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Navy: Upgrades Required for Trident Launch System

by Bryant Jordan on April 10, 2013

Navy leaders said Wednesday the service must ensure the Pentagon remains committed to upgrades to the Trident missile launch system in line with the development of the replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear submarine fleet.

Rear Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, said it is necessary to revitalize and qualify the launch systems of the Trident II D-5, which is deployed aboard the U.S. Navy’s 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile subs and Britain’s four Vanguard-class submarines.

“The Trident is the most survivable leg of the Triad, and it also gives the U.S. a second-strike ability,” Benedict said at the annual Sea Air Space Exposition at National Harbor, Md.

The missile – currently the Trident II D-5 version – was developed and deployed jointly by both the U.S. and the United Kingdom since the 1990s. The missile has been going through life-extensions and the two countries plan to continue deploying them as they transition to the next-generation nuclear submarine.

While budget pressures mount with the sequestration cuts to defense funding, service leaders will be forced to balance modernization priorities. Benedict emphasized the importance of maintaining investment in updating the systems associated within the Nuclear triad.

The U.S. Navy plans to replace its 14 Ohio-class subs with a dozen new ballistic missile submarines. The Navy awarded General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division a $1.85 billion contract for the development of the Ohio-Class Replacement Program.

The Ohio-class subs start hitting their end-of-life in 2027, and will be retired in the years following. The Navy anticipates its replacements to come on line by the mid-2020s.

Navy leaders have said they can accept the risk of two fewer nuclear capable submarines because of the speed and stealth capability the service expects to develop into the new Ohio-class. Those same leaders will also depend on improved accuracy of upgraded Tridents.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Benjamin April 10, 2013 at 6:02 pm

It will be interesting to see if the missile gets a new designation (Trident III perhaps). It is good to see improvements being done here because the SSBN is the most survivable portion of the nuclear triad

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PolicyWonk April 10, 2013 at 9:52 pm

It will also be interesting to see if they intend to build some more SSGN variants – or if that was just a knock-off to preserve the Ohio hulls that would've otherwise had to be decommissioned.

If they build a few new ones – they got a lot of use out of the ones we have now.

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blight_ April 11, 2013 at 9:27 am

They might go SSBN/SSGN if they can spin it as more hulls to bring the price point down.

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platypusfriend April 12, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Plausible. However, a Tomahawk launch signature would be a give-away for the nuclear-armed sub's location. That lat/long was TS, when I was in.

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blight_ April 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Sorry, I meant a common hull but different launch systems to make one an SSGN or an SSBN. Similar to how the LHA hulls are divided between the first two well-deck-less ships, and the others that will be more normal.

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STemplar April 12, 2013 at 6:24 pm

There was a proposal for a stretch VA class that would have more TLAM/VLS cell launchers. Not as much as the Ohio conversions but in the new hull. We'd need a cost analysis to know if converting Ohio's would be better than building stretch VAs. Seems like more VAs gives us more SSN capability and lowers cost on the whole VA class per boats although the Ohio's are there, not sure on conversion costs or how much life they may have in them.

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Tad April 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm

It will also be interesting to see if US industry still has the brilliant engineering and technical know-how of yesteryear that it will take to develop and build a significantly improved version of the Ohio class.

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blight_ April 11, 2013 at 9:26 am

They will likely use some insights from the VA class. I'm curious if they will go for a bigger SSBN to carry more missiles, or smaller subs that carry less missiles, but can be more widely distributed across the planet, and possibly fulfill other missions.

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STemplar April 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Less missiles last story I read.

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platypusfriend April 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Less missiles would be a good things. 24 tubes was a maintenance nightmare.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Ehm. Depends on the missile.

USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 11:01 am

Well, I don't doubt the ability for the US to make an advanced sub or really anything. All future, aspiring engineers know that if you want to get into advanced, technical projects in defense, US is the way. We managed to build the F-22, and it is quite advanced. More important, I think, is if the big dome in DC will give the funds, and the research time, for a sub.

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Tiger April 11, 2013 at 11:25 am
bobbymike April 11, 2013 at 12:00 am

Neptune class with a Trident E6

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Paul April 11, 2013 at 8:25 am

This is poor timing for our advantage since
North Korean is not waiting, get it together advance system sounds like maintenance.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm

We won't need nukes in another NK conflict. Our conventional weapons are good enough.

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Dr. H April 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

North Korea? That doesn't require SLBMs. If they jab US interests with some atomic warhead, it would not be a mutually assured destruction (MAD) scenario. It would be a singularly assure destruction (SAD) scenario. They can't effectively harm us, but we can destroy their infrastructure and destroy their regime with just conventional weapons…which is also why we need more SSGNs, less SSGNs.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 10:59 am

I don't think that we will respond with Nuclear weapons. NK does NOT have a delivery system that can take a Nuke and land it in Hawaii, or the USA. Guam, maybe. SK and Japan, yes. (Kamikaze MiGs). I think this will be just a massive fireworks display that will mostly consist of "softening" Tomahawks, followed by a massive air assault, and finally, a push through the DMZ, and a beach landing. A bit like the first Gulf War, were NATO and US aircraft took out prime ground targets, and tanks crews took out heavy equipment. That is, all after a missile barrage on Iraq.

