US – SSBNX Under Pressure: Submarine Chief Says Navy Can’t Reduce – Video Clip

SSBN Force Level Requirements: It’s Simply a Matter of Geography

By Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge Director, Undersea Warfare, OPNAV N97

There have been recent claims that today’s ballistic missile submarine force is operating with excess capacity and, therefore, force reductions to save resources may be in order. As I have noted in response to a recent op-ed, this supposition is untrue – in fact, our lean SSBN force is providing the cornerstone of our national security at a pace that has remained essentially constant since the late 1990s. Even so, questions about the size and capability of our future at-sea deterrence are appropriate to consider as we recapitalize this national asset. Given past force structure reductions from the “41 for Freedom” SSBN force of the 1960s and 1970s, to the 18 Ohio-class SSBNs of the 1980s and 1990s, to our current force of 14 SSBNs, one might wonder, “What is the minimum number needed for strategic deterrence?” Given advances in technology and the changing scope and complexity of post-Cold War deterrence, is there a way to “do more with less” as we field the next class of SSBNs?

The Mission: Delivering survivable nuclear deterrence from large open-ocean areas

The purpose of the SSBN force is to deter nuclear attack against the United States and against our friends and allies. Our “boomers” do this as part of a nuclear triad. The SSBN role is to provide an assured response capability that is survivable, reliable and robust enough to act as compelling deterrent against a nuclear strike from a foreign power. To make sure our SSBNs are survivable, they are operated from bases giving them access to the broad ocean areas in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. They are stealthy – both in transit and on station. They are operated in a manner that makes their locations unpredictable, while still ensuring that our adversaries know that we have the ability to hold them at risk. This enduring, certain deterrent force acts as an important stabilizer; it is always there and always at the ready.

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay after three months at sea, March 20, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/Released)

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay after three months at sea, March 20, 2013.

Our Current and Future SSBN Force: A case study in system optimization

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS Nevada (SSBN 733) off the coast of Southern California, March 1, 2011. The test launch was part of the U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Programs demonstration and shakedown operation certification process. The successful launch certified the readiness of an SSBN crew and the operational performance of the submarine's strategic weapons system before returning to operational availability. The launch was the 135th consecutive successful test flight. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Benjamin Crossley/Released)

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS Nevada (SSBN 733) off the coast of Southern California, March 1, 2011. The test launch was part of the U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Programs demonstration and shakedown operation certification process. The successful launch certified the readiness of an SSBN crew and the operational performance of the submarine’s strategic weapons system before returning to operational availability. The launch was the 135th consecutive successful test flight.

Our SSBN force has been “optimized for leanness” based on more than 50 years and 4,000 patrols of proven performance. The deterrent value we provided with 41 SSBNs we now provide with 14 Ohio-class SSBNs. This 65 percent force reduction is a result of two impressive technological developments – the extended range of the D5 missile and quieting technologies that make our SSBNs that much harder to find, even by a persistent and determined adversary. Our boomers are able to exploit the vast reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to patrol silently while within range of key targets to hold an aggressor at risk.

As we return to our question of the leanest force capable of providing this credible and persuasive deterrent, our answer simply comes down to world geography 101 principles. Because the Pacific Ocean is larger, we operate two additional SSBNs in the Pacific to accommodate range and survivability considerations. Six SSBNs in the Pacific and four in the Atlantic is the bare minimum required to provide uninterrupted alert coverage for the combatant commander.

So if 10 SSBNs is our absolute minimum, why do we need 14 today? The reason hinges on the three-year refueling overhaul at the mid-life of each SSBN removing them from strategic service. Today, of our 14 SSBNs, we operate on average 11 to provide vital nuclear deterrence. Based upon other electronic system modernizations, this minimum force level occasionally dips to 10 operational SSBNs. One important historical note is relevant to the refueling overhaul discussion. The Ohio-class core life exceeded the design estimates of 15 years and the Navy was able to postpone mid-life refueling by six years.  Naval Sea Systems Command engineers then conducted detailed technical analysis of all other shipboard systems and extended the service life of our Ohio class from 30 to 42 years – a mind-staggering 40 percent life extension. This technological feat saved the country substantial budgetary resources, reaping a greater return from the initial investment in this SSBN class; essentially four less SSBNs will be procured during this century as a result of this achievement.

The good news is that this legacy of lean success is being imprinted in the DNA of the new Ohio replacement SSBN. The engineers at NAVSEA and our partners in industry are designing a new boomer with a 42-year service life and a reactor core that will not require refueling throughout the life of the ship. This will reduce the class mid-life overhaul by one-third and we will be able to deploy our 10 operational SSBNs with a force of just 12 total SSBNs.

