By Geoff Fein

The Navy must start research and development for the next ballistic missile submarine in fiscal year ’10 if the service hopes to bring the follow-on to the Ohio-class boats into service by 2027, according to a top Navy admiral.

The Navy plans to begin retiring the current fleet of Trident submarines in 2027 and will deactivate one per year until 2040, Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, commander of the submarine force, told attendees at the annual Naval Submarine League conference yesterday.

“We need to achieve a capability with the follow-on Sea Base Strategic Deterrent (SBSD) such that the new platform is fully operational and delivered by 2025 in order to go through all the testing and certification to take the place of the first retiring Trident in 2027,” he said.

The Navy is currently working on an Analysis of Alternatives for SBSD, Donnelly added.

To meet the 2025 deadline, Donnelly said the Navy needs to begin detail design of SBSD in about FY ’12 and construction in FY ’19. Research and development (R&D) needs to start even sooner, in FY ’10.

“It’s here, it’s time. We are working hard on the analysis of alternatives and trying to inform that R&D effort,” Donnelly said. “That R&D effort which will feed the SBSD may also spin off into later blocks of the Virginia-class submarine.”

Concepts for that R&D effort include an advanced sail, communications at speed and depth, electric drive, and external weapons, he added. “There are other things that will be explored during that R&D effort, which we hope will come to fruition.”

The submarine force is also looking to engage the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to try to raise their level of awareness of the capability needs of the submarine force, Donnelly said.

Donnelly presented the investments that have been realigned as a result of his office’s efforts, including a DARPA plan to undertake a high bandwidth laser communications demonstration.

The submarine force is looking at cost reduction technologies for corrosion control, he added.

“Perhaps a composite propeller and a lot of efforts in human systems integration and improved decision making tools,” Donnelly added. “There is clearly an investment in the future.”

Other areas being looked at include 360-degree tactical control technologies and sensor data processing, according to Donnelly’s presentation.

New capabilities being proposed for the submarine fleet include the Battle Management Center on the SSGN boats and improvements in reliability and resolution for the photonics mast, he said. “Incorporation of those new sensors has been revolutionary in our force,” Donnelly said.

And the Navy has been incorporating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) aboard the USS Alexandria (SSN-757) and the USS Florida (SSGN-728), he added.

One effort, known as Saber Focus, is looking at controlling the MQ-9 Reaper, an armed Predator B drone, from a submarine in a future exercise, Donnelly said.

The Navy is also reviewing the advanced program build process to modernize the fire control and sonar systems, Donnelly said.

“What we found, [we were] pushing enhancements to the ships faster than crews could keep up with the new capabilities and training of those systems,” he explained.

The new plan the Navy is exploring would restructure those modifications and go to a biannual approach, Donnelly said.

As for the Virginia-class, Donnelly reminded the gathering that this coming weekend is the commissioning of the USS New Hampshire, followed in December by the christening of the New Mexico.

Donnelly added he is looking for the Navy to award the construction contract for the next block of Virginia-class boats in December.

The Block III contract is for eight submarines.