The overseers of the Navy’s Trident 2 D-5 program and the Air Force’s soon-to-start acquisition of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent will by Oct. 17 brief key Defense Department brass on a now 2 1/2-month-old study examining commonalities that can be implemented across the two weapon systems, and Navy Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) Director Vice Adm. Terry Benedict on Thursday hinted that the study could favor the most moderate of three proposed solutions.

The seemingly preferred concept falls somewhere between the extremes of no commonality and a fully shared weapon system, and the product(s) would be a driver in both GBSD acquisition and the ongoing D-5 life extension, according to officials.

Trident II missile being deployed. Photo: DoD.
Trident II missile being deployed. Photo: DoD.

During a Minot Task Force 21 conference in Washington, Benedict said independently charting the programs would not be fiscally realistic, and noted that substantial work has already been done on the joint fuze program for the Trident 2 Mark 5 and Minuteman 3 Mark 21 reentry vehicles. Additionally, building the same ballistic missile with minor tailored differences for both services would take too much time and money, he said.

The third option entails exploring subsystem- and component-level commonality, which could equate to installations of some of the same guidance, propulsion, ground infrastructure and reentry instruments for the GBSD and D-5.

Some of the ideas behind this effort include limiting non-recurring engineering costs and developing more robust production and sustainment programs, Benedict said. “The outgrowth of that would be to sustain core competency, whether for the United States Government, or whether it’s the industrial base,” he said. “In this scenario, each weapons system would feature technologies, materials and specifications that are as common as possible.”

If this effort moves forward, the Air Force could parlay elements of the Navy’s ballistic missile into its GBSD effort, and the Navy could leverage GBSD technologies into any D-5 follow-on.

This is something that we are not driving, [Maj. Gen.] Scott [Jansson, Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems] and I; this is something that the Department of Defense is driving because it has to be driven,” Benedict said. He added that Jansson is fervently pushing the study, citing the urgency of outlining a plan before GBSD, a new start program, is expected to enter acquisition in fiscal 2016.

House Armed Services Strategic Forces Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) during the conference sounded a tone of cautious optimism about the commonality, as he touted the potential benefits of appropriate commonality and cited the risk of crippling technical failure across two triad legs, should a completely common weapon be adopted.

“I wholeheartedly support Adm. [Cecil] Haney’s [commander of U.S. Strategic Command] initiative to have the Air Force and the Navy identify these areas where we have commonality,” Rogers said. “It makes sense. Everyone recognizes that we have to get future cost savings from commonality, but we must be mindful that going too far down this road could be a problem.”

On June 30, Bill LaPlante, Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition; Sean Stackley, Navy assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition;  and Haney wrote a letter to Benedict and Jansson, calling for them to use the overlapping GBSD and D-5 recapitalization time frames to collaborate toward development of a “common or mostly common missile system” for the two services, in the hopes of more significant savings than could be gained through wholly independent programs.

The commonality review is not finished, but should be within the next month, during which Benedict and Jansson are expected to brief LaPlante, Stackley, Haney, and, shortly thereafter, Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, on the results of the study.

Military and industry officials have consistently pointed out resemblance and compatibility in smaller program elements like gyro-navigators and accelerometers between Air Force and Navy ballistic missiles. While Benedict did not say whether he and/or Jansson were leaning toward installing one or both of these components across both missile types, he did say that he expects clear direction on a timeline and product solutions from his superiors.

“The Air Force has requirements for GBSD. We have requirements for the SLBM program and what we’re trying to do with Adm. Haney’s consent and support is look at, ‘Are there warfighting requirements that are driving the differences in technology? If there are, what are they?’” Benedict said. “And then…see[ing] if those could be normalized to some extent.”

The Navy continues to recapitalize the D-5 while it explores commonality alongside the Air Force, as DoD on Wednesday announced a contract “action” in support of the refresh of the D-5’s navigation system. The Navy is replacing the D-5’s existing electrostatic gyro-navigator (ESGN) with an upgraded inertial navigator, the interferometric fiber-optic gyro (IFOG).

Awarded to Lockheed Martin [LMT], the undefinitized action has a maximum value of $31.6 million, and will contribute to gyro shipboard integration efforts. Work for that “action” is expected to complete by May 15. It remains unclear whether the IFOG will be installed in the GBSD.