If you want to see a “lean, mean fighting machine,” look no further than our current and future ballistic missile submarine force.

Source – Navy Life

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4 thoughts on “US – SSBNX Under Pressure: Submarine Chief Says Navy Can’t Reduce – Video Clip

  1. steve

    Still think 14 is overkill. When you take into account the idea that just one of these equipped with 24 D-5’s can completely level any country on the planet, and their realistic purpose in that deterrence triad (the event that the US is somehow blindsided with a nuclear attack that destroys all of the bomber and ICBM facilities…which means almost everyone here is dead anyways and this is now purely eye-for-an-eye annihilation), it just feels like the Navy trying to keep all of it’s weaponry, even if its really not needed anymore in a post cold war nuclear d!ck comparing contest. Ask any guy who is currently riding a fast attack, its turning into a dog and pony show that centers around ORSE more than being a competent WARship. And thats because big Navy has no real idea what the hell to do with the fleet anymore, so theyre sent on a majority of deployments that leave crews wondering “WTF are we doing here again?” Yet when asked, its always that they dont have enough boats so the scheduling sucks. It wouldn’t suck if they werent making up garbage for the boats to go do that they weren’t designed or meant to do as an excuse to make them look strained and get more ships.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Anderson

      Steve, you couldn’t be further from the truth. With friendemies like China and Russia maintaining and/or building their arsenal, as well as countries like North Korea, Syria and Pakistan already nuclear capable, we need these boats more than ever. The non-use of this weaponry up to this point just shows that deterrence is working. Iran seems to be hell-bent on this technology as well. Why do you think that is? The UK and the US provide the nuclear arsenal necessary to not only protect the US/UK, but our allies as well. Just because your deployments didn’t end up with the use of weapons doesn’t mean we don’t need them at the ready. Gun control is a good thing, but complete disarmament would be completely foolish. Those ORSE’s and TRE’s you so avidly disagree with are there to evaluate what your ship is capable of overcoming in the face of adversity. It’s a shame you volunteered for submarine duty only to complain about them. You want to be paid for nothing, right? Perhaps you should re-evaluate your service, as the submariners I served with were committed to the cause.

      Reply
  2. Vince Vinson

    Seems if the design engineers would develop a more task able platform that could perform exceptional in all mission areas we would get more bang for the buck !!! A Submarine with the ability to do Strategic (ICBM), Strike (Tomahawk), ISR, Undersea warfare (torpedo) and throw in SOF capabilities then you have developed a truly universal platform for the future, we have proven the SSGN concept works the past trouble was the Combats system difference in technology between SSBN and SSN. This will also allow you to train a more competent and flexible submarine force in terms of training for officer and enlisted allowing you to save training dollars not maintaining so many different trainers for SSBN and SSN combat systems. This will also allow flexibility in force structure and detailing. If you truly want to think about future of Nation while maintaining a well trained Submarine Force you have to remember the Submarine you design today by the time it’s developed, built, commissioned and operating the current crew of Enlisted and Junior Officers are currently in the 3RD grade. Food for thought !

    Reply
  3. Charles Vroman, Sr.

    Having ridden trhee of the “41 for Freedom” boomers (all of them 640 class) for 13 patrols and one Trident for 4 patrols, I understand Steve’s comment about the deployments becoming “…a dog and pony show that centers around ORSE more than being a competent WARship”. There were more inspections by the end of my last patrol than one could shake a stick at. It seemed as if those in the upper echelons had forgotten what the true missions were all about and thought that training and inspections were the name of the game.

    By the same token, everyone needs to look very closely at the situation developing today. I have said before and I will say again – the Cold War never really ended, it just slowed down. Look at what Russia is doing with the build up and deployment of their submarine force, both attack and ballistic missile. It is as if they are trying to get back to the strength they were before the supposed end of the Cold War. If there is anyone that thinks that there is no reason to continue to maintain and/or improve our SSN and SSBN fleets, they are sadly mistaken and probably have a secret desire to speak Russian as a primary language.

    The Ohio replacement SSBN will probably carry a smaller number of missiles, but will be more capable. The Tridents are nearly impossible to find. In all of our simulated war games with SSNs while I was on the Trident, we had to send an active ping on the sonar to let them know our general vicinity. The Ohio replacement SSBN will be as quiet, if not better. SSNs have their jobs and missions, SSBNs have theirs, and both are good at what they do. We need new, improved models of both in the future of the continued Cold War to fend off the Russians AND the Chinese.

    Reply

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