For 50 years, land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have been part of the US primary strategic deterrence capability, the nuclear-armed triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles and long range heavy bombers.
Although the main target for the US deterrent – the Soviet Union – imploded in 1991, other threats – such as nuclear-armed rogue states and non-state actors – have emerged. To address these new threats, the US Air Force undertook a major ICBM modernization program.
To carry out this program, the USAF awarded a 15-year ICBM Prime Integration Contract (F42610-98-C-0001) in 1997 to a team led by Northrop Grumman. Since then, the team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and ATK, has been carrying out a major modernization of the ICBM system to ensure its readiness.
“We are committed to working towards a safer world in which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons… However, the continuing risk from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the certainty that a number of other countries will retain substantial nuclear arsenals, mean that our minimum nuclear deterrent capability, currently represented by Trident, is likely to remain a necessary element of our security.” — UK SDSR, 1998
Britain has a big decision to make: do they remain a nuclear weapons power, or not? In an age of collapsing public finances and an uncertain long-term economic future, the money needed to design new nuclear missile submarines is a huge cost commitment that could crowd out other needs. Then again, in an age of collapsing non-proliferation frameworks, clear hostility from ideologies that want nuclear weapons, and allies who are less capable and dependable, the downside of renouncing nuclear weapons is a huge risk commitment. Pick one, or the other. There is no free lunch.
This article covers that momentous decision for Britain, and the contracts and debates associated with it.
Latest updates[?]: The US Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $9.5 billion contract modification for the construction and test of the lead and second ships of the Columbia Class. The contract modifies a $5 billion deal awarded in 2017. It exercises an option to test the ships and to provide design and engineering support. „This modification to the integrated product and process development (IPPD) contract supports the fiscal 2021 construction start of the lead ship (SSBN 826) and advance procurement, advance construction, coordinated material buys and full construction of the follow hull (SSBN 827) in fiscal 2024“, the Pentagon said in a statement. The original contract was for design completion for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, which are meant to replace the Navy's current force of 14 aging Ohio Class boats. The Columbia Class is an upcoming class of nuclear submarines. General Dynamic subsidiary Electric Boat in collaboration with Newport News Shipbuilding are construction the Columbia Class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) for the US Navy. Work under the contract modification will take place in Connecticut, Virginia and Rhode Island. Estimated completion will be by April 2030.
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.
Latest updates[?]: International Marine and Industrial Applicators LLC was tapped with $8.5 million for the accomplishment of preservation and non-SUBSAFE structural repairs and maintenance on USS Michigan or SSGN 727. The deal will provide preservation, structural repairs, anode removal and safety track repair requirements and include all necessary management, material support services, labor, supplies and equipment deemed necessary to perform this work. Non-SUBSAFE means the structural repairs and maintenance are not part of the Submarine Safety Program, a quality assurance program of the US Navy designed to maintain the safety of the submarine fleet. The USS Michigan is the second sub of the Ohio Class of ballistic missile submarines and guided missile submarines. The Michigan was launched on April 26, 1980. It was built to carry the Navy's third generation submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the Trident C-4. Work under the contract will take place in Bremerton, Washington and is scheduled to be complete by June next year.
In the aftermath of the START-II arms control treaty, some of the USA’s nuclear-powered Ohio Class SSBN nuclear missile submarines were converted to become long range conventional strike and special operations SSGN “Tactical Tridents.” Four ultra-stealthy Ohio-class SSBNs had their 24 Trident II D-5 nuclear ballistic missiles removed. They were replaced with up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, plus space in the sub for 66-102 special forces troops, special attachments for new Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) or older Seal Delivery Vehicle (SDV) “mini-subs,” and a mission control center. Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, and even UAVs for aerial operations, are expected to become equally important options over the SSGN fleet’s career.
These modifications provide the USA with an impressive and impressively flexible set of conventional firepower, in a survivable and virtually undetectable platform, which can remain on station for very long periods of time. As surveillance-strike complexes make the near-shore more and more hazardous for conventional ships, and the potential dangers posed by small groups continue to rise, America’s converted SSGN submarines will become more and more valuable. This updated, free-to-view article covers their origins and timeline, the key technologies involved, contracts from the program’s inception to the present day, with all 4 submarines back in service.
