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[Editor’s Note: This is an abridged version of the presentation given by RADM Mitchell at the Annual Symposium in June.]

I will try to phrase for you what, in my opinion, are the near I term choices that we are facing in strategic weapons systems, and  indeed  in  questions  about the  strategic  posture  of the nation in the out years.   There is an ongoing Nuclear Posture Review which is in its third or fourth manifestation for those of us who watch that sort of thing professionally.  There are expecta-tions that it will provide some guidance for us toward the latter part of this year.  My remarks reflect what I think the issues are that  we  dealt  with  in  that  Nuclear  Posture  Review  and  not necessarily  what  the  Nuclear  Posture  Review  will  produce  as answers.

The most immediate issue is D-5 missile procurement. We have been in continuous production of Trident II D-5 missiles since 1987. We are now at the point where we know we are approaching the end of production and the question is precisely when to end it. The clear issue is the size of the missile inventory we wish to acquire, because that inventory will have to sustain the weapons system for the foreseeable future. The Trident class submarine has a design service life of30 years. Most of us know, or suspect, that the actual service life will be extended beyond that. We are building 18 submarines at a rate of one a year. That says you will have an SSBN force in being, since the last subma-rine will be delivered in 1998, for another 40-45 years. Will we procure weapons systems assets that we can use to manage and support the role of the SSBNs over the long term?

That is a question that will be resolved on the playing fields of the Navy Comptroller and all of the parts of the United States Congress. It is a drama that has been played over the last couple of years with a great deal of fervor. This year I am pleased to report the Congressional support we’ve had for the 1995 budget has been very large. However, the issue of termination of procurement has continued, and it is yet to be decided when we do stop- 1996, 1997, or 1998. Part of the key to this decision is the service life of the weapon system we are protecting. There is a direct relationship between the number of missile assets procured and our ability to sustain the reliability performance of the system over the long term, and provide for its flexibility.

It’s easy to identify the day when you do not buy another missile. But there are some things you have to do immediately after that that are not quite so obvious. One of the things we did in the Trident II D-5 program to save money along the way was to procure the missile in a way that allowed us to combine utilization of spare parts with the production of missiles to support both operating forces and the production line from one common pool. As a result, we did not procure specific missile spares to support the population over the long term. At the time we close the missile production line we then also have to decide on the missile spare inventory or piece parts, like rocket motors, electronic components, etc. What is that one-time buy that we will make of those last assets that provide us the flexibility to extend the utility of the missile assets over the long term? That is another one we are playing out in the Comptroller’s process and is another that unfortunately involves large sums of money. It is directly related to the third item.

When the D-5 missile goes out of production, there will be no ballistic missile production in the United States. The industry that supports us in many cases is common to other industries, so we know how to make semiconductors, aluminum air frames and that sort of thing. But there are some things that are, in fact, unique. The most obvious is the large solid rocket motor production business. That is an industry that is unique to the ballistic missile field. It is not common to space assets because they are typically liquid fueled or designed to a much less severe design set of characteristics. The point I would make in that area is that design differences are extremely important. It makes a big difference whether you are designing a rocket motor that you will expend in a year or two, or a solid rocket motor that you expect to sustain for 30 years and then wish to use with confidence. Those are two entirely different design philosophies, leading to two entirely different production complexes. Therefore, it’s somewhat simplistic when people wish to be able to say that as long as we have the space program we will have a ballistic missile industrial base. I’m afraid the details don’t support that.

The whole series or arguments about what ls the ballistic missile industrial base must note which parts are unique, which parts are not, and what approaches are needed to allow us to sustain that ballistic missile industrial capacity over some period of time. That will be the third question that very naturally evolves from the first two.

As you choose to stop buying the missiles, as you choose to buy spares, you must also establish the degree and manner you wish to support sustainment of any form of the industrial base. Why do we wish to sustain the industrial base? Because it’s not at all clear that the world is going to remain fixed and is going to match our assumptions of the out-years. If the assumptions are such that we have only 10 Trident submarines carrying D-5s and that’s sufficient; then the currently planned missile inventory fits the service life. If there’s some uncertainty about that, and you wish to hedge a bet; if you wish to avoid the cost of a missile development program or reestablishment of a missile industrial base, then there may be some things to do for the next 5 or 10 years. What you’re really hedging is the cost and development risk of reestablishing the line.

