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Next Generation Ohio-Class

 

This blog was written by Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, Director, Undersea Warfare, in advance of this week’s Joint Undersea Warfare Technology Fall Conference at Naval Submarine Base New London. 

This week’s Joint Undersea Warfare Technology conference will be a great opportunity to study and discuss the submarine force’s capabilities as an effective nuclear deterrent, namely with the Ohio Replacement class submarine.

Starting in 2027, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines will begin to retire at a rate of one hull per year as they reach the end of their 42-year operational lifetimes. To meet the national requirements for nuclear deterrence and promote global stability, the Navy is developing an Ohio Replacement class, designed to remain in service into the 2080s. This new class of submarine will become operational just in time to continue meeting national strategic requirements in 2031. As we continue to refine its design and technology to best meet future warfighting requirements, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the questions I am asked the most on our upcoming class of submarine.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build fewer ships with more missile tubes?

As we have moved through the designing phase, we conducted a detailed analysis of many force structure options. A force of 12 Ohio Replacement nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) with 16 missile tubes satisfies national strategic deterrent requirements at the most affordable cost. Twelve Ohio Replacement SSBNs meet at-sea strategic patrol requirements and sustains this requirement while some of the SSBNs are unavailable due to planned maintenance.

Reduced-force options we considered failed to meet the current at-sea and nuclear employment requirements, increased risk for force survivability, and limited the flexibility in response to an uncertain strategic future. A 12-ship, 16-missile tube SSBN force has sufficient, not excessive, flexibility and capacity.

If we need to build 12 submarines, why is it acceptable for the number to drop to 10 for so many years?

Because ship construction of the Ohio Replacement shifted from the year 2019 to 2021, there will be fewer than 12 SSBNs from 2029 to 2042 as the Ohio-class retires and Ohio replacement ships join the fleet.  During this time frame no major SSBN overhauls are planned, and a force of 10 SSBNs will support current at-sea presence requirements. However, this provides a low margin to compensate for unforeseen issues that may result in reduced SSBN availability. The reduced SSBN availability during this timeframe reinforces the importance of remaining on schedule with the Ohio Replacement program to meet future strategic commitments. As the Ohio Replacement ships begin their mid-life overhauls in 2049, 12 SSBNs will be required to offset ships conducting planned maintenance.

A modular constructed deck is inserted into the hull of a Virginia-class SSN. These modular construction techniques are being incorporated into the Ohio Replacement design.

How are you managing the shipbuilding costs?

Cost control is paramount throughout the Ohio Replacement program, from early design work and critical research and development through construction and follow-on operating costs. The Department of Defense set an aggressive cost goal of $4.9 billion per hull (calendar year 2010) as an average cost for hulls 2-12.  To date, the Navy has reduced costs by reducing specifications to the minimum necessary to meet national strategic deterrent requirements, implementing modular construction design, re-using the Trident II D5 Strategic Weapons System, and re-using Virginia- and Ohio-class components where feasible.  The Virginia class construction program, through aggressive management and collaboration between government and industry, has developed into a model ship building program, continually coming in under budget and ahead of schedule. Ohio Replacement design and construction will build on this success.

What is the impact on other shipbuilding requirements?

The Navy recognizes that replacing the Ohio-class submarine will have a large impact on the Department of the Navy shipbuilding budget, as SSBN procurement is a significant investment made once every ~40 years. However, the Navy is actively working to reduce costs and has already reduced approximately $1.1 billion in construction per ship and ~$3 billion in design from its fiscal year 2011 plan (calendar year 2010). The design incorporates a nuclear reactor that will not require refueling, enabling the planned force of 12 Ohio-replacement SSBNs to provide the same at-sea presence as the current force of 14 SSBNs, and saving taxpayers $20 billion (calendar year 2010) over the life of the class.

Since the Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine (SSN) construction has been so successful, why not build an SSBN with a Virginia-class hull and a missile compartment insert?  Or, why not build new Ohio-class SSBNs since they were such an effective platform?

From 2008 to 2009, a team of Navy and civilian researchers conducted an in-depth, detailed analysis of alternatives to study the various options for the future SSBN. A Virginia-class submarine with an added ballistic missile compartment and Ohio-class production restart were two of the alternatives considered. Although some savings would be realized due to lower design costs, an SSBN class based on a Virginia hull would require additional platforms, additional nuclear refueling, increased personnel costs, and its acoustic signature would be vulnerable to projected threats. Ultimately, the Navy would receive an SSBN class that is more expensive and less capable. Similarly, rebuilding Ohio-class SSBNs would save on design costs. However, the Ohio-class does not have sufficient stealth to stay viable out to the 2080s, and construction of more Ohio-class ships would not be able to take advantage of efficiencies of modern construction techniques.

