Personnel aboard the Ohio-class strategic missile submarine USSKentucky(SSBN-737)
await a transport boat while transiting the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
by Capt. Stephen Lewia
For more than fifty years, the Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) command has contributed to our nation’s defense by providing the nation’s only survivable strategic nuclear deterrent. SSP’s deterrent missile systems remain a key factor in the prevention of nuclear war and the preservation of global stability. SSP’s long, proud history is noteworthy, as it is a history of continual evolution to meet a world of uncertainty.
SSP’s origins date back to November, 1955 when Charles Thomas, Secretary of the Navy under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, directed the formation of a Special Project Office for the development of the Army-Navy Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missile system. That office evolved into the SSP organization which is now responsible for the Strategic Weapons System aboard the Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines that patrol the world’s international waters to protect the U.S. and its allies.
In 1956, the Navy began development of the Polaris solid-fueled missile, the world’s first submarine underwater launched ballistic missile. Since the program’s inception, the FBM team has produced more than 3,600 missiles in six generations, each more capable than its predecessor: Polaris A1, A2, A3; Poseidon C3; TRIDENT I C4; and TRIDENT II D5. With six generations of missiles over more than five decades, the FBM system remains, to this day, the largest critical component in the nation’s strategic defense forces.
Thawing Cold War tensions coupled with emerging new threats to global peace have yielded today’s strategic defense policy. This policy maintains an effective deterrent with a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons while increasing overall conventional and defensive capabilities to thwart rogue nations and terrorist threats.
As a result, SSP’s mission to provide credible and affordable strategic solutions to the warfighter now means continuing to perform the traditional mission of sea-based deterrence while undertaking work in new, complimentary fields. The responsibility for maintaining the sea-based strategic deterrent also includes the associated security for this national asset as well as arms control implementation and compliance responsibilities. In order to meet changing needs, SSP’s additional responsibilities include the attack weapons systems for guided-missile submarines (SSGNs), large diameter submarine tube payload integration, and other emerging missions.
World events continue to influence SSP. The organization’s ability to adapt to the changing world environment provides a strong foundation to support the needs of the nation’s defense policy now and in the future.
Continuing the Success of the TRIDENT Strategic Weapon System
The TRIDENT II, D5 Strategic Weapon System has been providing a reliable deterrent for nearly 20 years onboard the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Navy first deployed the TRIDENT II D5 missile, the longest range and most accurate of the six generations of the FBM, in 1990. SSBN patrol operations — survivable and undetected — provide continuous strategic deterrence capability to national leadership.
The entire TRIDENT II D5 weapon system has a demonstrated reliability that is second-to-none as evidenced by two decades of annual, operationally representative flight testing. The most recent test on Feb. 13, 2009 represented the 126th consecutive successful missile flight test since 1989. This is not only the result of a sound engineering design based on proven technologies and lessons learned from previous weapons system generations, but more importantly it is a reflection of the dedicated people — military and civilian, government and contractor who work to serve this program. Just as this weapon system provides constant and credible vigilance, it demands of its personnel an unwavering support to safety of operations and high performance — and they have delivered.
Long-term government and contractor partnerships contribute to the performance of the Navy’s Strategic Weapon System, which takes a special brand of collaboration. Each contractor facility is teamed with a Program Management Office headed by a naval officer and a staff of military / government civilians, forming a synergy through close working relationships that has become instrumental to the success of this program.
SSP’s partnerships within the Department of Defense (DoD) span other services and organizations. Commander, U.S. Strategic Command is the commander for the nation’s strategic forces, determining the requirements across all strategic forces and SSP delivers products to support these requirements. Within the Navy, SSP works with Commander, Submarine Force; Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet; and Commander Submarine Group TRIDENT to ensure that the needs of the 14 strategic Ohio-class submarines — and their BLUE and GOLD crews — are always met.
SSP maintains a close working relationship with the submarine base commanders for the home ports of the SSBNs, which also are home to the “factories in the field”: the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT) at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., and the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) at Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Wash. SSP’s Naval Ordnance Test Unit (NOTU) Command at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., provides an important role as the Test Director for all test launches on both the Air Force Eastern Test Range, as well as West Coast flight test operations conducted from Naval Air Station Pt. Mugu, Calif.
One of SSP’s most important relationships is its longstanding international partnership with the United Kingdom. The signing of the Polaris Sales Agreement in April 1963 provided the Royal Navy with the Polaris Weapons System, providing the United Kingdom an independent sea-based strategic capability. This agreement was amended in 1982, allowing the United Kingdom to deploy the TRIDENT II D5 Weapons System. Since the first deployment of HMS Resolution (S22), the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy have maintained this relationship, under the leadership of its two project officers, Director, Strategic Systems Programs for the United States and Chief, Strategic Systems Executive for the United Kingdom. The U.S. and U.K. share assets from a common inventory and deploy identical systems with the exception of the warheads. For four decades the Royal Navy’s strategic submarines have maintained a continuous at-sea deterrent force for the United Kingdom.
Taking the System into the Future
The TRIDENT II D5 Life Extension program is SSP’s footprint for the next 35 years. New missile and guidance electronics will replace legacy components and meet long-term inventory requirements. The Life Extension program also allows for the continuation of weapon system test launches for the life of the Ohio-class SSBNs to maintain the safety, reliability, readiness and performance of the operational systems. The first Life Extension missile will be delivered to the Navy in Fiscal Year 2013. In addition, SSP systematically conducts technology refresh of the shipboard subsystems; fire control, navigation and launcher; to ensure long term continued supportability and to reduce costs by leveraging Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) technologies and components. SSP is also leading the initial efforts to develop concepts for the replacement of the Ohio-class SSBNs. These efforts are being closely coordinated with United Kingdom efforts to replace the Vanguard-class SSBNs, providing the opportunity for both countries to continue to benefit from the joint strategic program elements afforded under the Polaris Sales Agreement.
Providing Nuclear Weapons Security
Equaling the importance of providing a credible sea-based strategic deterrent is that of maintaining the security of Navy’s strategic assets. SSP is responsible for the security and safety of these strategic weapons.
The emergence of new threats has prompted an increase of the Navy’s posture to guarantee security of Navy nuclear weapons. SSP has developed a robust, system-wide approach — the Integrated Nuclear Weapons Security System (INWSS) — linking landside and waterside security measures. Under INWSS, a set of new security projects form a balanced, in-depth system sufficient to protect against the potential threats at the Strategic Weapon Facilities. SSP continues to implement and evolve this comprehensive system, which includes the necessary personnel, equipment and processes.
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