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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Columbia-Class SSBN-X Ohio Replacement
Ohio Replacement Program (ORP)
Future Follow-on Submarine

The Department of Defense (DoD) assumes the continued requirement of a sea-based strategic nuclear deterrent. Therefore, the timeframe of when the next-generation SSBN will need to be deployed is about 2029, when the first of the remaining operational Ohio-class SSBNs is planned to be retired. The Navy is currently studying two options for future follow-on SSBNs: (1) a variant of the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines (SSN); or (2) a dedicated SSBN (either a new design or a derivative of the Ohio-class SSBN). If the decision were made to develop a new dedicated SSBN, the new hull design would have to be completed no later than 2016 to ensure that a new platform is available in 2029. The decision to move forward on the project was endorsed by the Defense Acquisition Board in December 2009. ‘Milestone A’ was reached on January 10, 2011, at which point a recommendation was made and approval was sought regarding starting or continuing the acquisition program.

A new class of ballistic missile submarines to replace the existing submarines might be needed around 2029, when the first of the Ohio-class retires from the fleet after an extended service life of 43 years. The research, design, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) phase of the new vessels began in 2010, though DoD research into a replacement ship began as early as 2007. The detailed design phase, including the advanced procurement of critical components, is to begin in 2015. A 7-year construction period would follow that, beginning in 2019. After a 3-year strategic certification starting in 2026, the lead ship (the first of a planned 12) would enter service in 2029.

Procurement for ships 2 to 12 was to begin between 2022 and 2033 and would enter service between 2030 and 2040. An alternative procurement schedule was developed in case of budget cuts or unforeseen circumstances. It would involve the initial ship procurement being moved to 2017, though funding it as though it were 2019. The tail end of the procurement cycle would then be pushed back by 2 years to 2035. The Cato Institute, in a report released in September 2010, recommended six, not 12 ships be built. Downsizing the fleet had to do with both costs as well as the ability of the six ships to fulfill the role that 12 would play. The Navy responded that the report would be taken into consideration, but implementation depended wholly on the perceived threats at that point in production.

Research and Development of the SSBN-X, not including 2010 expenditures, was estimated to be around $11.6 billion; total R&D costs are expected to reach $15 billion. The first boat will cost roughly $6-$7 billion, with ships 2-12 costing about $5.6 billion per ship. The Navy has put in place a price reduction goal of $4.9 billion per ship, but as of 2010, were $700 million short of the target. The Common Missile Compartment (CMC) project that the US and UK are working on in tandem has cost the UK $329 million since 2008 and the US $183 since 2009 (as of 2011).

It is still unknown where the ships will be built. The Navy offered five potential solutions in its statement to Congress:

  • build all SSBN-Xs at General Dynamics / Electric Boat Division (GD/EB)
  • build all SSBN-Xs at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS)
  • build some SSBN-Xs at GD/EB and some at NNS
  • build each SSBN-X jointly at GD/EB and NNS, with final assembly of the boats alternating between the yards
  • build each SSBN-X jointly at GD/EB and NNS, with one yard - either GD/EB or NNS - performing final assembly on every boat

While the submarine-building contract is likely to be sought after and competitively bid on by several qualified candidates, General Dynamics Electric Boat is the most likely choice. GD/EB designed and built the current Ohio-class SSBN fleet completely on its own. A similar construction location issue stood with the construction of the CMC project. If the compartments were built in America, costs would be significantly reduced for both the US and the UK. However, the UK may wish to build them in Britain so as to maintain employment levels at their shipyards. On January 6, 2011, GD/EB was given a $152 million contract for continued engineering, technical services, conceptual studies, and design of a potential CMC and related, necessary projects.

The Ohio Replacement Program will serve as the backbone of the nation's nuclear deterrence into the 2080s. The Ohio Replacement SSBN Program is tasked with recapitalizing the nation's sea-based strategic deterrent in a cost-effective manner. The Navy planned to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs with only 12 Ohio Replacement SSBNs.

