Navy Preparing To Wind Down SLBM Launch Capabilities

Scott Maucione, InsideDefense.com, May 7

Despite tensions between the United States and Russia, the U.S. Navy is preparing to reduce its capability to deploy Trident II D5 missiles on ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) as part of the follow-on Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by the two countries.

The treaty, which went into force in 2011, requires the United States and Russia to reduce the number of their deployed and non-deployed launchers of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers to 800 by 2018, according to the treaty.

As part of the reduction, the Navy will be rendering 56 of the SLBM tubes on its Ohio-class submarines incapable of launching missiles. Four tubes on each of the 14 Ohio-class submarines will be permanently fitted with a steel ballast closure. Each submarine currently has 24 launch tubes with the potential for all 14 boats to deploy 336 missiles. The total number of launch tubes will be reduced to 280, according to John Daniels, public affairs officer at Navy Strategic Systems Programs. At any given time 40 of the launchers will be receiving maintenance and overhaul, leaving only 240 deployable.

There is no schedule for when the closures will be installed on the tubes, but they are expected to be put in as each submarine goes in for maintenance, Daniels said.

The Ohio-class fleet has 18 submarines; however, four were fitted with guided-missile launchers about 10 years ago, making them exempt from the treaty.

The reduction is expected to cost almost $254 million from fiscal year 2013 to FY-18, which includes transportation and storage, support equipment for the missiles and Navy exhibitions and inspections. The service is expected to take the money from the Navy operations and maintenance fund, contract fund, weapons procurement fund and its other procurement fund to pay for the treaty compliance, according to Daniels.

In addition to reducing launch capabilities, the United States and Russia must limit the total number of deployable warheads to 1,550 under the treaty. Inside the Air Force reported April 18 that the Air Force could begin removing 50 Minuteman III ICBMs from their operational missile silos as soon as next year.

The missiles would not be pulled from a single location, but rather would be taken from the operating wings at Malmstrom Air Force Base, MT, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, WY, and Minot Air Force Base, ND. ^

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