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Mystick April 11, 2013 at 11:29 am

Considering our presence on the peninsula after the 50's has pretty much been tasked to "reigning in" the South Koreans from pushing north… I don't think we'll have to deploy any troops. The SK's have the motivation, manpower, and force multipliers to do the job.

Just look to China to move south under the guise of "Peacekeeping"… that's where we'll see the problems.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

No. That just won't happen. SK will use its forces, but it will require help from the US. US doesn't usually sit on the sidelines (except in Mali, where somehow, France was commended for their "actions") in a war. I mean, look at the first Gulf War. We came in to help liberate Kuwait. True, they had a military that was overrun quickly, which won't happen in the Korean peninsula, but the fact that we came to help out an ally is the thing we need to draw from this. SK needs help; its military is strong, but isn't worth anything without US help.

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Mystick April 11, 2013 at 10:57 am

They have been retrofitting subs with the Block V VLS to fire Tomahawk's since the late 90's/early 2000's. Instead of one SLBM, you get 6 cruise missiles(nuclear capable). Much shorter range than the Trident systems, but with wider targeting options.

Supposedly, this system is what was used in the US's contribution to the Libyan "revolution".

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Professor Ski!!! April 11, 2013 at 11:08 am
Professor Ski!!! April 11, 2013 at 11:09 am
Professor Ski!!! April 11, 2013 at 11:10 am
tiger April 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

Upgrades to the launch system? What is there to upgrade really? The basics have not changed much since Polaris.

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ronaldo April 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

Agreed. What are the proposed upgrades ? It's a safe bet to say that it would be in the electronic systems since they advance far faster than do mechanical ones.

Can anyone expand on this ?

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platypusfriend April 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Sure. I was a Missile Technician, 2nd Class (Submarine Qualified). I served from 1998 – 2004. When I left the service, the launcher system was using "computers" that were actually drawers full of mechanical relays. I'm not joking. Maybe that's already been upgraded a bit since, and maybe not; the point is that the launcher system has a history of being exceptionally old. It was almost a shame to walk the passageways and hear those relays clicking away. Time to upgrade.

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blight_ April 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I suppose relays are more EMP-friendly than semiconductor electronics?

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USS ENTERPRISE April 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Perhaps. But if subs have just boxes of electronics, it leaves two possibilities: 1) the sub fleet REALLY needs this upgrade. 2)those drawers of tech are some serious stuff, and more than what meets the eye.

ronaldo April 14, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Thanks for the intelligent responses ! I hadn't a clue that they were using the same type of
logic as a pinball machine. The noise, heat , power and reliability make that one a natural for SS logic.

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blight_ April 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Probably. A few weeks ago I had an very small, but-never-got-anywhere discussion about Tridents and guidance systems. I'll dig it out of my IntenseDebate history.

Edit:
http://www.dodbuzz.com/2013/03/20/lockheed-vp-ret

Guest · 3 weeks ago
Obviously, you have never seen the incredibly large and complex fire control system that is aboard the SSBNs and is needed to get that missile to the target. Very large in size and complexity
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blight_107p · 3 weeks ago
Nope, I haven't. I will keep that in mind.

Would this be part of it? http://www.ssp.navy.mil/fb101/functionalelements….
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Guest · 3 weeks ago
The console that is shown is just a tiny piece of a much larger system. Think many cabinets. .
I used to manage the build of the guidance system and worked closely with the Fire Control people.
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blight_107p · 3 weeks ago
Digging into it reveals more about the guidance system on the missiles themselves; though I find sparse information about a SWS Mk 98; which sounds like it fits the bill.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 14, 2013 at 7:14 pm

In the end, the question we all need to ask is this: Does it work?

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platypusfriend April 14, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Does it work, does it work reliably, are spare parts available at a reasonable price, etc/

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USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

Well, all that can be addressed in "Does it work". Maybe I meant, "Does it work well?"

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platypusfriend April 15, 2013 at 11:13 am

Short answer: Yes; Longer answer: Those relay cabinets take up a lot of space, in a place where space is at a premium.

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platypusfriend April 15, 2013 at 4:31 pm

The missiles aren't unreliable— The electronics/mechanics/hydraulics of the launch tubes are slightly unreliable.

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USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Slightly, yes. What I was addressing, though, was your "less missile" comment. I mean, some missiles we need less of, some missiles we need a bunch of.

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platypusfriend April 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Got'cha. At some point on the curve, the reliability of the launch tubes would overcome the benefit of extra missiles. The number 24 is pretty close to that point. I'm not really complaining about my former job— It was a fun time, and a 24-bird house looks pretty cool.

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