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Ohio Replacement Sub Technology photo, caption follows
A prototype missile tube produced by Marine Systems in Sunnyvale, Calif., part of Northrop Grumman's Naval & Marine Systems Division. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman Naval and Marine Systems.

by Capt. Dave Bishop

In the Summer 2009 issue of UNDERSEA WARFARE, Capt. David Kriete discussed the need for a follow-on submarine to replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines (SSBNs), which will begin to reach the end of their service lives in the late 2020s. Since that article's publication, the Ohio Replacement Submarine Program has made substantial progress, laying the initial foundation for the program. The recapitalization of the nation's sea-based strategic deterrent was validated by the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. On Jan. 10, 2011, the Ohio Replacement Program entered its technology-development phase when the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Frank Kendall, signed the program's Milestone A Acquisition Decision Memorandum. During this phase, the program will establish requirements and continue design and technology development efforts that will ultimately lead to a ship construction contract.

The Ohio Replacement SSBNs will remain in service through the 2080s. The program developing these ships is faced with the challenge of incorporating technologies that are both sufficiently advanced to meet threats that will be fielded in the coming decades and sufficiently mature when construction starts to avoid costly redesign work. These demands must be balanced against the Navy's fiscal constraints, and design, construction and life-cycle costs must therefore be minimized from the very beginning. The critical strategic deterrent mission of the SSBNs requires these platforms to operate stealthily and sustain high operational availability, with long deployments followed by a rapid crew exchange and a short maintenance-upkeep period prior to the next patrol. The Ohio Replacement submarine will continue to fulfill this mission while incorporating cost-effective and reliable systems that are advanced—yet technologically mature.

The opportunity to incorporate technology into the Ohio Replacement SSBNs is constrained. Beginning in 2027, the Navy will begin retiring Ohio-class SSBNs at a rate of one per year. To ensure that the Navy can fulfill its strategic deterrence requirements, the first replacement must be ready for its initial patrol in 2029. To meet this requirement, the Navy initiated the Ohio Replacement Submarine Program in 2010 to begin the design and development work required to reconstitute the sea-based component of the strategic deterrence triad (which consists of land-based, aircraft-based, and submarine-based nuclear weapon systems). Design, prototyping, and technology development efforts will continue to ensure sufficient technological maturity for lead ship procurement. The current Navy program begins detailed design efforts in 2015, with construction start in 2019, delivery in 2026, and the first strategic deterrence deployment in 2029.

image caption follows
During a baseline hydrostatic pressure hull test, the OhioReplacement Missile Compartment Pressure Hull Research and Development Model was successfully tested to collapse at NSWC Carderock's High Pressure Test Facility at West Bethesda, Md. U.S. Navy Photo.

Although the detailed requirements for the Ohio Replacement SSBN are still being developed, the platform's key attributes are known and validated. These include:

Survivability: the ability to survive against a determined future adversary

Persistent secure presence: mission-based positioning for weapon application against multiple potential adversaries, independent of logistical support

Tailorability: the ability to rapidly integrate new weapons, sensors, and electronic systems

Adaptability: technical and operational flexibility for mission or life-cycle upgrades

All of these attributes must be affordable. The sea-based strategic deterrence mission must be accomplished with the allocated national and Navy financial resources over the lifecycle of the platform. The Navy is committed to reducing total ownership cost (TOC)—i.e., all the costs associated with research, development, procurement, operation, logistical support, and demilitarization of systems and the supporting infrastructure over the full life cycle—as a way to achieve the efficiencies that will allow the Navy to afford the future fleet. One facet of minimizing TOC is obtaining sufficient service life from the ships being designed today. The Ohio Replacement SSBN has a projected operational life exceeding 40 years, much like the extended lifetime of the existing Ohio-class SSBNs, but without requiring a mid-life refueling.

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