Strategy Drives Undersea Warfare Programs
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is working on greater integration of all aspects of undersea warfare, including strategic deterrence, attack submarines, unmanned undersea vehicles, seabed infrastructure and the surface and air anti-submarine assets, to ensure its investments and tactics all will contribute to a possible fight, the director of Undersea Warfare said Nov. 8.
“We are, no kidding, having the strategy drive the programs … to make sure we’re not buying things we don’t need to win the war,” Rear Adm. John Tammen told the Navy Submarine League’s annual symposium. The directions from the National Defense and National Security strategies are guiding an Integrated undersea investment strategy, he said.
A crucial focus of those investments is the modernization of the sea-based strategic deterrence with the Columbia ballistic-missile submarine to replace the current Ohio-class boomers.
“There really is no margin for Columbia,” to be on patrol by 2031, Tammen said, repeating a message heard earlier in the day from Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, director of Strategic Systems Programs. The ballistic-missile subs are “the only survivable component” of the strategic deterrence triad and provide 70 percent of the nuclear deterrent warheads, he said.
Keeping Columbia on schedule is critical because the Navy is extending the service life of the Ohios out to 42 years and “we’ve never taken a submarine out to 42 years.” To ensure the Ohio-class boats can remain operational for 42 years, the Navy stood up a study that will use the four early Ohios now serving as guided-missile subs as a test, he said.
They also will continue to modernize the Ohios to keep them relevant out to 42 years, Tammen said, using technology going into the new models of Virginia-class attack subs.
Tammen also discussed the little-known fact that the new Nuclear Posture Review said the sea-based strategic deterrence program would have “at least 12 Columbia” boats. It has been widely understood that the program called for only 12 of the new boomers.
Without going into any details, Tammen said “we’re going to keep the Columbia [production] line hot after the 12th boat, so if we need to build more than 12, we can.”
The limit on 12 Columbias is generally based on the number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles allowed under the New Start arms control treaty with Russia.
Tammen put considerable focus on the efforts to develop a family of unmanned undersea vehicles noting that they have consolidated unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) programs into his N-97 office, while closely cooperating with Expeditionary Warfare (N-95), which plans to use unmanned underwater systems in its mine warfare missions.
“Every day we have conversations on how we can move faster with UUVs,” he said.
In apparent response to some criticism of the slower development of UUVs, compared the aerial or ground unmanned systems, Tammen said, “unmanned undersea vehicles are truly autonomous. There is no joystick [controller] and no lawyer standing behind the joystick.” And they “have to ensure we can get the data off of them, to make them relevant.”
Although the primary purpose of producing the Virginia Payload Modules was to increase the Tomahawk strike capabilities of the attack subs, Tammen said the modules also could launch smaller UUVs. And the Navy is looking at other weapons that could go into the modules as part of the increased focus on tactical warfare capabilities.
Looking ahead, Tammen said his office was working on designs for block 5, 6 and 7 Virginia-class subs, but after that “we get to a new SSN,” which will “put fast back into fast attack. Fast with stealth.”