Ohio Replacement Submarine Starts Early Construction

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.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • blight_

    On the plus side, at least they’re going to prototype and develop the technical capability before procuring and R&Ding later.

    Dare I suggest that 2085 is a little…too far into the future?

  • SJE

    I agree we need to start planning for new boomers: perhaps the ultimate deterrent. But in the constrained budget environment, we still have the Navy insisting on more and bigger. UK: 4 subs, 12 tubes. US: 12 subs, 16 tubes. Why not consider the 12 tube model? From a strategic perspective, it is better to have your sub-launched nukes in more boats rather than fewer as it is harder to eliminate all of them.

    • blight_

      I think they fear a submarine force that will experience a cut in hulls, so they want more tubes per hull procured.

  • Jacob

    Hmm, if the U.K. is replace its SSBNs at about the same time we are, and they’re going to use the same missile as us…why not go the whole way and just procure the same submarine design for both navies?

    • SJE

      Exactly. It might even be (gosh) cheaper!

      We also need to look at the strategic basis. The US has plenty of ways to deliver nukes: missile silos, sea-launched nukes, air-launched nukes and (if we wanted to go back) gravity bombs, artillery shells, and nuke in a suitcase. SSBNs are only the back up to the doomsday scenario and are the most expensive. The Congress might just decide that they don’t need them.

      • SSBNs are the only truly “survivable” leg of the Triad. ICBM and B-52 based are much easier targets. Granted after launch a boomer’s position is given away, but unless there is a hostile boat nearby, hard to find an invisible threat.

    • blight_

      It would require designers in both countries to agree on nuclear needs and to split builds between US and UK. Would they use common electronics or similar electronics from local contractors to keep their respective countries industries alive?

      • orly?

        Agreed, I’ve heard we may be the only navy that uses sound powered devices.

        But almost every other navy has alcohol.

        • blight_

          Had to look up sound-powered telephones. Ooh, fancy.

    • Muttling

      It’s already even more closely aligned then you realize. The UK doesn’t actually have any nuclear tipped missiles, all of their subs carry Tridents that are on loan to them from the U.S.

      As the article states, both countries are running the same exact launch tubes and we’re running the exact same missiles. Why not the exact same boats?

  • Big-Dean

    Ahh, it’s too bad the Navy hasn’t learn how to properly manage a program just like the air farce F-35. That program is a wild success, under budget, ahead of schedule, its completely “stealth” that is, totally invisible (that’s why we don’t have any-we can’t find them), it can do Mach 25, carry 10 tons of bombs and missile, it has a range of a billion miles, and it has “friken lazers.” ;-P

  • curious@yahoo.com

    Can someone give me a one paragraph primer on easy ways to decrease purchase costs for major weapons systems? I hear frequently that the US military gets very much less “bang for the buck” than would be anticipated for the amount of money spent to buy weapons. What one or two things could the US do to make their money go farther when purchasing defense items.

    • 45K20E4

      The DoD needs to buy what is needed for the near term, with realistic technology, and not check every option box on the build sheet. Buy a platform that is scaleable, equipped with cutting edge current technology, but with the ability to upgrade over time. Look at the Abrams: M1, M1IP, M1A1, M1A1 Heavy, M1A2, M1A2 SEP, M1A1(D)…all built off the same platform. Heck, all M1A2s are built off original M1s hulls and turrets. Sure, they aren’t exactly cheap, but I see few arguments about the cost or mission capability of the Abram series…they evolved over time.

      The Navy keeps jumping in on these crazy expensive projects (LCS, Ford Class, etc) not even proving the technologies they want to use. Obviously the F-35 & F-22 fit that category also. If the F-35 was an Air Force only design, it would be much farther along with much lower costs…scrap the stupid STOL variant. Someone tell me again why the Marines need their own air support? Last time I checked they fell under the DoN, which has plenty of carriers and aircraft for support.

  • Axel Gervas

    thats cool a new submarine i also heard that the USS Enterprise is being retired this year or next year because a new class of carriers is coming out. Is the navy still going through with that?

  • Axel Gervas

    Isnt there also a new class of carriers coming out too in replace of the USS Enterprise?

    • Big-Dean

      USS Ford (in progress)

  • Chris

    Given the Uk govt has made no decision on replacing Trident I can’t see how the common missile compartment can be a join uk/US development for use by both.

  • Vpanoptes

    “Ohio Replacement Submarine Starts Early Construction” – maybe I missed something in the article, or my understanding of the word “construction” is flawed. Has a keel been laid? Metal cut? Then it ain’t “construction”…..

  • britishraj

    Fellas, why cant the Navy just upgrade the Ohio’s to new standards? Rather building new BMS with B$?

    • Andrew

      Because to re-fit the Ohio hulls with everything planned for the new subs would probably cost more in the long run? 30 years of technological advancement means a lot of stuff the Ohio hulls just aren’t built for.

    • Riceball

      Plus not to mention that the hulls are old and are probably starting to get worn. Between the salt water and the constant expansion and contraction of the hull as it changes depth a sub hull takes a lot of abuse and is only good for so long before it gets too worn to be safe. Also, as Andrew pointed out, there’s 30 some odd years of tech change & improvement since the first Ohios were built and there’s only so much room for growth built in to any hull and it’s quite likely that the Ohios have run out of room to cram in anything new, at least not at the expense of other systems or crew space. You also have to consider that ships, submarines especially, are hard to upgrade because of the limited access ways, they’re not like planes with access panels built into them that you can just open to swap out components, on ships and especially on subs it usually means cutting the hull open to move anything too large to fit through a hatch.

    • tiger

      They are 30 years old. Subs do not last forever. New subs will be built to handle females as well.

    • blight_

      They have to be new-build subs, and you might as well upgrade in the process.
      On the plus side, the RN has Vanguards…maybe we should just take the design, upgrade it and run with it. We’ll build Ohio Replacement together too, bro.

      Next Ohio that goes in for SSGN should test new systems for Ohio Replacement. Prototyping is good for the soul.

    • Guest

      Reactors are worn out (radiation, y’know). :(

  • Dennis

    The Navy has to plan the subs for 2035 so they have to guess at what the new technologies will be then. They are prevy to new classified developments coming in the future plus any intel from spying on other countries to be able to develop future tech to to maintain an advantage.
    The Ohio design even though good will be outdated by 2030. Since in the newer ships like the ford and Virginia class that they are have designed to be able to add future tech. The Ohio’s might not have this ability in their design.

  • R. Stringer

    How about an LNG submersible to replace (or at least supplement) the Ohio class subs. Of course, it likely wouldn’t have quite the same capability operational wise an Ohio, but if taken into account, could meet the necessities the Navy requires along with being able to go places the nukes can’t. Not against nuclear propulsion-was a nuke on a “fast-attack” myself- I just think advances in LNG technology could help bridge the budget gap while keeping the nation in an effective state of combat-readiness.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and
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