Workers stand pose for a photo in the four-tube “quad-pack”. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics Electric Boat/Released)

Got more questions? Leave them below in our comments section.

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10 comments

  1. The article is informative and reassuring. Surely the release of such information is advantageous to the enemy who releases no similar information.

  2. Very cool. Without these submarines we wouldn’t have the full protection we do today. These are what keep us from having another world war.

  3. No classified information was released in the article; but for a deterrence to be a deterrent, the other side must know that we have the technology, that the technology has been developed and implemented, and we have the determination to use the deterrent if the need arises. OTOH – I am concerned that 14 Trident SSBNs with 24 missile tubes at present (maybe 2 out for refueling at a time) isn’t really being matched by new submarines carrying the 2/3rds of the same basic missile. The actual numbers have been decreased.

  4. We’re already reducing from 24 tubes to 20 tubes per SSBN under New START. Obviously the Ohio replacement takes that even further, but it’s not so drastic a cut (96 tubes less, when all is said and done). But none of this talks about warhead counts and MIRVing, and seeing as before long the next round of arms reduction will finally account for non-deployed warheads (rather than SNDVs), I think most of these concerns will be moot by the time this class is coming into service.

  5. Anybody else bothered by the trend of continuously trying to kid ourselves that we can do more with less despite the glaring proof otherwise provided by example after example?? I say at least 14 boats. It’s not like we keep coming up with less for them to do… I miss common sense.

  6. I have a few questions If I may
    Will the new SSBNs be double hulled? If the new subs will have only 16 missile tubes instead of 24, does that mean that they shipscarry a new, larger missile capable of carrying more MIRVs than the current Trident II D5s? Will the new boat be equipped with side array sonar as the Seawolfs? Are the dive planes being moved to the bow and made retractable? Will the propeller be replaced with a pump jet?
    Thanks for the blog. I love this stuff!

  7. Get rid of the LCS ships and build more NextGen boomers and attack subs. Much more lethal then the weak LCS boats.

  8. Keeper2, we have Politicians who say we have too much war making material and we need to change the Stars & Stripes to something White! Ever heard of Code Pink? They seem to think the best way to go through life is letting the Bullies and Thugs have their way with us, even if women and children are beheaded. Just ask Mr. Obama, these people wrote his play book.

  9. theUnhandledException

    The current Trident II D5 can carry up to 8 MIRVed warheads however as part of START treaty they are limited to no more than 3 and for operational flexibility contain an mix of 1 to 3 warheads each (average of 2.4). The reality is given the history of extreme survivability of the SSBN it has largely obsoleted the land and air components but the airforce can’t have that. So they continually resist any attempt to reduce the number of highly vulnerable land based ICBMs which means greater cuts in the SSBM missile and warhead count to meet arms reduction requirements.

    Under NEW START the US and Russia will reduce to 700 deployed “launchers” and 1550 warheads but there is no limit under the number of warheads per missile just the total number of launchers (under the definitions a 16 tube boomer would count as 16 launchers). To meet that requirement that Ohio is being reduced to 20 tubes and in anticipation of future cuts down to 1000 total deployed warheads the SSBN-X is being planned around 16 tubes.

    In a sane world we do as the British and French do and rely on the unstoppable boomer platform to ensure the enemy can’t prevent a retaliatory restrike. Scrap the obsolete and vulnerable land based silos, and reduce the air component to 100 warheads mostly air cruise missiles with a small number of nuclear earth penetrators for flexibility. Then use the cost savings to build 3 more (15 total) SSBN-X boats and up the MIRV count so they hold 900 total warheads. Of course we don’t live in a sane world so the Airforce will continue to demand they get “half the nukes” for budgetary reasons.

  10. theUnhandledException

    The stealth component is more important than the raw explosive force. The Trident II has sufficient throw weight for 12 MIRVED warheads although we limited that to 3 as part of START1. Even there as part of START1 disclosure the Ohio’s only carry don’t carry the full 1,008 allowed warheads. I assume this is for flexibility in a limited engagement.

    Honestly MAD at some point has a diminishing return. If an enemy is willing to take 700+ warheads I don’t think 1,000+ is going to change anything.

    The only way to defeat that retaliatory strike capability would be to destroy or disable the boomer fleet at sea. So as stealthy as the Ohio is I would say if reducing the raw launch potential and using that cost reduction to provide for enhanced survivability. The SSBN-X looks to be going in that direction. Its reactor will have a 50 year operating lifespan without refueling and it will be switching to electric drive.

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