By Geoff Fein
As the demand from both NASA and the Air Force for solid rocket motors declines, the cost to produce and maintain the Trident II D-5 submarine launched ballistic missile will significantly increase, according to a Navy official.
The decline of the solid rocket motor industry places what could be a heavy burden on Navy assets, Rear Adm. Terry Benedict director Strategic Systems Programs, told attendees at a National Defense University Foundation breakfast yesterday.
"A loss in economies of scale, should this projected decline occur, could lead producers of solid rocket motors looking to the Navy to cover a drop in nearly 70 percent of their production," he said. "We are working with our industry partners, DoD, and Congress, to sustain this critical national capability and to find ways to maintain successful partnerships."
ATK [ATK] and Aerojet [GY] are the Pentagon’s two prime solid rocket motor contractors.
Earlier this week at the at the Farnborough Airshow, Brett Lambert, the Pentagon’s top industrial policy official, said the U.S. solid rocket motor industrial base must be consolidated after years of continued overcapacity (Defense Daily, July 21).
The Pentagon’s industrial policy shop completed a draft report on the issue in June. A final version is expected in September.
Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] D-5 has been deployed aboard Navy Ohio-class SSBNs for more than 20 years, Benedict noted.
And the missile is expected to be deployed another 32 years, making it operational longer than any other missile system, he added.
"Central to its ongoing deterrence ability is the life extension program for the D-5 strategic weapon system," Benedict said. "The life extension program will allow the U.S. to continue to assuredly rely on the Trident’s system through 2042, matching or possibly extending its service life to that of the Ohio-class submarine."
This effort is being accomplished through an update to missile electronics and the guidance package to address technology obsolescence and through continuous production of critical components such as solid rocket motors, he added.
The Navy last month reached initial operational capability on the refurbished W76/Mk-4, and is working on the shipboard systems integration program that addresses subsystems such as launchers, fire control and navigation, Benedict said.
"All of those are ongoing efforts and geared toward ensuring the overall system capability is available through the life of the Ohio-class program," he said.
Additionally, the Navy has begun a life extension effort on the W88/Mk-5, Benedict added.
"I would say the 76 and 88 are very effective and efforts of both DoD and DoE have been very effective in ensuring that that weapon is maintainable for the life of the program," he said. "I think the investment in the life extension shows the opportunities that that weapon possesses for the future."
The Navy has had many discussions and a significant amount of analysis looking at alternate warheads, Benedict noted. "Those are all possibilities for the administration and leadership to consider."
"But I would say when we look at the robustness, maintainability, and capability of the 76 and 88, we believe those are two very effective weapons. We are comfortable where we stand as the Navy," he said.
As the Navy begins to examine the requirements for the follow on to the Ohio-class SSBN, what is currently called the Ohio-replacement, the service is also going to have to consider whether to pursue new missiles, too.
But Benedict told attendees the focus right now is on the platform, the choice of missile won’t be changing.
The first Ohio-replacement is set to begin construction in 2019, he said.
"As we look at that program and lay it on top of the existing Ohio program, we have made the recommendation that the proper way to transition is to focus on the platform but reserve the form factor for the Trident II D-5 missile," Benedict said. "A missile tube that would be capable of sharing that weapon is a starting point from that position. That gives us essentially 13 years of overlap between Ohio and the Ohio-replacement programs for consideration…basically 2029 through 2042 is that 13 years of overlap."
From a cost standpoint maintaining one strategic weapon system has tremendous value to the nation, Benedict said. Being able to focus the integration from the platform only rather than have two variables in a new strategic weapon system (SWS) as well as a new platform reduces risk, he added.
"If you look at this program–Trident SSP–we have always tried to hold one stable and move the other, so either address the platform and hold the SWS or hold the platform and design a new SWS," Benedict said. "We believe that is the right model from a programmatic standpoint."
What has been recommended and is going through the final decision phases is a form factor that maintains the D-5 missile form factor, he added.
"We also believe the life extension programs for the shipboard systems will have those systems at the right technical capability, maturity level, to become the baselines as we move over," Benedict said. "So whatever is on Ohio at that time would move over to the Ohio-replacement program. Again, we believe that is the most cost effective solution.
"Essentially, the Navy’s recommendation has been to keep the D-5 SWS as it will be at that time and transition it over to the Ohio-replacement program," Benedict added.