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Navy Extends Trident II D5 Nuclear Missile Service Life

by Kris Osborn on April 11, 2014

110301-N-7237C-009National Harbor, Md. — The Navy is modernizing its arsenal of Trident II D5 nuclear missiles in order to ensure their service life can extend for 25 more years aboard the Navy’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet, service leaders said.

The 44-foot long submarine-launched missiles have been serving on Ohio-class submarines for 25 years, Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of Strategic Systems and Programs said April 7 at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space exposition.

The missiles are also being planned as the baseline weapon for the Ohio Replacement Program ballistic missile submarine, so the Navy wants to extend their service life for at least an additional 25 years, Benedict said.

“Ohio Replacement will be in service until the 2080s, so a submarine missile launching capability must last that long,” he said. “The D5 system has served us well. However, 25 years is about the max of what we planned for the system.”

Benedict said the Navy has been working on technical upgrades to the existing Trident II D 5 in order to prevent obsolescence and ensure the missile system remains viable for the next several decades.

“We’ve modernized the guidance system by replacing two key components due to obsolescence – the inertial measurement unit and the electronics assembly,” Benedict said.

Under the U.S.-Russia New START treaty signed in 2010, roughly 70-percent of the U.S.’ nuclear warheads will be deployed on submarines, Benedict explained.

The 130,000-pound Trident II D5 missile can travel 20,000-feet per second and reach ranges of 4,000 nautical miles, according to Navy figures. The missiles cost $30 million each.

The Navy has recently acquired an additional 108 Trident II D 5 missiles in order to strengthen the inventory for testing and further technological development.

“We’re continually upgrading and testing new aspects of the missile system. We’ve had 148 successful test flights of the missile,” said John Daniels, spokesman for the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs.

As part of the technical improvements to the missile, the Navy is upgrading what’s called the Mk-4 re-entry body, the part of the missile that houses a thermonuclear warhead. The life extension for the Mk-4 re-entry body includes efforts to replace components including the firing circuit, Benedict said.

The Navy is also working with the Air Force on refurbishing the Mk-5 re-entry body which will be ready by 2019, Benedict said.

Benedict said the Mk-5 re-entry body has more yield than a Mk-4 re-entry body, adding that more detail on the differences was not publically available.

The missile also has a larger structure called a release assembly which houses and releases the re-entry bodies, Navy officials said. There is an ongoing effort to engineer a new release assembly that will work with either the Mk-4 or Mk-5 re-entry body.

The Trident II D5 also arms the United Kingdom’s Vanguard ballistic missile submarine. In fact, the U.S. and UK are collaboratively working on a common missile compartment for their next generation SSBNs, or ballistic missile submarines.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance April 11, 2014 at 1:20 am

I hope to see this in modernization not crap like LCS,

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xXTomcatXx April 11, 2014 at 10:46 am

You have a real knack for making irrelevant comments. Bravo sir.

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Beno April 11, 2014 at 4:03 am

Interesting why increade the size of the new common missle compartment if you intend to use the same missles for the life of the boat ?

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xXTomcatXx April 11, 2014 at 10:44 am

"The missile also has a larger structure called a release assembly which houses and releases the re-entry bodies"

Looks like the Mk5 will make it larger.

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Christopher Bloom April 11, 2014 at 8:19 am

So if they want to develop a newer/larger missile for the ships to carry

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Musson April 11, 2014 at 10:08 am

At the risk of being downclicked – I will make the observation that the CIC does not believe it is fair for the USA to have superiority in nuclear weapons. He will attempt to negotiate away most (if not all) of the nuclear arsenal before he leaves office.

He has already suggested a 400 bomb limit for all US forces.

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xXTomcatXx April 11, 2014 at 10:46 am

Just as long as the keep them on subs. The nuclear trident isn't much of a trident anymore, but if you're going to limit it to 400, then by god make sure it's the boomers that are carrying them.

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FormerDirtDart April 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

Musson, you really have no clue about what you have stated, do you?

Please cite some source where you acquired your information on a "400 bomb limit."

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Musson April 14, 2014 at 10:51 am

Here is a citation from the Huffington Post (a respected liberal website) which reports the Obama Administration is considering three different arms reduction tiers – 1000 warheads, 700 warheads or 300 warheads – give or take.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/15/obama-nu

Does anyone know how many warheads a single boomer carries on average?

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FormerDirtDart April 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

So, you went with a 2 year old article from Feb 2012.
If you actually had the slightest clue, you would know that a year later, after the 2013 State of the Union address, the administration's actual real proposal was to negotiate a reduction of warheads down to a 1000-1100 area.

The "…1,000 to 1,100, 700 to 800, or 300 to 400…" that your article states "The administration is weighing at least three options for lower total numbers…" were part of what military staffs would refer to as course of action development.

Just like President Reagan, President Obama has stated that our national goal should "0" warheads, along with the rest of the planet, not on our own.

In accordance with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (eff 2003) allows for 4 or 5 MIRVs per deployed Trident missile. But there are numerous factors that go into total numbers of deployed warheads. But using generic counts it can be assumed there are currently 96 warheads deployed on each of the 12 operational SSBNs (2 of the 14 boats are always de-armed and in maintenance)

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Monte Davis April 12, 2014 at 7:40 am

I've been asking for 50+ years — but just to stay limber, here goes again: WTF does "superiority in nuclear weapons" MEAN, anyway?

