Monday, July 24, 2017

Trident Nuclear Plans “Unachievable”, Says UK Government Watchdog

"Out-of-control costs" are cited.

Rob Edwards, The Ferret
24 July 2017

The UK government’s £43 billion plans to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system and build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Clyde are “in doubt” or “unachievable”, according to a high-powered Westminster spending watchdog.
A new report from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury in London has condemned three major nuclear projects run by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for being poorly managed, over-budget and beset by technical problems.
The financial rating for a submarine reactor manufacturing plant has been sharply downgraded for 2017, while two other nuclear submarine projects have had “major risks” every year for the last three years. All of the IPA’s assessment of a fourth £20bn plan to upgrade Trident warheads has been kept secret for national security reasons.
To try and combat the problems, the MoD has launched a major reorganisation and set up a new Submarine Delivery Agency. It has also renamed the Trident replacement programme ‘Dreadnought’, and engaged in “rebaselining” to delay project delivery.
The IPA report, which covers 143 projects run by 17 UK government departments, was posted online on 18 July. Buried in a table and spreadsheet released at the same time were damning indictments of the MoD’s flagship nuclear projects.
A £1.7bn project to build new submarine reactor manufacturing plants at Rolls Royce in Derby called “Core Production Capability” is given the IPA’s worst rating of “red” for 2017. “Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable,” said IPA.
“There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed.”
The reactor plants were £250 million over budget and needed “rebaselining” to meet target dates, IPA said. It had previously rated the plants as “amber” in 2015 and 2016, meaning they they had “significant issues” requiring management attention.
The £31.6bn project to build four new nuclear-armed Dreadnought submarines to replace Trident and a £9.9bn programme to build seven new conventionally-armed nuclear-powered Astute-class submarines were both rated as “amber/red” for the third year running. All the submarines are due to be based at Faslane on the Gareloch near Helensburgh.
According to the IPA, an amber/red rating suggests the schemes may not be viable. “Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas,” it said.
“Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.”
Three of the Astute submarines have been delivered to the MoD, and four are still to be completed. “Overall affordability remains the programme’s key challenge,” said the IPA.
The date when the nuclear-armed Dreadnought submarines are currently scheduled to be ready to replace ageing Trident boats has been kept secret. The Vanguard-class submarines that carry Trident nuclear missiles have already had their lives extended from 25 to 38 years.
The IPA has also assessed the financial viability of the MoD’s £20bn Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme to upgrade the weapons. But its verdict has been deleted from its report on the grounds that it
 is exempt from freedom of information law under national security and defence provisions.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) argued that Trident costs were escalating out of control. “A billion here – a billion there – to add to the bill for these weapons of mass destruction,” said SNP defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald MP.
“The Westminster obsession with Trident is already squeezing conventional defence expenditure as everything else is sacrificed for these redundant, eye-wateringly expensive weapons. The Tories need to get a grip on costs if they insist on Trident renewal.”
Arthur West, chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, pointed out that MoD projects kept going substantially over budget. “The Trident programme in particular continues to be a shambles from a cost point of view,” he said.
The Nuclear Information Service, which monitors nuclear activities, warned that the UK was going to encounter more problems building a new generation of nuclear weapons. “The delays and cost increases that we are already seeing cast further doubt on the MoD’s ability to deliver these projects on time and within budget,” said the group’s research manager, David Cullen.
The MoD has set aside a “contingency” of £10bn in case replacing the four Trident submarines costs more that the estimated £31bn. There were matters relating to nuclear weapons that it could not discuss openly, it said.
“These ratings reflect the complexity and scale of delivering the most advanced submarines ever commissioned by the Royal Navy, the ultimate guarantee of our national security,” stated an MoD spokesperson.
“We are determined to get our submarine programmes right. That’s why we have established a new Director General Nuclear sponsor organisation and a new Submarine Delivery Agency.”
Imprisoned Trident protester to appeal
One of the ‘Trident two’ imprisoned for three weeks after a protest at the Coulport nuclear bomb base on the Clyde is to appeal against her incarceration.
Angie Zelter (66), a veteran peace campaigner, is due to challenge a decision to deny her bail in court in the next few days. She was jailed on remand after she refused to agree a condition banning her from going within 100 metres of Coulport or the nearby nuclear submarine base at Faslane.
Her imprisonment, and that of fellow campaigner, Brian Quail (78), have prompted a storm of protest, and led to an online petition to free them reaching over 4,000 signatures to date. Remand before trial is usually reserved for people considered to be a risk to others.
They were arrested on 12 July after they locked themselves together with others to block an access road to Coulport. They were charged with breach of the peace, an accusation that is due to be assessed in court on 3 August.
Speaking from Saughton prison in Edinburgh, Zelter argued that in the past some courts have upheld the right to take direct action against Trident on the grounds that the weapon is illegal. This had been reinforced by a decision by 122 countries on 7 July to back a United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons.
“So at this time it is even more important that we stand at the gates of the places where those weapons are held and demand that the government listen to the majority world and start the process of disarmament now,” she told The Ferret.
“We welcome support from all those who stand with us and for disarmament, and we will take our arguments to every court, government body, and high street, until the UK and the world is rid of these terrible weapons.”
The SNP MSP Bill Kidd, Co-Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Nuclear Disarmament, backed calls for Zelter and Quail to be released. “I’m very unhappy indeed about the imprisoning of two very decent people, neither of whom pose any threat whatsoever to the peace and livelihoods of the citizens of this country,” he said.
“They have, through a non-violent action, been peacefully engaged in demonstrating against and raising awareness of weapons of mass destruction being trafficked through Scotland by the Westminster government.”
He added: “I am calling for all concerned citizens to sign the petition to free Angie and Brian and to learn from them about how to care about others first and foremost, whatever the threat to themselves.”

