Run Silent, Run Scared: ‘A Crucial Year’ For Navy’s New Nuke Sub « Breaking Defense – Defense industry news, analysis and commentary

“No one should be sleeping comfortably at night,” Rear Adm. Dave Johnson warned Navy submariners and contractors today. For the fleet’s top priority program, the replacement for the aging Ohio-class nuclear missile submarine, fiscal 2015 “is a crucial year,” the Program Executive Officer for all submarine programs said this morning.

Adm. John Richardson

Adm. John Richardson

“If we in this room don’t have butterflies in our stomachs each day… we’re kidding ourselves,” said Adm. John Richardson, who as head of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Systems, aka Naval Reactors, is responsible for the most complex (and literally radioactive) component of the new sub. “I just don’t want anybody to relax a moment,” he told the Naval Submarine League conference here. “I’ve got to admit I see all the ingredients for failure, and I’ll tell you why[:] The program is on track, [but saying] ‘green’ as opposed to ‘yellow’ or ‘red’ [is] too optimistic, and it gives rise potentially to a complacency that’s poisonous.”

No less a figure than the Chief of Naval Operations, a submariner himself, said he had hard work ahead to sell the expensive program on Capitol Hill. Outside the New England delegation, for whom submarine-builder Electric Boat is a major employer, “we don’t have [enough] people who are our advocates that will say, ‘Listen, we’ve got to get this thing going,’” Adm. Jonathan Greenert said. “So I’ve got some work when they reconvene, I’ve got some folks that are helping me gather some members together.”

via Run Silent, Run Scared: ‘A Crucial Year’ For Navy’s New Nuke Sub « Breaking Defense – Defense industry news, analysis and commentary.

As the article notes later, the Ohio’s were designed for a 30 year service life, but we’re extending them to a 42 year life. Of course, that doesn’t come free. As we saw with USS Enterprise, squeezing a few more years out of a ship comes at extraordinary maintenance cost, which eats the money otherwise used for building new ships.

What I don’t understand, and maybe one of you can help me out here, is just why the replacement program is so complex. The very first SSBN was literally an attack sub cut in half on the ways with the missile compartment stuffed in. What challenges are there for adapting the Virginia class SSN to an SSBN design that I’m just not seeing?

8 thoughts on “Run Silent, Run Scared: ‘A Crucial Year’ For Navy’s New Nuke Sub « Breaking Defense – Defense industry news, analysis and commentary”

  1. Because the new SSBN has to be quieter than both the Ohio and Virginia. When you’re on the short hair end of the asymptotic curve, marginal improvements become very expensive.

  2. The “throw money away as fast as possible” procurement process probably has nothing to do with it.

    I know, snarky as hell.

    1. If only throwing money was the problem. What’s are the difficulties? It’s only the missing of two items named Raborn and Rickover. Congress did a review of the Polaris program in 1960. Take a look at the dynamic duo’s testimony here:
      http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00001533&mediaType=application/pdf

      Taking personal responsibility of every dollar spent in return for absolute authority over the program. Not shying away from the warts and holding individuals to account. Quite a bit different from the imperial mandarins we have today.

  3. Consider sizes.

    Trident II missile: length 44′ 6.6″ (according to Wikipedia)

    Ohio class submarine: beam (width) 42′ (ditto)

    Virginia class submarine: beam 34′ (ditto)

    In other words, a Trident missile would be more than 10 feet too long to fit inside a Virginia class submarine’s hull. (It’s a fraction too long for an Ohio’s beam, too, but the raised missile hatches take care of that, I guess.)

    If you wanted to convert a Virginia class sub into a ballistic missile sub, you’d have to design a much shorter ballistic missile to fit into them, or add a greatly raised hull section over the missile compartment, thereby affecting the boat’s hydrodynamics.

    1. The Navy has a backup plan of a missile module for the Virginias, but because of the size difference it could “only” load C4 Tridents, not the current D5.

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