Top Leaders Say Ohio Replacement is a Priority

The Partnership’s recent trip to DC and Groton was most educational. The first three days were at the Naval Submarine League’s 32nd Annual Symposium at Falls Church, Virginia where an impressive list of briefers presented information. ADM Rich Mies, USN, Ret opened the session as Chairman of the Board and introduced ADM John Richardson, Director Naval Reactors. He told the large audience attending that the path ahead for the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) has all of the “ingredients for failure” due to its high level of complexity. He worried “we have oversimplified the problem” “The time is now to get skin in the game” he said. This will be the key to saving $40 billion over the life of the program. The new boats will no longer do a midlife refueling; therefore fewer boats will be built to achieve the same at-sea availability.

I always hear there are too few boats to cover all the work that the combatant commanders need to do but with the cost of the first class of any boats the price is higher. My hope is that additional boats may be added as costs are reduced.

For two years The Camden Partnership has supported the issue of creating a separate fund for building the ORP so other ship building would not be affected. Both the House and Senate both have bills creating this fund but nothing is final yet. Senate authorizers agree that creating a separate fund for building the replacement submarine give the program “appropriate visibility”, according to a report accompanying the Senate’s mark up of the FY 15 defense authorization bill.

ADM Richardson was followed by VADM Willy Hilarides, Commander, Naval Sea Systems (known as the top maintenance official). VADM Hilarides referred to the effect of sequestration where thousands of jobs were unfilled at Naval Sea Systems Command. They are down about 2,000 people in a workforce of 30,000 and will not catch up on the time lost from sequestration. Although the Navy is trying to hire more workers, Hilarides told the audience, there aren’t enough qualified workers to meet the demands.

We heard from Force Master Chiefs of the Pacific and Atlantic fleets FORCM(SS) Russell Manson and FORCM(SS) Wes Koshoffer who covered manpower issues, leadership and issues with overseas assignments.

The following day was filled with briefings from RADM Dave Johnson, Program Officer for Submarines. RADM Johnson said the Navy has been very good at supporting the cash flow requirement for the ORP. He explained the importance of keeping the effort on pace and the impact it would have if the program had to live under “traditional resolution limitations”. On October 27 the Navy awarded a contract for 17 missile tubes as part of the ORP.

Twelve of these tubes are for the United Kingdom. This is part of the Common Missile Compartment, a piece of the ORP that is a joint effort between the US and the UK. During the FY-13 budget cycle the lead ship’s schedule was delayed by two years due to budget woes. This loss of time has crunched and complicated the schedule between the US and UK programs. Over the past four years the Navy has competitively reconstituted the industrial base that had been dormant since the 1990s. “The Navy will have a ‘mere three years’ to test, certify, perform a post-shakedown availability, get the sub to Kings Bay, GA, load it out and have it on patrol by 2031,” Johnson said.

If the Navy can achieve its $4.9 billion cost target for the ORP they may be in line for the same strategy of the multiyear buys of the Virginia Class program. If this can happen it will be the first time two ships have had a multi-year contract at the same time.

RADM Phil Sawyer, Commander Submarine Force Pacific said, “There’s no slack because the current Ohio class ballistic missile submarines will reach the ragged end of their service life in the 2030s. Originally designed to serve 30 years, the Ohios are being extended to 42 years to give the replacement program time. The Navy is confident it can get to 42-but no further. There is no margin left – 42 years is it” he said.

RADM Joe Tofalo, recent Group Ten Commander at NSBKB and currently Director, Submarine Warfare (N97) discussed upgrades on the Virginia class designed to improve sonar detection and make boats less detectable and increase stealth. Several technical upgrades across the fleet of both classes of submarines may be added depending on budget considerations.

The head of the submarine force, VADM Mike Connor, also spoke. VADM Connor reiterated RADM Hilarides concern that public shipyards are lacking in capacity to keep up with the influx of work and needs approximately 2,000 more workers. He said that in the interim, the Navy needed to be more effective in partnering with the private sector to use their capacity. VADM Connor also discussed the new study on the way submariners sleep while at sea. He said there is a huge body of evidence that says people perform better if they get enough sleep and they get it at about the same time every day. “Pretty simple”, he said and it’s generally been ignored for the entire history of the nuclear submarine force.

(Note: I have ‘fussed’ at many submarine commanding officers over the years about the short amount of sleep times submarines get and how the duty stations that require this schedule are set up. Good for the submarine force that they are looking at ways to increase quality of life while increasing productivity on subs.)

Connor also talked about the increased need for boats in Europe, SW Asia and Africa where it is very, very busy.

Kings Bay was well represented at the Awards Luncheon, CDR Chris Nash; recent CO USS WYOMING (G) received the RADM Jack Darby Award and later participated in a panel of commanding officers. MMCM (SS) Edward T. Rathgeber the COB USS GEORGIA (B) received the Master Chief Frank A. Lister Award.

The awards luncheon speaker was CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert who greeted me with his own version of EDICCIMAD. I do believe every senior admiral in the submarine force knows our motto!

The full-house event culminated in recognition of the Distinguished Civilian and Distinguished Submariner Awards.

Later ADM Jon Greenert spoke and affirmed that the Navy is committed to building the ORP and emphasized this was the No. 1 program. “That is the one we have to get right.” he said.

He acknowledged the budget challenges noting that the approximate cost to design and build the first boat will be $9 Billion and $6.5 Billion for the second, but that the third and follow on SSBNs will be held at $5 Billion each. The ORP is a third of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

He noted when the new Start Treaty is implemented, 70% of US nuclear weapons will be carried by the SSBN submarines.

ADM Greenert urged the education of lawmakers on the importance of the ORP.

The pressure is on the other shipbuilding programs so having a separate line for this program is essential. The Camden Partnership will continue to take this message to Congress.

The next stop was the retirement and change of command of Naval Installation Command (CNIC) where VADM Bill French was relieved by VADM Dixon Smith. CNIC covers all 69 installations in the world on four continents, including installations in all 50 states. It was a wonderful ceremony. ADM Greenert did a fabulous job with the tribute to Bill and Monica French. The Piping Ashore/Honors song played by the Navy band was Pharrel William’s “Happy”. How fun and fitting!

The final leg of the trip was the impressive commissioning of the Navy’s newest addition to the submarine force the USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN 784). Hundreds of citizens from North Dakota including the governor and senators attended the ceremony in Groton, Connecticut. Captain Douglas Gordon is North Dakota’s first commanding officer and refers to Carrolton, Georgia as his home. St. Mary Submarine Museum Executive Director Keith Post was also in attendance and you can find his story with some great pictures on the museum’s facebook page.

Sheila McNeill
The Camden Partnership