and operate our strategic systems. This Task Force came out with a list of recommendations that we are working on today that continues our strong commitment to the nuclear mission. Notably, the report concluded that the SSBN Sailor has remained committed to the strategic defense mission and has remained highly motivated to perform these critical tasks. It is this kind of commitment to the high standards of the Submarine Force that has allowed us to achieve the success which makes our Navy, and our nation, stronger.
It is important to remember that as long as other countries possess nuclear weapons, there will be a need for a sea-based strategic deterrent, ready and vigilant in a secure and survivable posture, to rapidly respond to national tasking.
While the SSBNs are continuing to perform their mission exceptionally, the new Virginia-class submarines continue to make advancements in technology and capability to accomplish submarine non-strategic missions. With the newly commissioned USS New Hampshire (SSN-778), beginning to add to this class’s legacy, I remain confident that the Virginia-class will continue to grow and succeed.
In December, the Navy signed a five-year, $14 billion Multi-Year Procurement contract for eight additional Virginia-class submarines. This is the third contract, or Block III, for the Virginia-class, and it calls for one ship per year in fiscal years (FY) 2009 and 2010 and two per year in FY 2011, 2012, and 2013. The contract also meets the CNO and Virginia-class program’s mandate to reduce acquisition costs by approximately 20 percent for the 2012 ships.
In an effort to reach cost reduction goals, more than 100 discrete design changes were made, the most extensive of which involves the replacement of the traditional sonar sphere with a Large Aperture Bow Array and the 12 vertical launch tubes with two large diameter Virginia-class payload tubes. These two changes, along with more than two-dozen associated modifications will save millions of dollars per submarine.
Even with all of the new technology, it is the people in the Submarine Force who continue to make us so successful. In February, nine of our submariner officers were honored with the prestigious Black Engineer of the Year Award. This included a special distinction for Cmdr. Roger Isom, Commanding Officer of USS Wyoming (SSBN-742), as he was recognized for career achievement in government.
Awards like these promote awareness of the opportunities in our Force and expose other communities and organizations to the remarkable people who man our submarines. I am extraordinarily proud that these men have represented themselves and the Submarine Force so well.
As a community, we must continue to inspire and empower our Sailors to realize their full potential and recognize the value that each individual brings to the Force as we continue our legacy as submariners.