Since the last issue of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine, I relieved Rear Adm. Tammen as Director of Undersea Warfare. I am excited to leverage my recent Sixth Fleet experience in equipping our warfighters for the future fight. We are at a pivotal point as a submarine force. Our adversaries are aggressively seeking to erode our advantage in the undersea domain, but we are evolving to maintain superiority. We must ensure that our undersea forces are equipped with new capabilities to improve our reach and lethality in the near term, are programmed to receive novel technologies in the mid-term, and are on a path to execute our Commander’s Vision in the future. To align these efforts, N97 has two main lines of effort: Strategic Deterrence and Theater Undersea Warfare. Below is an update on where we stand in these lines of effort and what changes you will see in the near future.
Strategic Deterrence. Strategic Deterrence remains DoD’s and the Navy’s #1 priority, and the Submarine Force provides the nation’s survivable sea-based strategic deterrent. The force is sized to keep a minimum of 10 operational SSBNs properly positioned, postured, and survivable or capable of becoming so at all times. To ensure we continue to provide the required forces, we extended the life of Ohio-class submarines to 42 years and are focusing resources to keep the Columbia-class on track. Extending the life of the Ohio-class boats is not enough to pace the threat; we must continue to improve the capability and lethality of the boats we send to sea. All Ohio-class submarines will have the Submarine Warfare Federation of Tactical System (SWFTS) installed by 2022 to keep them relevant throughout the 2030s. The Columbia program is ramping up, advanced construction of key components is in progress, and full production will start in FY21. USS Columbia will be ready to execute her first patrol NLT than October 2030.
Theater Undersea Warfare. We have made strong investments in advancing undersea lethality. New capabilities will be on your submarine or in the water column with you in the next five to ten years. We are starting construction of Virginia-class Block V this year, which includes the Virginia Payload Module (VPM). Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, the next-generation heavyweight torpedo, and hypersonic land attack missiles will complement the Submarine Force by the mid 20s. We will see a dramatic difference in the range and lethality that we can generate from the undersea domain.
Domain-centric vice platform-centric. As we move toward the future of undersea warfare in this era of great power competition, we must look broader than only developing undersea capabilities around tactical submarines. The undersea domain will be one large integrated network that consists of SSNs, UUVs, fixed sensors, deployable sensors, communication channels, and other payloads. We will have better situational awareness, stealth, and a greater spectrum of effects. Lethality will be delivered by payloads that are platform-agnostic, and information from a multitude of undersea sensors will be available for fusion in multiple locations to enable precise strategic decisions.
The investments we make in our platforms and payloads are necessary to maintain our undersea superiority, but these technological improvements are not the largest advantage we have. This issue acknowledges the real game changer in our undersea fight: the people! Adm. Gilday said it best in his message to the fleet, “The people are our most important weapon system.”
T. E. Ishee