Those are the issues immediately before us in the area of the D-5 procurement.

The next issue concerns our plans for Trident I C4 in the Pacific. This system has been in service for about 15 years; we designed it for 10. We feel comfortable saying this system probably has a predictable service life in the range of20-25 years. One of the difficulties you have here is reaching an agreement on the meaning of useful service life. It isn’t simply the ability to sustain the system in performance. Many times the system performance doesn’t change; what changes is the predictability of the cost of sustaining it. What does it cost you on an annual basis and how predictable is your cost for sustaining that system in operable service? When do you start to lose confidence in it? When do you start, in your mind and in the minds of the people around you, assuming that now the system is not performing, is not reliable as it was and you start treating the system differently because of your perception of it. All of those things play in the term service life; it is not a simple thing at all. The question that we will have to deal with in the near term is what is, in fact, the correct definition or useful service life of Trident I C4 missile. The dialogue for that process is not underway in a clear manner yet. But when you have decided what the useful service life is you have to decide if you meet it.

There are a number of choices available to us right now that deal with that service life question. One is to choose, for financial reasons, to cease providing financial support to the system and terminate its utility prior to the end of that useful service life . That’s an economic choice that could be made. If one chose not to continue to spend money on the weapons systems on the Trident submarines in the Pacific, you could in fact choose, by the financial process alone, to terminate the system prior to the end of it’s useful service life. Another approach is to decide to predict-ably increase that service life. Is there a way to invest money wisely now in developing alternative methods to evaluate service life that allows us to extend that service life in predictable 5 or 10 year increments? Not to commit to a definite number, but embark on a program that says, let’s go buy 5 years at a time. And do that with confidence. You invest now for the purpose and intent of deliberately sustaining that service life in measurable increments. The third choice is to make a deliberate attempt to do a one time extension. The way we design and support ballistic missiles is relatively simple. We go through a very extensive development program. We conduct a great deal of destructive tests in the process. We arrive at a design, we build on that design and we run the entire operational support structure with the intent of sustaining the missile inside that design disclosure that we have invested in and understand. What happens, of course, is that the missile, by age and other things, wishes to move itself away from that design disclosure package over time. That’s called aging. If you ask us to deliberately extend the service life of the missile for some period of time, we will tell you that we want to bring the missile back into that design disclosure package that we invested in and understand. So you now embark on programs that provides replacement components that correspond back to the original design disclosure package in which you have confidence, and can state how long it will last.

So that’s really three discreet choices that exist on how one treats the Trident I C-4 weapon system. Do we choose for simple financial reasons not to use the service life that’s there? Do we embark on a deliberate program to sustain pieces of service life in predictable hunks? Do we make a one time commitment to buy another 20 years of service life? These are the choices that will be facing us over the next three to four years in the question of the Trident I submarine force in the Pacific.

There is no new data. We have costed them, invested in them, understand them, made viewgraphs of them, and everything we can think of. The choices exist. They are well described. Now, simply, the choices must be made.

Immediately following that series of choices will come the issue of support and sustainment for the Trident ll D-5 force. The Trident D-5 force was designed to for at least a 25 year service life. Do you choose to simply sustain the force to look as exactly as it is for 25 years? Thafs one investment policy you could follow. You could invest funding simply for the purpose of keeping the system exactly like it is for 25 years. However, if you wish to have the choice of modernizing that force at some time, changing what it does in characteristics, increasing its flexibility, extending its service life in a predictable way, then you also have to sustain the industrial and technical capacity to do so. That is, knowingly sustain your ability to modernize that force. Twenty-five years is an extremely long time to keep a weapon system exactly the same. We have never done that in the strategic force structure of our nation. If you look at the B-52s in the aircraft world or look at the missile systems, we always do something to them at the 10 or 12 or 15 year point. We don’t keep things exactly the same for 25 years. If you wish to have the option to modernize that force in some way, it requires a deliber-ate decision. There are specific technical capabilities and specific R&D investments that must be made to preserve that choice for you.

