Future of Navy Strategic Deterrence

The following blog was written by Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, director of the Navy’s Undersea Warfare Division (N97).

As Vice Adm. John Richardson, Commander Submarine Forces, discussed in his recent post Primus in Pace,” July 20, 2012 marks the 52nd anniversary of the first submarine-launched Polaris nuclear missile. This event was celebrated with a simple naval message from the commanding officer of USS George Washington (SSBN 598) to President Dwight Eisenhower:

 “POLARIS – FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT.”

Commemorative photo of the first launch of a Polaris missile from the George Washington (SSBN-598).

For over 50 years, and more than 4,000 strategic patrols, Submariners have quietly and reliably provided the most survivable leg of the strategic deterrent triad. At this very moment, our nation’s Submariners are submerged and undetected in our Ohio-class submarines, ready to respond to national tasking.

Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730)

Over 50% of deployed nuclear warheads today are carried on board Ohio-class submarines. When New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) limitations come into effect in 2018, that figure will increase to over 70%. In contrast to this, the Ohio-class will begin retiring at a rate of one hull per year starting in 2027. To ensure that our nation’s survivable deterrent will continue to be carried by a platform that is survivable, reliable, credible, and persistent for the foreseeable future, the Navy has initiated a detailed design process necessary to support construction of Ohio replacement starting in 2021.

The Ohio replacement SSBN will be a cost-effective recapitalization of our nation’s sea-based strategic deterrent. The Ohio replacement plan leverages 50+ years of SSBN design and operation combined with the cost controls of the Virginia-class SSN program to provide an assured response capability in a leaner, more cost effective manner.

Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Wyoming (SSBN 742)

In addition to maximizing reuse of Ohio and Virginia components, it will also incorporate new technology and a life of ship reactor core that does not require refueling, to maintain the platform as a viable deterrent into the 2080s. Because of these design improvements, 12 Ohio replacement SSBNs are projected to provide the same at-sea presence as 14 Ohio SSBNs, effectively saving the Navy over $20 billion over the life of the class.

An effective U.S. nuclear sea-based strategic deterrent promotes global security and is an
enduring national security imperative. Failure to maintain a survivable, reliable, credible, and persistent strategic deterrent would invite costs too great to contemplate. The Ohio replacement SSBN will fill a role that is absolutely vital to our nation’s security, and will maintain the nation’s deterrent patrols into the 2080s.