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The ballistic-missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN 598) slides down the ways during her launching ceremony at Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, Conn. George Washington was originally scheduled to become USS Scorpion (SSN 589) but during her construction she was lengthened by the insertion of a 130-foot missile section and was finished as a fleet ballistic-missile submarine. George Washington was commissioned as the Navy's first nuclear-powered fleet ballistic-missile submarine on Dec. 31, 1959. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Sea-Based Strategic Deterrence: Past, Present, and Future

In a previous blog entitled “Next Generation Ohio – Class” Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, Director of Undersea Warfare, talked about the next class of fleet
ballistic submarines. In this blog he talks about not only the future of submarines but the past and present as well.

“Today we kicked off the 30th Annual Naval Submarine League Symposium, with the theme “The Future of Submarine Programs.” Naval and industry leaders are discussing the way ahead to maintain the submarines as key part of operating forward – strategic deterrence. I’d like to take a moment to highlight where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going.”
Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, Director of Undersea Warfare

"POLARIS - FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT."

With those words from the commanding officer of USS George Washington (SSBN 598) following the first Polaris missile launch from a submarine in 1960, the U.S. Navy’s SSBN force began its run as the most survivable leg of the nuclear deterrence triad. It was an incredible advancement in our readiness capabilities and made the silent service more reliable, flexible and ready to respond than it had ever been prior.

The ballistic-missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN 598) slides down the ways during her launching ceremony at Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, Conn. George Washington was commissioned as the Navy’s first nuclear-powered fleet ballistic-missile submarine on Dec. 31, 1959. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

After the end of World War II, the lessons of adaptability learned from our rich legacy of protecting and projecting the nation through sea power proved invaluable as the United States immediately entered into the nearly half-century Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies. It was the development of the ballistic missile submarine that was key to ensuring this war involved no direct military action, allowing for the United States’ eventual victory. During the Cold War, our undersea warriors served on six classes of ballistic missile submarines: George Washington, Ethan Allen, Lafayette, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and Ohio. Also known as the “41 for Freedom”, the submarines of the first five classes listed above deployed to provide a forward presence, completing more than 2800 patrols during their combined lifetime service of 43 years. These missions proved the effectiveness of operating forward as their very presence served to deter aggression and preserve peace. I had the privilege of serving on USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN 658), completing five strategic deterrent patrols between 1988 and 1991.  As one of the final boats of the “41 for Freedom,” she was a phenomenal ship, always dependable and extremely capable for her time. 

As the last of the “41 for Freedom” were being decommissioned, the Ohio-class submarine seamlessly assumed duties as the prominent platform of the sea-based leg of the strategic deterrent triad. Due in part to the extensive design efforts on the Ohio in the 1970s, the Navy delivered and is now maintaining a submarine that will continue to execute its mission through 2040.  The largest U.S. submarines ever built, the Ohio-class SSBNs were originally outfitted with the Trident I (C4) missile and completed more than 1000 deterrent patrols. The current 14 Ohio-class SSBNs carry the improved Trident II (D5) missile, which makes up approximately 50 percent of the nation’s nuclear armament inventory.

USS Ohio (SSGN 726) is in dry dock undergoing a conversion from a Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN) to a Guided Missile Submarine (SSGN) designation. Ohio has been out of service since Oct. 29, 2002 for conversion to SSGN at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Four Ohio-class strategic missile submarines, USS Ohio (SSBN 726), USS Michigan (SSBN 727) USS Florida (SSBN 728), and USS Georgia (SSBN 729) have been selected for transformation into a new platform, designated SSGN. U.S. Navy file photo. (RELEASED)

An effective nuclear deterrent has been, is, and will continue to be a national imperative. It is a key component of the flexibility, reliability and readiness that makes our Navy the most effective in the world. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review validated the requirement to maintain a continuous at-sea presence of SSBNs in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Also, our Navy’s SSBNs will carry approximately 70 percent of the nation’s deployed warheads under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and a successful transition to the Ohio Replacement SSBN is the submarine force’s highest priority. This new SSBN will maintain sufficient survivability to address projected future threats into the 2080s with the same success that the Ohio-class has had against contemporary threats. Designed and built with multiple cost reduction initiatives including a life-of-ship reactor core, modular construction techniques, and the re-use/re-hosting of current submarine systems including the Trident II (D5) strategic weapons system as the initial baseline  mission payload, the 12 OHIO Replacement SSBNs will provide 21st century strategic deterrent capabilities at a responsible cost.

Computer generated image of the OHIO Replacement SSBN.

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