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Ohio Replacement Submarine Starts Early Construction

by Kris Osborn on October 24, 2013

Ohio subThe U.S. Navy is in the early phases of prototyping, building specs, and doing design work on its next generation nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine—the Ohio Replacement Program, service leaders said at the 2013 Naval Submarine League, Falls Church, Va. The new ship, slated for construction by 2021, will replace the existing fleet of Ohio Class submarines, a class of ballistic missile submarines.

The service’s chief of naval operations approved the Capability Definition Document last year, leading to prototyping, design work and construction.

“We’ll complete 161 ship spec sections this year needed to define the hull and mechanical and electrical systems. This early-stage work is critical to achieving a design that is 80-percent complete by construction’s start and producible with few design errors,” said Rear Adm. Dave Johnson, Program Executive Officer, Submarines. 

Navy program managers with the Ohio Replacement Program, or ORP, describe the CDD as integral to much of the ongoing work. “It helps us understand the requirements upfront so we can work toward executing them in the most cost-effective way possible.” said Capt. William Brougham, ORP Manager, in an interview with Military​.com.

The Ohio Replacement Program submarine, designed to be 560 feet long with 44 foot-long  missile tubes, is being engineered to be a stealthy, high-tech strategic nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol through the global undersea domain. Their presence is designed to ensure a nuclear counter-strike capability in the event of attack.

The ORP is slated to serve through 2085 and conduct 124 patrols per-ship, Johnson said. Construction, testing and design work is underway at a handful of locations around the U.S. and in the U.K., as part of the ongoing technology development phase, or TD phase. The Navy’s Ohio Replacement Program is being worked on by Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics, under a five-year, $1.85 billion deal.

Like other high-priority programs in DoD, the ORP effort faces substantial financial challenges due to the current fiscal environment, sequestration and the lack of a fiscal year 2014 budget.

“I’ve never seen such a persistently unstable budget in my 31 years in acquisition. We can never forget that our submarine force and our nation are counting on us to succeed,” Johnson said. In particular, if sequester continues and if there are more continuing resolutions, the Navy will have to delay ORP production by as long as two years, Navy officials said. Meanwhile, the Navy is working vigorously to lower the per ship cost of the ORP down to below $5 billion.

“The Ohio Replacement Program has a daunting challenge. We have to cut the average ship procurement cost by $700 million dollars – in 2010 dollars – to get to our affordability target of $4.9 billion,” Johnson. Part of the cost saving strategy is built into the acquisition and contracting approach, Johnson said.

“The R&D contract with Electric Boat maintains discrete incentives for reaching specific non-recurring operation and support cost. This is the first time a ship-building research and development contract has tied substantive incentive fees to cost reduction areas across the entire life cycle,” Johnson said.

Elements of the missile tubes are already under construction as part of a U.S./U.K. common missile compartment deal to mutually develop and benefit from the technology.

“Hardware for this common missile compartment is already being purchased for a Navy test facility in Port Canaveral, Fla.,” Johnson said.  Overall, the U.K. plans to build 48 individual missile tubes and the U.S. plans to build 192 of the same, Johnson said.

The common missile compartment is being worked on by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat under a $770 million contract. The U.S. and U.K. are buying parts together for the common missile compartment and the U.K. has decided to buy all of its missile tubes off of the U.S. production line, Brougham said. In total, the U.K. plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, each configured with 12 missile tubes.

The U.S., by contrast, is planning on 12 ships, each with 16 missile tubes.  In particular, Brougham said construction is underway on what’s called an “integrated tube and hull forging,” a structure connecting the tube and steel cylinder with support systems and portions of what will be part of the hull. “At the bottom of the tube there is another section called the eject chamber which is also welded to the hull. This is designed to eject the missile,” Brougham said.

The ORP will be engineered to fire the Trident II D5 missile along with heavyweight torpedos. In fact, the Navy plans to restart production of the Mk 48 Heavyweight Torpedoes by 2016, Johnson said. While the ORP will be armed with heavyweight torpedoes, there function is purely defensive in nature, meaning they only are there to protect the ship if it comes under attack. Conventional attack missions are not part of the ORPs mission scope, Brougham said.

“We are a nuclear strategic deterrent. This is a single function submarine that does strategic deterrence,” he added. If the program stays on track, the ORP will begin construction in 2021 and then go to sea for three years in 2028 for testing and certification before launching on its first strategic patrol in 2031, Brougham explained.

The TD phase also includes research and investment in certain key areas, such as electric drive, x-shaped stern and propulsion shaft research.  The Navy is looking to develop propulsion shaft technology for the ORP that can last as long as 12 years, under an immense amount of strain. “We have to make sure the shaft has the operational availability that we need,” a Navy official said.

The Navy is also working on software, computer modeling and something the Navy calls strategic weapons systems, an effort designed to look at individual components for the missile tubes such as valves, hatches and other technologies.

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