Latest updates[?]: India signed a $3 billion contract for the lease of an Akula-1 class nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia for a period of ten years. The submarine will be ready by 2025 and the contract includes refurbishment of the submarine with Indian communication and sensor systems, spares support and technical infrastructure for its operations. This submarine will replace INS Chakra, a submarine taken on a ten-year lease from Russia in 2012. The existing lease will be extended until the new submarine becomes operational. The so called Chakra III will not be equipped with long-range nuclear missiles because of international treaties and because it is not meant for deterrence patrols. In November last year, India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, completed its first deterrence patrol. A second nuclear submarine, INS Arighat, will be commissioned later this year, with two more currently under construction.
SSN Akula Class
According to GlobalSecurity.org, India’s ATV (advanced technology vessel) program to build a nuclear-powered submarine began in 1974, and became a serious effort in 1985. The Federation of American Scientists’ December 1996 document “The Indian Strategic Nuclear Submarine Project: An Open Literature Analysis” remains one of the best single open sources on India’s program. Unfortunately, it was compiled over a decade ago and has become rather dated. That project has continued, and this DID Spotlight article continues to collect open source information on the ATV program.
More and more sources were claiming that a rented Russian Akula class boat would be operational as a training vessel by 2009. The concept was correct, but the date was not. A deadly accident during K-152 Nerpa’s sea trials delayed that project, and further complications pushed its hand-over date to 2012. As efforts to move the Nerpa into service continue, India has finally launched its indigenous nuclear sub Arihant, to begin sea trials and testing.
The Russian Ministry of Defense plans to replace nearly half of the Russian Army’s hardware by 2015, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Ivanov said military spending over the next 8 years was planned at $189 billion, and that official Russian military spending had quadrupled from 2001 to reach $31 billion this year.
Ivanov said weapons purchases would include “17 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 4 military spacecraft with the same number of launch rockets for them,” as well as new bombers, ships, and other heavy equipment. The ICBMs are believed to be the new SS-27 Topol-M, and other plans reportedly include 50 new bombers, 31 ships of varying sizes, and fully re-arming 40 tank, 97 infantry and 50 parachute battalions. Some outside observers doubt Russia’s ability to fulfill these plans, however, given a closed military procurement system, that’s very resistant to scrutiny, in a country with a record of corruption. See Defense-Aerospace: “Russia to Spend $189bn on Weapons by 2015” | “Russia’s Defense Minister Unveils Plans to Overhaul Military.”
January 19/17: Russia has test-fired a Topol-M ICBM, one of the first ballistic missiles to be developed after the fall of the Soviet Union. Capable of being deployed from missile silos or APU launchers mounted on the 16-wheeled MZKT-79221 universal transporter-erector-launcher, the test was carried out to confirm the weapon’s stability. The weapon’s developers claim their product is able to bypass any current or planned US missile defense system, and can make evasive maneuvers to avoid missile interceptors during flight.
Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems of Clearfield, UT received a contract modification for $176.2 million, exercising the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Propulsion Replacement Program’s (PRP) final full rate production (year 7) option. NGC tends to sub-contract large portions of this work to ATK Thiokol; the Minuteman III PRP began in 1998 as a Joint Venture between ATK and Pratt & Whitney, but all work content was transitioned to ATK in the 2003-2004 timeframe following a contract restructure. DID has covered related contracts in November 2006 ($222.5 million), March 2006 ($541 million) and January 2006 ($225.2 million). Presumably, the ICBMs’ Environmental Protection Agency certification has been taken care of by now.
The purpose of PRP is to ensure MM Flight Reliability and supportability of the USA’s LGM-30G Minuteman III nuclear ICBMs through 2020 by correcting identified mission threatening degradations, sustaining existing reliability, and supporting Minuteman Life Extension Efforts. America chose to retire its larger, newer, and more capable MX Peacekeeper missiles in 2005, in compliance with arms control treaties it has signed. This contract action will purchase the remaining 56 Minuteman III booster sets, making a total of 601 sets acquired during the PRP. At this time, $51.6 million has been obligated. The 526th ICBM Systems Wing at Hill Air Force Base, UT holds the contract (F42310-98-C-0001). See also Northrop Grumman release.
September 9/16: The DoD’s chief weapons buyer has estimated that a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the Minuteman III will cost at least $85 billion to develop and field. In a memo to USAF Secretary Deborah James, Frank Kendall cited figures generated by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, which are about 36% more than a preliminary estimate by the service. The figure will be reassessed in “March 2018 once missile designs are more advanced, technical risks are reduced and the service has a better understanding of overall costs.”