Naval Reactor - Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU)

Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is defined as uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent or greater in the uranium-235 isotope. All HEU is considered to be weapons-usable. HEU comes in different forms, including metals, oxides, solutions, reactor fuel, and irradiated spent nuclear fuel. The amount of HEU in storage or use in declared Nuclear Weapon States for defense and naval propulsion purposes dwarfs the amount of HEU that is currently being used for civilian research reactor fuel and targets. The HEU under the control of the defense establishment is maintained under high security conditions to prevent its diversion for use by rogue states or terrorists. A study conducted by the Director, Naval Reactors in 1995 to assess the technical, environmental, economic, and proliferation implications of using low-enriched uranium (LEU) in place of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in Naval nuclear propulsion systems concluded that "the use of LEU in U.S. Naval reactor plants is technically feasible, but uneconomic and impractical." HEU utilization in military reactors includes the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and the Army Nuclear Power Program. The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is a joint Department of the Navy and DOE program. The principal objective of the program is the continued development and improvement of naval nuclear propulsion plants and reactor cores for use in ships ranging in size from small submarines to large combatant surface ships. In conjunction with the basic research and development work on advanced reactor plants and long-life cores, DOE constructed and operated nine training platforms. As of September 30, 1996, the Navy had built over 200 nuclear-powered ships. As part of the Department of Defense inventory, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program included 100 metric tons of HEU in nuclear-powered submarines, surface ships, and training platforms. Unlike commercial power reactors, which are incrementally refueled, naval reactor cores are completely replaced when the operation of a reactor becomes inefficient. At the end of a core life, the core is removed from the ship and sent to the Expended Core Facility (ECF) at INEEL for examination. Since the U.S. has ceased production of HEU, the future source of HEU for naval reactors will come from weapons returns and existing inventories. Based on current available inventory of material not in cores, uranium from weapons returns will be needed in the near future to continue to build naval cores. This process of turning former nuclear weapons into naval cores support the U.S. nonproliferation policy, since this material will eventually become spent naval fuel, which will not be available for future weapons use. Naval Reactors was directed in 2015 to develop and provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress an outline of a conceptual research and development program for an advanced fuel system that could use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. Successful development of an LEU advanced fuel system could address several national-security concerns, including the continued supply of highly enriched uranium (HEU) dedicated for naval fuel that the Department of Energy has said was sufficient until 2064. Potential conversion to LEU fuel in future generations of U.S. nuclear naval vessels could also reduce global risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism by helping promote worldwide HEU minimization, a longstanding U.S. nonproliferation policy objective. The report should describe the goals, timeline, and annual budget requirements, including fuel fabrication and test irradiation requirements, for carrying out such a development program.
  • REPORT ON USE OF LOW ENRICHED URANIUM IN NAVAL NUCLEAR PROPULSION JUNE, 1995 - Prepared by: Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion
  • Sharing with respect to nuclear submarine propulsion involved political, military and economic considerations, as well as the protection of Restricted. Data 1n a field. where the United States lead over the Soviets was believed to be considerable. Politically, there would be substantial benetits in terms of satisfaction ot the desires of those allies who sought US assistance in this field, with resultant strengthing of ties. The United. States was committed in principle by the offer which was made at the NATO Heads of Government meeting in December 1957, to cooperate with interested members in the developnent, production, and fueling of nuclear propulsion and power plants for submarines and other military purposes. The cost of military applications of nuclear energy remained a major factor of the decision of a country to undertake an independent production program. Probably only a few countries possess resources to do this. It was undoubtedly in US interest to discourage US allies from devoting resources to nuclear developments (including, possibly, submarines or other military power applications) at the sacrifice of meeting other essential military obligations. These considerations would argue against US assisting or encouraging US allies to undertake militarY nuclear programs of their own. By 1960 cooperation on nuclear submarine propulsion under the agreements with the United Kingdom and Canada appeared to be progressing satisfactorily. Requests for similar cooperation had been received trom France, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. The US had suspended negotiations