29 Hours in Washington, DC

Sheila McNeill, President
The Camden Partnership

The Camden Partnership (TCP) recently attended the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Going Forward meeting in Washington, D.C. The program featured an impressive slate of speakers including two that are well known in Camden County: former Submarine Group 10 Commander Vice Admiral Chas Richard, who is now Deputy Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, and Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, Director, Navy Strategic Systems Program (SSP), who has ultimate responsibility for all Navy strategic weapons including Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. In addition to the two Navy speakers, equally impressive leadership from U.S. Air Force, Congress, the Hudson Institute, and the White House also presented.

There was discussion on the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that could have enormous impact. The last Nuclear Posture Review called for elimination of four of our SSBN ballistic missile submarines: the Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Michigan. Many in our community worked on the group that fought to keep those submarines and convert them to the new SSGN concept: removing the ballistic missiles and replacing them with conventional weapons. It took approximately eight years to save them. Each year the SSGNs are here brings enormous benefit to our nation and millions of dollars to Camden County.

All indications are that modernizing U.S. nuclear forces remains the Pentagon’s top priority for the NPR. The United States is currently in research and development of replacements for its current nuclear arsenal. The replacement of our submarines is a priority as the current ones are nearing the end of their lifecycles.

At a recent change of command for the USS West Virginia (Blue), where Captain Joseph Coleman was relieved by Commander Jared Wyrick, the speaker was a former commanding officer at Kings Bay, Captain Steve Gillespie. Captain Gillespie emphasized the importance to nuclear deterrence of the replacement of the Ohio class submarines stationed at NSB Kings Bay and Bangor, Washington.

“Since its inception,” said Gillespie. “our strategic deterrents have fostered a world peace by preventing major power conflict. To put it in perspective, in World War I there were 10 million fatalities and in World War II there were 72 million casualties. Since World War II we have avoided major power conflict – I would attest that it is largely due to the advent of atomic weapons and our nation’s commitment to our strategic deterrents.”

The NPR will look at all aspects of America’s nuclear capabilities. It was originally due this month but has been postponed until early 2018.

TCP stays busy working to support the replacement of the current Ohio Class submarines with the Columbia Class and any platform that will replace the SSGNs. One of those is the Virginia Payload Module that will replace some of the strike capability that will be lost with the SSGNs in the next decade. Right now, the replacement of the Ohio class of submarines is the number one issue with the Navy and the Department of Defense.

At the Triad conference, General (Ret.) Robert Kehler made the point: “And why do we need a Triad – because there isn’t a better way to do it!”