US Navy Seeks Successor to Trident Submarine
Focus on Defense:
NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE KING’S BAY, Ga., Feb. 23, 2009 -- The U.S. Navy has started the process to find a 21st-century successor to the Trident strategic missile submarine, senior Defense Department officials said here Feb. 19.
“We’re just at the opening phases right now, going through the proper systems engineering that will advance that particular design approach,” Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter told reporters at a news conference.
Tridents are nuclear-powered, Ohio-class submarines. At 560 feet long and 42 feet wide, Tridents are the largest submarines in the U.S. Navy’s inventory. The first Trident ballistic-missile submarine, the USS Ohio, was commissioned in 1981.
“A wide variety of options” are being considered for the Trident’s replacement, Winter said. However, the Navy secretary expressed his belief that the Trident system would be replaced by another undersea-going platform.
“I do fully expect that it is going to be a submarine,” Winter said of the Trident’s successor.
Prior to the news conference the Navy’s top leaders and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were among senior officials who attended a ceremony that paid tribute to the crew of the USS Wyoming Trident strategic missile submarine.
The USS Wyoming finished its 38th patrol Feb. 11, marking the 1000th completed patrol of a Trident submarine since the Ohio embarked on its initial patrol in October 1982. The Wyoming was commissioned in July 1996 and began its first patrol in August 1997.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Winter’s belief that the Trident’s replacement “will be a submarine.”
Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Gary Roughead told reporters of the resilience and independence exhibited by submariners’ families.
“I think the families of our submariners are really like submariners, a special breed,” Roughead said. “And, my hat’s off to them, and they have my utmost respect and support.”
The U.S. military is about to embark on its Quadrennial Defense Review and a Nuclear Posture Review, Cartwright said, to determine what types of defense capabilities will be required to maintain U.S. national security in the coming years. The QDR is performed every four years.
The threats America faces during the 21st century are much more diverse and involve “a much broader spectrum of conflict against a much broader number of enemies, to include those that are not nation-states,” Cartwright told reporters.
Gauging and evaluating future threats and determining what kinds of military capabilities and systems will be needed to deter them will be debated during the QDR and the nuclear posture review, Cartwright said.
U.S. defense planners are now seeking “to tailor our deterrence for the types of actors that were not present during the Cold War but are going to be present in the future,” Cartwright said.
And, “it will be the sailors that will make the difference in deterrence, not necessarily just the platforms,” Cartwright said of the Navy’s future nuclear-deterrent mission.
The 14 nuclear-missile carrying Trident submarines based here and at other Navy ports provide more than half of America’s strategic deterrent capability, King’s Bay officials said.
“The application of deterrence can be actually more complicated in the 21st century, but some fundamentals don’t change,” Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said. “And, the underlying strength of our deterrence force remains the nuclear deterrent force that we have today.”
The Trident submarine strategic missile force “is absolutely essential” to America’s nuclear-deterrent capability, Chilton said.
“And, it’s not just to deter nuclear conflict,” he said of the Tridents’ mission. “These forces have served to deter conflict in general, writ large, since they’ve been fielded.”
The U.S. government agreed to reduce the number of its strategic-missile submarines as part of the 1992 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Consequently, four of the Navy’s 18 Trident submarines were modified to exchange their nuclear missiles for Tomahawk-guided cruise missiles. These vessels carry the designator SSGN. In 2006, the USS Ohio was converted into a guided-missile submarine.
At the news conference, Roughead said the Navy is “really pleased” with the converted Trident submarines, which also carry a contingent of special operations troops, as well as the Tomahawks.
“That [type of] submarine has performed extremely well,” Roughead said of the cruise-missile carrying Tridents.
The facility here was established in 1980, replacing a closed U.S. ballistic submarine facility that had been based in Rota, Spain. In 1989, USS Tennessee was the first Trident submarine to arrive at the facility. Another Trident training facility is based in Bangor, Wash.
(Report by Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.)
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