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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pentagon Said Likely to Back New Design for Ballistic Missile Submarine

The U.S. Defense Department is likely to pursue a brand new design for its next nuclear-armed submarine, following a Navy recommendation during a key program review earlier this month, according to experts and observers.

The Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board on December 9 completed an initial design review meeting on the so-called "SSBN(X)" effort, spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin confirmed last week. However, she indicated the department was not ready to release the review's results.

If approved by defense acquisitions czar Ashton Carter, the replacement submarine for today's Ohio-class ballistic missile vessels would enter its first major acquisition program phase, called "Milestone A."

A recent Congressional Research Service report estimated it would cost roughly $70 billion to replace the 12 ballistic missile submarines expected to populate the U.S. fleet by the end of this decade. The nation currently fields 14 Ohio-class boats.

The Navy has not released total cost projections for the new underwater craft, but has estimated it would spend $29.4 billion on the effort between fiscal 2011 and 2020. That figure, though, excludes costs for roughly two subsequent decades during which the 12 new submarines would be built and delivered.

The next-generation submarine is to initially carry today's Trident D-5 nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, but later could be fitted with new-design nuclear missiles and possibly conventional weaponry.

The first Ohio-class submarine to be replaced reaches the end of its 42-year service life in 2027. One subsequent vessel is slated to retire each year after that, with the last submarine expected to age out in 2040. The SSBN(X) submarines are to enter the fleet between 2029 and 2042.

One pivotal decision believed likely to come out of the Defense Acquisition Board review pertains to the approach the Navy will take in developing and building the replacement submarine. In an official "analysis of alternatives" that also has not been released, the Navy considered three possible design concepts for the Ohio-class follow-on, according to a recent Energy Department report.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Russian strategic sub recalled for inspection

One of Russia's premier nuclear submarines, slated to carry its next generation of strategic missiles, has been called back from sea trials, possibly delaying deployment, a top weapons designer said on Monday.

The Yuri Dolgoruky, Russia's first Borei-class submarine, was designed to carry the nuclear-capable Bulava intercontinental missiles, which the Kremlin hopes to make the cornerstone of its arsenal over the next decade.

"Right now the cruiser is returning to the shop. I think the work will last half a year," Yuri Solomonov, a top engineer at Moscow's weapons design Institute of Thermotechnics, told a news conference.

The Yuri Dolgoruky had been undergoing sea trials and was expected to go into service in the first half of 2011, and its recall to the dock for further inspections will likely delay its adoption into service by the navy.

The multi-billion dollar project is the most ambitious in the Russian fleet's post-Soviet history, but has been repeatedly delayed by a string of unsuccessful Bulava missile launches. Seven out of 14 test launches have failed.