“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.”
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?