August 18/16: The Pentagon and the USAF have run into issues over the latter’s plan to replace the LGM-30G intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Concern over cost estimates given the USAF have been expressed by Washington, who found that the flying branch’s figure differs greatly from that of the office of independent cost assessment. The disparity stems from the fact that the US hasn’t built new ICBMs in decades, and nuclear spending over the next 30 years could exceed $1 trillion.
January 26/16: An investigation into a “mishap” involving a Minuteman III ICBM causing $1.8 million worth of damage has been released. The heavily redacted report cited crew inexperience as the main factor, after they were sent to fix an error that arose during a routine diagnostic test, causing damage to the missile after failure to follow procedures. While investigators said they found four contributing factors to the cause of the incident, only two could be found in the report itself. The majority of the blame seems to rest with the crew leader in charge of the troubleshooting, who failed to first follow technical guidance, and then lacked the the adequate proficiency level to anticipate the consequences of his actions during the incident. The report follows the recent debates over the spending of billions of dollars on upgrading and maintaining these strategic missiles which are coming to be seen as an antiquated defense mechanism.
Latest updates[?]: Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training and Charles Stark Draper Laboratories have each been awarded contracts to carry out support and engineering services for the US and UK Navies' Trident systems. Lockheed was awarded $72.47 million to provide Trident (D-5) II navigation sub-system engineering support services and that contract may contain add ons that amount to a total of $147.3 million if options are exercised. CSD Labs will provide specialized tactical engineering services, logistics services, fleet support services, and guidance SSP alteration services to test, repair and maintain guidance subsystems, test equipment, and related support equipment of existing Trident (D-5) weapon systems. The contract with CSD Labs is for $54.3 million, but with options could total $392.9 million.
Trident II D-5
Carried on SSBN-726 Ohio Class submarines, The Trident II D-5 is the US Navy’s submarine launched nuclear missile, with exceptional range for a sea-launched weapon and accuracy figures that rival or even exceed land-based ICBMs. These missiles are arguably the most important and effective component of the US nuclear deterrent, and they constitute Britain’s entire nuclear deterrent as well. They were first deployed in 1990, and are planned for continuous deployment to 2042.
The US Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, DC and Lockheed Martin recently issued over $100 million in contracts related to the Trident II D-5 SLBMs, in order to maintain their propulsion and guidance systems.
In November 2005, reports surfaced that that Germany would sell Israel 2 AIP-equipped Dolphin submarines, to join its existing fleet of 3 conventional diesel-electric Dolphin Class boats. In 2006, the deal for 2 Dolphin AIP boats was finalized at a total of $1.27 billion, with the German government picking up 1/3 of the cost. The new boats are built at the Howaldtswerke-Deutche Werft AG (HDW) shipyard, in the Baltic Sea coastal city of Kiel, with deliveries originally scheduled to begin in 2010. Those have been delayed, and have not begun as of yet.
Reports that an additional sale may be in the offing have now been confirmed, but just absorbing these 3 new boats will be no small challenge for Israel’s “3rd service”…
Atlantic CommTech Corp. in Virginia Beach, VA received a $12 million firm-fixed-price contract. They’ll provide interior intrusion detection systems for protective aircraft shelters, and redundant cable, for the 498th Nuclear Systems Wing. Atlantic CommTech will be performing 100% of the work throughout 6 NATO installations in Europe. This is not surprising. Back in February 2008, “The Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures” raised concerns about security practices at nuclear-capable facilities in Europe, and recommended a number of steps to improve the situation. Meanwhile, European countries’ waning desire to even host such weapons has become a subject of high-level debate among NATO members.
The 498th Nuclear Systems Wing is part of USAF Materiel Command, and handles nuclear maintenance projects, programs, & systems integration, advocacy, and oversight. The wing’s groups and divisions include the 498th Missile Sustainment Division based at Tinker AFB, OK, the 498th Nuclear Systems Division at Kirtland AFB, NM; the 498th Munitions Maintenance Group at Whiteman AFB, MO, and the 798th Munitions Maintenance Group at Minot AFB, ND. The USAF Nuclear Weapons Center/PKE at Kirtland AFB, NM, manages the contract (FA9422-12-F-0001).