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oblatt22 April 12, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Means more money to the contractors. Been that way for 50+ years.

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Steve B. April 12, 2014 at 6:42 pm

During a period in the 80's, the Soviets had a few hundred very large ICBM's (NATO SS-18's) each with about 12 warheads. Using only a portion of that force gave them the ability to take out every US ICBM silo and control center. Thus using only about 20% of their ICBM force they could destroy +95% of the US force. Seeing that kind of attack on the sensors, the US NCA had about 30 minutes to decide launch our ICBM's on warning, or wait it out (use it or lose it), thus losing our ability do do anything except launch weapons against the Soviet cities. That is a classic Counter Force attack causing a Counter Value response, which it was realized was a bad situation to be in. That imbalance in the structure of the forces was a classic superiority in weapons. It was a tense period for the NCA until the Trident/Ohio and Peacekeeper systems came on line in sufficient numbers to balance out the equations.

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Monte Davis April 12, 2014 at 8:42 pm

So several thousand warheads arrive at Malmstrom, Minot, Warren, Whiteman, etc… plus, presumably, at all the domestic and overseas military airports with nuclear capability. And you think the counterforce-vs.-countervalue distinction would still control the US response, or be meaningful to anyone but a game theorist, at that point?

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Lightingguy April 12, 2014 at 10:20 pm

There was potentially a point where the only counter force capability we had was in the ICBM force, the Poseidon system not having hard target capability and the bombers taking too long to be inside of the decision making window. The fear was certainly there that a Soviet attack would be structured in such a way to do as little damage as possible to all but the ICBM force. That was in effect a message that the attack was limited (if it could be called that) to only destroying our counter force capability, leaving the Soviets with the bulk of their remaining counter force structure intact. The option for the US NCA at that point was either a counter value response, with a resulting Soviet response in kind, or do nothing, resulting in a Soviet advantage. This wasn't just game theory, it's a documented set of issues recognized by the US NCA at the time. I believe it was Kissinger that expressed the concern the Soviet advantage in ICBM warhead counts were causing a missile gap.

Kurt Montandon April 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm

OK, now back that up with actual citations and facts.

You can't, of course.

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Musson April 14, 2014 at 10:51 am
hibeam April 11, 2014 at 10:07 pm

We all do the same thing. When your broke you look at bald tires and decide they have a few more years in them. The reason we are broke is pandering fools have turned elections into game shows. We need a balanced budget amendment.

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toady April 13, 2014 at 12:37 am

If we were Constitutionally prohibited from borrowing means that we would be unable to wage any long term war because all wars are eventually financed though borrowing. Once our enemies knew we were limited to what we could afford that moment, they will act accordingly.

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Musson April 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

Actually – in WW2 the treasure printed Treasure Notes which look like regular currency. Only, instead of having 'FEDERAL RESERVE NOTE' on the front they had the phrase "UNITED STATES TREASURY NOTE'.

The treasure retains the power to print currency.

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Musson April 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

Sorry – Treasury Notes not Treasure Notes.

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Robert Crawford April 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

That Trident 11 is bad-ass.

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Mystick April 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

I thought they were phasing these out in favor of the Tomahawk 6-pack refit…

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Lightingguy April 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm

The analogy I recall was 2 warriors, each holding a sword and a grenade. One warrior cuts off the others sword hand. Does the injured warrior then pull the pin and kill both ?. There was as BTW, a reason we developed the Peacekeeper. We recognized the need to have our own first strike counter force capability, which Minuteman otherwise did not really provide once the Soviet numbers in ICBM's became large enough. SDI as well became a destabilizing issue, even though it was sold as defensive, it as well had an offensive aspect.

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Tom April 14, 2014 at 11:55 am

What I would wonder is if the assumptions used in those analyses gave the Soviet Union too much credit on the accuracy of their warheads and their ability to destroy a hardened target like a missile silo.

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Lightingguy April 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Trident became a game changer, as a result of its accuracy it was a hard target kill counter force response capability. Not useful for first strike due to the communication issues that effectively prevented easy re-targeting, but could still be used, with preset targeting options on the subs, to hold at risk remaining Soviet counter force delivery systems, which was their ICBM force.

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Musson April 14, 2014 at 10:56 am

How many warheads does one boomer carry?

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Steve B. April 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm

As designed, 14 warheads per missile, times 24 missiles, so 336 per sub. That was the design maximum and was probably never typical. Assorted arms reduction treaties have reduced that currently to 4 or 5 warheads per missile, I believe the Navy has also reduced the numbers of missiles per sub on patrol as well.

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Steve B. April 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Well, they knew the RS-36 (NATO designation SS-18) could carry up to 14 warheads but 10 were more typical. The more warheads the less range. The US planners also knew that the Soviets had reduced the typical warhead yield on the MIRV's missiles from around 1 megaton to between 500 and 750 LT, thus assumed the Soviets had made improvements in accuracy. We knew there were 308 of the newer versions deployed and the math added up to allow the Soviets to use 2 warheads against each Minuteman missile silos and launch control facilities, thus the assumption had to be worst case to plan for a portion of the Soviet attack to essentially destroy the Minuteman system, or enough of it to make the remainder limited in usefulness.

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Steve B. April 14, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Correction – 500 to 750 kilotons.

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73shark April 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Bet those 9 or 10 empty slots aren't empty. Decoys, counter-measures, etc

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