with the French; have informed the Germans that a necessary step before the US could consider their request would be for them to satisfy any obligation they might have under the IAEA Treaty, was still considering the Italian request; and were trying to reach agreement in the Executive Branch on how to respond to the Dutch request of April 1959. The Dutch proposal ultimately was never persued. There was undoubtedly dissatisfaction on the part of these allies that they have not yet received a favorable response, contrary to what they had been led to expect from the offer which US the made at the NATO Heads of Government meeting on 16 December 1957 to cooperate with interested members of NATO in the development, production, and fueling of nuclear propulsion and power plants for submarines and other military purposes. Secretary of State Dulles, speaking for the President, said: "In one important new area we are planning to seek necessary legislative authority to permit cooperation. I refer to the atomic submarine, which has proved its tremendous capabil1ties over thousands of miles of operation by the Nautilus and Seawolf. If the necessary legislation is obtained, we will be able to cooperate with interested members of NATO in the developn:ent, production, and fueling of nuclear propulsion and power plants for submarines and other military purposes. This action will also greatly facilitate cooperation in the promising field of nuclear merchant-ship propulsion." Although there never had been any doubt that US pollcy and law would permit nuclear submarine cooperation with these four countries, certain members of Congress and of the Executive Branch expressed doubt that such cooperation would promote and would not constitute an unreasonable risk to the common defense and security, particularly with regard to NATO's need for additional submarines, and the risk of leakage of Restricted Data in a field where the US retained a lead over the Soviet Union. A March 18, 2010, report by the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee stated: During the Cold War, the UK’s nuclear co-operation with the United States was considered to be at the heart of the [UK-U.S.] ‘special relationship’. This included the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement, the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement (PSA) (subsequently amended for Trident), and the UK’s use of the US nuclear test site in Nevada from 1962 to 1992. The co-operation also encompassed agreements for the United States to use bases in Britain, with the right to store nuclear weapons, and agreements for two bases in Yorkshire (Fylingdales and Menwith Hill) to be upgraded to support US missile defence plans. In 1958, the UK and US signed the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA). Although some of the appendices, amendments and Memoranda of Understanding remain classified, it is known that the agreement provides for extensive co-operation on nuclear warhead and reactor technologies, in particular the exchange of classified information concerning nuclear weapons to improve design, development and fabrication capability. The agreement also provides for the transfer of nuclear warhead-related materials. The agreement was renewed in 2004 for another ten years. The other major UK-US agreement in this field is the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement (PSA) which allows the UK to acquire, support and operate the US Trident missile system. Originally signed to allow the UK to acquire the Polaris Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) system in the 1960s, it was amended in 1980 to facilitate purchase of the Trident I (C4) missile and again in 1982 to authorise purchase of the more advanced Trident II (D5) in place of the C4. In return, the UK agreed to formally assign its nuclear forces to the defence of NATO, except in an extreme national emergency, under the terms of the 1962 Nassau Agreement reached between President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to facilitate negotiation of the PSA. Current nuclear co-operation takes the form of leasing arrangements of around 60 Trident II D5 missiles from the US for the UK’s independent deterrent, and long-standing collaboration on the design of the W76 nuclear warhead carried on UK missiles. In 2006 it was revealed that the US and the UK had been working jointly on a new ‘Reliable Replacement Warhead’ (RRW) that would modernise existing W76-style designs. In 2009 it emerged that simulation testing at Aldermaston on dual axis hydrodynamics experiments had provided the US with scientific data it did not otherwise possess on this RRW programme. The level of co-operation between the two countries on highly sensitive military technology is, according to the written submission from Ian Kearns, “well above the norm, even for a close alliance relationship”. He quoted Admiral William Crowe, the former US Ambassador to London, who likened the UK-US nuclear relationship to that of an iceberg, “with a small tip of it sticking out, but beneath the water there is quite a bit of everyday business that goes on between our two governments in a fashion that’s unprecedented in the world.” Dr Kearns also commented that the personal bonds between the US/UK scientific and technical establishments were deeply rooted. (House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report Global Security: UK-US Relations, March 18, 2010, paragraphs 131-135; cmselect/cmfaff/114/11402.htm; paragraphs 131-135 are included in the section of the report available at

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