The USA’s E-6 Mercury (aka. TACAMO, as in TAke Charge And Move Out) “survivable airborne communication system” airplanes support their Navy’s SSBN ballistic missile submarine force and overall strategic forces. With the advent of the new “Tactical Trident” converted Ohio Class special operations subs, their unique capabilities become even more useful. The E-6B version also has a secondary role as a “Looking Glass” Airborne National Command Post, and in recent years they have seen use as communications relay stations over the front lines of combat.
Delivery of the first production E-6 aircraft took place in August 1989, with delivery of the 16th and final airplane coming in May 1992. This is DID’s FOCUS Article concerning the E-6 system, which includes details concerning the capabilities and associated contracts. The latest contracts involve important fleet upgrades, as the Navy tries to drag the jet’s systems into the 21st century.
Latest updates[?]: BAE Systems won a $72 million deal for the manufacture and delivery of five Columbia-class submarine components. Work will be performed in Louisville, Kentucky (100%), and is expected to be completed by May 2030. Fiscal 2023 National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, of which none will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Columbia-class program's goal is to design and build a class of 12 new ballistic missile submarines SSBNs to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 aging Ohio-class SSBNs. The Ohio-class submarines were designed to have a service life of 42 years (two 20-year cycles with a 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period). As the Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, they will start reaching the end of their service between 2027 and 2040, at a rate of about one boat per year. Starting in 2031, the Navy plans to replace each retiring Ohio-class boat with a new Columbia-class SSBN submarine.
The US Navy needs new SSBN nuclear missile submarines. Their existing Ohio Class boats will begin to retire at a rate of 1 hull per year, beginning in 2027, as they reach the end of their 42-year operational lifetimes. Hence SSBN-X, also known as the Ohio Replacement Program for now.
The first step toward recapitalization involved a new Common Missile Compartment and Advanced Launcher for current and future nuclear missiles. The next step involves finalizing a design that can serve effectively to 2080, without destroying the US Navy’s shipbuilding budget in the process. Good luck with that one, but they have to to try. The maintenance of the USA’s nuclear deterrent is too important, in a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating.
The path toward a hypersonic space plane has been a slow one, filled with twists and turns one would expect given the technological leap involved. Speeds of Mach 8+ place tremendous heat and resistance stresses on a craft. Building a vehicle that is both light enough to achieve the speeds desired at reasonable cost, and robust enough to survive those speeds, is no easy task.
Despite the considerable engineering challenges ahead, the potential of a truly hypersonic aircraft for reconnaissance, global strike/ transport, and low-cost access to near-space and space is a compelling goal on both engineering and military grounds. The question, as always, will be balancing the need for funding to prove out new designs and concepts, with risk management that ensures limited exposure if it becomes clear that the challenge is still too great. In October 2008, the US Congress decided that FALCON/Blackswift had reached those limits. That decision led to the program’s cancellation, though some activities will continue.
The B-52 Stratofortress remains the mainstay of the U.S. strategic bomber force, and in-theater combat communications improvements may allow it to make better use of advanced weapons like the JDAM. The B-52H, which went into service in 1961, is the only remaining B-52 model in use by the USAF. It flies slightly faster than a 767, operating at high subsonic speeds and altitudes up to 50,000 feet, and carrying either nuclear or precision-guided conventional weapons. On-going modifications have added global positioning system compatibility for the aircraft and weapons, targeting pods like the LITENING, heavy stores adapter beams for carrying 2,000 pound munitions, and an array of advanced weapons.
Under the B-52 combat network communications technology (CONECT) program, the B-52H fleet will receive new computers and color displays, key datalinks, an advanced wideband satellite terminal, and a series of tie-ins to existing USAF systems that will allow them to receive new missions, or even re-target weapons during flight. The total development contract originally projected $500 million worth of spending, but the Air Force announced an abrupt restructuring in its FY13 budget request. However that lasted all of 3 months, as a Milestone C decision came in May 2012, followed by the first production orders and a FY14 request putting these upgrades back on track, though with less money. A first delivery in April 2014 indicated the program seemed to settle down.
Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa received a cost plus award fee, firm-fixed price, cost plus fixed fee and time and material contract modification for $27.5 million. The award will “rebaseline” system development and demonstration completion, low rate initial production (LRIP), and production and deployment of the USA’s KG-3X cryptographic modernization program.
KG-3X units are used in the Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network (MEECN) and the Fixed Submarine Broadcast System (FSBS) for strategic transmission of Emergency Action Messages (EAMs). The program entails box replacements, card set replacements, and reprogramming of 921 units Of these, 445 units will require organic service reprogramming, while industry will be contracted to handle 476 units. Funds will be allocated as needs arise by Air Force Materiel Command’s Electronic Systems Center, 653rd Electronic Systems Wing at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (FA8722-04-C-0004, P00026).
Phase II involves detailed design test and manufacturing reviews of motor hardware to be fabricated. The reviews shall include detailed drawings, analysis, and any data generated to support the design of hardware to be test fired. The contractor will fabricate motor and test hardware and conduct any checkout testing identified in the preliminary Phase II test and instrumentation plan and coordinate test requirements with the Air Force. This action exercises the Phase II Option of the contract and implements a period of performance form 1 June 2006 through 31 May 2010.
ATK Thiokol Propulsion in Corinne, UT received $17.6 million (FA8204-06-C-0013/P00001)
Aerojet General Corp. in Sacramento, CA, received $17.5 million (FA8204-06-C-0014/P00001)
Defense Update editor Tamir Eshel writes to let us know that Raytheon Company and Rafael Armament Development Authority have been selected by the Israel Ministry of Defense’ Defense Research and development Directorate (DDRD) to develop a new terminal missile defense interceptor for low-cost, short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) threats. Israeli planners see SRBMs as cheap, plentiful, easily concealed, largely exempt from international arms control accords, and capable of being transformed into deadly threats if/ when fitted with unconventional warheads and deployed in large quantities.
The Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill Air Force Base, UT has issued a pair of contracts to Northrop-Grumman Space and Mission Systems in Clearfield, UT. The contracts are related to the LM-30 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
With the recent treaty-driven retirement of the more-modern MX Peacekeeper missiles, the Minuteman III missiles remain as the land-based leg of the USA’s nuclear triad. In order to keep them viable significant refits, upgrades, and other measures are underway. These two modifications are part of that effort, under contract # F42610-98-C-0001…
Northrop Grumman Mission Systems in Clearfield, UT received a $225.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-award-fee contract modification re: the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) propulsion replacement program. Full Rate Production (FRP) options FRP5, FRP6, and FRP7 restructure modification for two-hundred and twelve (212) stage 1, 2 and 3 rocket motors, production quality assurance, ordnance production, and contractor cost data reports. Since this is the USA, the motors will be placed on its Minuteman III missiles as part of the overall modernization program to keep them in service. See all DID coverage related to the Minuteman III.
Negotiations were complete in May 2005, and work will be complete in March 2008. The Headquarters 528th ICBM Systems Wing at Hill Air Force Base, UT, issued the contract (F42610-98-C-0001, no modification number assigned yet).
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, CA received an $869 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-award-fee contract from the US Navy to provide funding for fiscal 2006 Trident II (D5) Missile Production and Deployed System Support. The Trident D-5 is a very accurate submarine-launched nuclear missile, and can be found on the US Navy’s Ohio Class SSBNs and the Royal Navy’s Vanguard Class SSBNs. It is the most survivable, capable, and important facet of these nations’ nuclear deterrent forces.
So, where is all this money going? Didn’t America already buy the required missiles back in the 1980s-1990s, when it deployed the submarines?