Editor’s Note: The topic for Naval Historical Foundation/Naval Submarine League’s Annual Submarine His-tory seminar in April was The Rise of the Submarine Based Ballistic Missile. RADM Jerry Holland wrote a short historical summary1 for the program at that event. It is reproduced here as a big picture context for the emphasis given in this issue to the OHIO Replacement Program.
At the beginning of the Cold War, seaborne strategic deterrent missions were assigned to Regulus cruise missiles, first based on carriers and then between 1958 and I 964 on five submarines, four conventionally powered (SSG) and one nuclear powered (SSGN). The missile’s utility was limited in range and accuracy. The need to surface during launch made the submarines vulnerable to attack during launch and a fueled missile on deck represented a serious hazard, particularly in rough weather.
To replace Regulus. a joint Army-Navy ballistic missile design program began in December 1955 that eventually produced the Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). But in the following year, when Edward Teller and Harold Brown promised a warhead light enough to be able to be lifted on a solid fuel missile, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, directed abandoning the Jupiter program in favor of a solid fueled submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The Polaris program started development in 1955 and in July 1960, USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN 598), the first US missile submarine, successfully launched the first Polaris A-1 missile from a submerged submarine. USS GEORGE WASHINGTON was the first of forty-one submarines each with sixteen launch tubes. In an ambitious shipbuilding program, all were constructed between 1958 and 1967.
These first missiles had a range of about 1,200 miles. Each subsequent version was larger, weighed more, and had a longer range. The range increase was most significant. The A-2 range was 1,500 nautical miles, the A-3 2,500 nautical miles. Polaris A-2 entered service in 1961 and deployed on 13 submarines, serving until 1974. The A-2 is the first and only American SLBM or ICBM to be fired in an end-to-end test conducted in May 1962 when USS ETHAN ALLEN (SSBN608) launched at a target point in the Pacific Ocean. The final version of Polaris, the A-3, with a range of 2,500 miles left no land target inaccessible and provided an increase in sea room. The A-3 featured multiple re-entry vehicles that spread the warheads about a common target. The A-3, initially deployed in September 1964, was retired in early 1982.
On 6 April 1963 the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Polaris Sales Agreement for the U.K to purchase the Polaris A-3 missiles for the four submarines of their Ballistic Missile Fleet. HMS RESOLUTION deployed on the first Royal Navy SSBN patrol in June 1968.
The next development, the C-3 Poseidon brought major advances in explosive power and accuracy. Slightly longer, considerably wider and heavier than Polaris A3, Poseidon had the same 2,500 nautical mile range but a greater payload capacity (I 0 -14 warheads), improved accuracy, and Multiple Independently -targeted Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV). Poseidon’s first test occurred in August 1968 and was first launched from USS JAMES MADISON (SSBN 627) on 3 August 1970. The weapon officially entered service on 31 March 1971, eventually being installed in Lafayette, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin classes.
The Trident I and II programs were the result of the 1966-67 SECDEF-STRAT-X study to examine future missile basing concepts and performance characteristics to counter potential Soviet offensive forces and anti-ballistic missile proliferation in the 1975-1990 time frame. Trident I (C4) had the same physical dimensions but twice the range (4,000 nautical miles). First launched from USS FRANCIS SCOTT KEY (SSBN 657) in 1979, Trident I replaced Poseidon in 12 SSBNs of JAMES MADISON and BENJAMIN FRANKLIN classes and in the first of the Ohio class SSBNs. Trident I’s initial deployment was in 1979 and the missile served until retired in 2000.
The last of the original forty-one missile submarines, USS KAMEHAMEHA (SSBN 642) was decommissioned in April 2002.
Development of the Trident II began in 1983. This second variant has a longer range (7,000 nautical miles), a heavier payload and enough accuracy to threaten any, even the most hardened, targets. First launched from shore in January 1987, the first submarine launch was attempted by USS TENNESSEE (SSBN-734) in March 1989. The launch attempt failed spectacularly but simple changes solved the problem and Trident II entered service in March 1990. Since then, Trident II has executed 135 consecutive successful test launches.
The Trident II was the original missile on the British Van-guard Class and Ohio Class SSBNs from USS TENNESSEE (SSBN-734) on. The D5 missile is currently carried by 14 Ohio Class submarines and is expected to remain in service until 2027.
The first ballistic missile submarines to be designed from the keel up since the Ethan Allen Class, USS OHIO (SSBN 726) was commissioned in 1981. The first eight (SSBNs 726 through 733) were armed with Trident I (C4) SLBMs, subsequently upgraded with Trident II (D-5); the final I 0 (SSBNs 734 through 743) were armed with larger and more powerful Trident II (05) missiles. These ships were originally designed for a 30-year life but have now been certified for a 42-year life, composed of 20 years of operation, a two-year mid-life nuclear refueling overhaul, and then another 20 years of operation.
A total of eighteen Trident II SSBNs were constructed each with twenty-four tubes. Four have been converted to carry cruise missiles. The remaining fourteen carry over fifty percent of the total deployed US strategic warhead inventory. Under the new TART treaty the SSBN will assume responsibility of approximately 70% of the 1550 nuclear assets permitted for the United States. To support this requirement the Navy has initiated the OHIO Replacement Program that will build 12 new SSBNs to replace the Ohio Class submarines when they reach their end of life.