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

Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, Director, Undersea Warfare, OPNAV N97
Monday, July 22, 2013
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)

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.

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

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% 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% 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.

For a “lean, mean fighting machine,” look no further than the current and future ballistic missile submarine force.

navylive.dodlive.mil
 

  • 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

    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

Maritime Reporter April 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Technology

Chinese Submarine to Pakistan: Raising Nuclear Tensions in South Asia

Pakistan, a country plagued by economic and political insecurity, to conclude the deal of eight conventional submarines during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Islamabad on Monday (April 20),

Variable Bore Rams is 35

Variable Bore Rams, Inc. (VBR), one of the largest original equipment manufacturer (OEM) ram and BOP component providers in the world, is celebrating its 35th

Taylor to Chair NOIA Board

The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) Board of Directors has elected Cindy B. Taylor as Chair and Kevin McEvoy as Vice Chairman for the upcoming 2015-2016 term.

Navy

USN Names Littoral Combat Ship

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced today that the next Freedom-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) will be named USS St. Louis. The future USS St. Louis,

Chinese Submarine to Pakistan: Raising Nuclear Tensions in South Asia

Pakistan, a country plagued by economic and political insecurity, to conclude the deal of eight conventional submarines during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Islamabad on Monday (April 20),

'Make in India’ - the Newbuzzword in Indian Shipping Sector

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi's  'Make in India’ initiative offers a plethora of opportunities in the maritime sector, particularly in shipbuilding, with the

Eye on the Navy

USN Names Littoral Combat Ship

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced today that the next Freedom-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) will be named USS St. Louis. The future USS St. Louis,

Chinese Submarine to Pakistan: Raising Nuclear Tensions in South Asia

Pakistan, a country plagued by economic and political insecurity, to conclude the deal of eight conventional submarines during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Islamabad on Monday (April 20),

Naval Authorities Rely on OSE Separators from GEA

The trend of modernizing ships and fitting them with more efficient separator systems, which has been noticeable since 2014 particularly in Europe and North America,

Subsea Defense

Chinese Submarine to Pakistan: Raising Nuclear Tensions in South Asia

Pakistan, a country plagued by economic and political insecurity, to conclude the deal of eight conventional submarines during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Islamabad on Monday (April 20),

G-7 Speaks Out On Chinese Maritime

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major nations have warned against “any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation,

China Constructing Sea Outposts, US Warns

The U.S. military commander for Asia warned that, China could eventually deploy radar and missile systems on outposts it is building in the South China Sea that

 
 
Maritime Security Naval Architecture Navigation Pipelines Port Authority Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2808 sec (4 req/sec)