Navy Strategic Missile Boss Starting Concept Development for New Missile
By JAMES PETERSON, Special Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — The director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) discussed plans for the next-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) as either an upgrade to the Trident II or a new missile altogether. The Vice Adm. Terry Benedict also laid out timetables for upcoming warheads and re-entry vehicles, including Mark 4/W76A-1 and Mark 5/W88.
The Trident II (D5), manufactured by Lockheed Martin, has gone through a life extension to keep up with changing technology. However, the current model, the D5 Life Extension (D5LE), will not last the lifespan of the new Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine, Benedict told military and defense industry officials at the May 24 Navy League Special Topic Breakfast. He has been the SSP director for the last seven years.
“We only built 533 [Trident D5] missiles,” Benedict said. “There will be a day where we have to build more missiles in order to get to [year] 2084,” he said. “That’s the concept of [SWS-Strategic Weapon System] 534.”
While the SSP believes it’s the right time to think about SWS 534, what that missile could look like is still a mystery. Benedict wonders whether it could be a continuation of the life extension program, like a D5LE2, or the Trident III (E6), which he described as “a clean sheet of paper” in terms of design and capabilities.
“Starting the conversation with Mr. [Sean] Stackley [acting secretary of the Navy, then assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition], he authorized me to begin that effort,” Benedict said. “And we’re talking really early conceptual effort. That’s not a near-term need, but you don’t wake up and say, ‘You know, I need missile 534 tomorrow.’ So, we’re starting that.”
Benedict also said SSP talks with the Air Force have been about commonality and learning from each other, as the Air Force works to build its new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).
“Where can we share both what we just did in LE and what they are going to do in GBSD to try and minimize costs. The effort is off and running,” he said.
When asked about further relations with the Air Force, Benedict said he wanted to implement what he called a “leapfrog mindset,” where the SSP integrates the improvements to GBSD by the Air Force into future Trident models, and vice versa.
“Give industry enough work to sustain these unique tasks,” he said. “My concern is one of two things will happen: We won’t deliver a leg [of the nuclear deterrent triad] because someone won’t have a technical challenge, or we’ll run out of money if we start mandating the scope of the triad based on cost.”
On how to keep civilian employees and industry engaged in SSP work, Benedict said, “Today’s talent isn’t going to wait around to sustain a system that was delivered 30 years ago. … We’ve got to keep productive, challenging, exciting work coming through the factory, otherwise the workforce will go where it is.”
Benedict also showed the Mark 4 Alpha Warhead refurbishment process at 80 percent completion, with the Mark 5 on its way for initial operational capability in 2020.