SSP’s Benedict: Time to Start Thinking About the Next SLBM
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy admiral responsible for developing and sustaining the Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) said the service is beginning to envision the next generation of SLBMs.
“Now is the time to start thinking about the next missile,” Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director, Strategic Systems Programs (SSP), told an audience at the American Society of Naval Engineers meeting Feb. 15. “What’s it going to be? We are moving now with the military concepts and capabilities.”
The UGM-133 Trident II D5 is the current SLBM in the Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) fleet and has been in service for 27 years. Lockheed Martin built a total of 533 D5 missiles. The D5 is being modernized with new components under a life-extension program (D5LE), a program expected to be complete by 2023.
The D5LE also will be the missile carried for the first deployments of the new Columbia-class SSBN, scheduled to make its first patrol in 2031. The Columbia class is scheduled to serve until 2082, and therefore will need a new missile — Benedict used the term E6 for it — at some point in its service life.
Benedict said the reliability of the Trident D5 missile is 114 percent of the program’s goal and meets its accuracy goal by 240 percent.
The admiral listed his top concern and priority is the SSP’s future workforce, preserving the culture of professionalism, security, safety and exacting performance that has been the hallmark of the force since its inception 61 years ago.
He also expressed concern over the readiness of the SSBN fleet, noting that “we’re seeing aging characteristics and phenomenology that in some cases is new.”
Benedict voiced frustration about obtaining knowledge of the potential cyber threat the Navy’s strategic weapons systems.
“No one will actually talk to you about the threat unless you can find that magical person and you have the magical clearance where they’ll talk to you in detail,” he said. “That could be the requirement for us as developers and acquisitions [officials] on what we’re supposed to put in the architecture to address cyber. … What is the requirement that I am supposed to put in the Trident II strategic weapon system — which represents 70 percent of this nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent? What is the requirement that I have to address cyber proactively, rather than listening to all the stories that we have about cyber about how somebody invaded us, about how we found them and how we cleaned the system up?
“We need to thinking from an engineering sense about how architect systems to prevent cyber attacks,” he said. “In my opinion, we’re way behind the power curve on how to do that.