Military Grilled on Planned Submarine Missile Capacity Cut

(Mar. 15) -The U.S. ballistic-missile submarineUSS Alaskais docked in 1998. Lawmakers have questioned high-level military officials on a plan to include fewer missile tubes in the next-generation nuclear-armed submarine (U.S. Navy photo).
(Mar. 15) -The U.S. ballistic-missile submarineUSS Alaskais docked in 1998. Lawmakers have questioned high-level military officials on a plan to include fewer missile tubes in the next-generation nuclear-armed submarine (U.S. Navy photo).

Lawmakers grilled senior U.S. military officials in recent weeks on plans to include 16 launch tubes in a next-generation ballistic-missile submarine, fewer than the number carried by today's Ohio-class vessels, the Washington Post reported on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 24).

Ohio-class submarines each carry 24 Trident ballistic missiles, though the Navy plans to disuse four tubes per boat under a new nuclear arms control agreement with Russia, according to a previous report (see GSN, March 14).

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) last week said he was "a little nervous about how we're going to be able to really provide all of our (strategic nuclear warhead) needs" if the nation reduces its submarine missile tube count "to save money."

In testimony before the panel, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stood by the proposed tube reduction and a plan to eventually deploy only 12 nuclear-armed submarines, down from the present 14-vessel fleet. Nuclear reactors on the planned submarines would preclude any need for the vessels to go out of service in order to receive new fuel, he said.

The Navy is pursuing "the best design that we can and to get the cost into a manageable range," Mabus said. "We've taken $1 billion per boat out within the last year, and we are looking for another half-billion per boat."

By always keeping at least four of the next-generation submarines deployed, the United States would retain the option of firing no fewer than 64 Trident 2 D-5 ballistic missiles, which each carry at least five nuclear warheads, according to the Post.

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) earlier this month asked the new head of the U.S. Strategic Command if "16 [missile tubes] meet the requirements and how was it determined that 20 to 16 meets the requirements?"

"Sixteen will meet Stratcom's requirements given that we are sitting here, you know, 20 years in advance," Gen. Robert Kehler answered at a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing.

Addressing whether the United States "will be able to deliver sufficient weapons with the platforms that are available," Kehler noted the Trident 2 D-5 missile's additional warhead capacity.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration "proposes spending about $88 billion over the next 10 years to sustain our nuclear arsenal and to modernize infrastructure," Principal Deputy Defense Undersecretary James Miller told the Strategic Forces panel on March 2. The amount proposed in 2010 was $80 billion, the Post reported.

Maintaining and updating U.S. strategic delivery technology would cost roughly $125 billion over the next decade, Miller added. The estimate had jumped by $25 billion since last year, according to the Post.

The funds would cover studies for a potential next-generation ICBM slated for deployment around 2030, creation of a dual-capable long-range cruise missile, additions to B-2 bomber aircraft, and planning for a next-generation strategic bomber (see GSN, Nov. 5, 2010; Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 14).

March 15, 2011
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Lawmakers grilled senior U.S. military officials in recent weeks on plans to include 16 launch tubes in a next-generation ballistic-missile submarine, fewer than the number carried by today's Ohio-class vessels, the Washington Post reported on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 24).