One or the things that we would retommend exploring is an increase in the flexibility or the force. When we designed these systems, they were designed for a single purpose in a very clearly described world. They are probably the most highly optimized weapons systems designed anywhere. They do one set of things in an extremely well defined manner and do it extremely well. But should we wish to change the flexibility of this system? We designed the systems to operate with very specific manning levels, specific readiness states, very specific missions. If you wish to deliberately expand the flexibility of the force you have to make investments to do that. Most of us believe there is a great deal of flexibility inherent in the strategic weapons systems. If there is, in fact, a valid or legitimate requirement now or in the future where they can be applied in some other manner, then exploiting that inherent flexibility in this very large capital investment is something that has to be done deliberately.

You have to go through a need definition process and then determine what else can be done with ballistic missile technology. Now I’m not talking necessarily about SLBMs as they currently exist. We have taken ballistic missile technology and applied it uniquely to the strategic world in probably the most optimized way ever. We have taken a general purpose capability to fly with great accuracy from one point to another without any man intervention in between {that’s what a ballistic missile does); and we have taken those technologies and optimized them for use in the strategic mission over time. Yet we could take that technology and apply it to the different warfare missions of the future. You have seen presentations given over the last couple of years that identify some of the ways to do that. We think that is a choice that needs to be looked at deliberately. Do we wish to exploit ballistic missile technology and can we do that and have that process assist in the sustainment of the SLBM force.

As we have dealt with this question over the last few years, we have reconfirmed that there are some technical differences between our strategic forces and the general purpose warfare systems with which people are more familiar. Our systems do not adapt easily to the changing need for states of readiness like tanks and aircraft. We wrote down very precisely what the states of readiness are which we wish the strategic weapons systems to have and sustain. These systems attain their maximum level of readiness instantly and stay that way. These weapons systems are sustained, at the system level, to be readily useable and are deployed and utilized every day of their life while on patrol. The weapon system is designed that way. There are no other states for which it is designed. That is a very specific design process with a very specific set of outcomes. That means that if you choose to use that type of weapon system for something else, you ‘II find that we very cleverly designed it not to do that, or made it hard to do that. So if there are different states of alertness, or readiness, that are now appropriate in the world, and that are different from what we did in the past, we need to recognize that this weapons system can’t get there by accident. It has to get there in a specific way by defining these states and recognizing that we must in fact redesign at the system level so that it can be continue in those states for a long time.

These systems are designed to be dealt with as nuclear weapons systems on a routine basis. We handle and move nuclear weapons and deploy them in an active way every single day. It is not an occasional event. It is not a contingency capability. It is the absolutely routine way of life for these strategic weapon systems. That brings itself to bear in every thing there is to do with the design and maintenance of the weapon systems . The command and control, the handling, the readiness and reliability of the system, and the detailed flight reliability system is intertwined in the nuclear weapons safety and reliability process. Safety, surety and command and control of nuclear weapons are drivers, and are integrated in the nuclear strategic weapons systems. It is not something that can be disregarded. There are no other states that it can be applied to.

If you wish to have predictable and safe operation of these systems in the future, then the decisions on how they are to be sustained must be done with objective and factual data. That seems a perfectly obvious statement to make. I have been in Washington since 1981. I have been going through the Navy/DoD-/Congressional budget process for almost 15 years . I find that every so often it is appropriate to write that on a viewgraph and state it again, because I find that a number in the decision making processes wish to do it on some other basis. Their expectations and desires for success many times require them to use something other than objective and factual data. The commitment that we at SP have made all through the years is not to make the decisions, but to ensure that we make available objective and factual data that is clear and understood. We endeavor to assume that these decisions are made properly. If you go back and look at the last points, you will find why that is so critically important to us . People that are not familiar with these systems need to be reminded that these systems, everything about them, are part of a nuclear safety assured world everyday and they are operated at their maximum state of readiness for their entire service life. I believe these are unique and quite different from any other weapons systems with which people deal.


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