Tucson Tech: Raytheon Developing New Tomahawk Sub Launchers That  Will Triple Payload 

David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star
22 July 2017 

Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems is working to pack more of its Tomahawk cruise missiles into U.S. submarines, just in time to avert a potentially large gap in the fleet’s arsenal.
Raytheon is helping General Dynamics’ Electric Boat division develop a new payload module for future Virginia-class fast-attack submarines that will triple the number of Tomahawks the subs can carry.
Made in Tucson and costing about $1.5 million per copy, the Tomahawk is the Navy’s main conventional deep-strike weapon and is fired by surface ships and submarines to destroy high-value targets with lethal precision.
The nation’s current fleet of 13 Virginia-class nuclear-powered subs features 12 individual vertical launch tubes, each with its own little door holding one Tomahawk, said David Adams, senior Tomahawk program manager for Raytheon Missile Systems.
“They’ve found that it’s expensive, it’s harder to maintain that way,” Adams said.
Electric Boat and Raytheon developed a design to replace those individual launchers with two larger launch tubes, each holding six Tomahawks and potentially larger weapons or undersea vehicles.
“This Virginia payload tube was an evolution to that — they said, ‘hey, let’s create a six-pack of Tomahawks that would fit in a larger diameter (launcher),” Adams said.
The new launcher design takes up less space, uses less material and has some operational advantages as well, he said.
The new launch tubes are going into the Virginia-class Block III submarines, four of eight of which have been delivered.
Last week, the U.S. Navy test-fired two Tomahawks for the first time from the new launch tubes on the Virginia-class fast-attack sub USS North Dakota, the first Block III submarine built.
But bigger things are planned for the future versions of the Virginia class.
For the Virginia Block IV versions and beyond, Electric Boat and Raytheon are developing a new mid-hull missile module that will also add four of the larger launch tubes — each capable of carrying seven Tomahawks.
That will increase the number of launch-ready Tomahawks the subs can carry from 12 to 40 missiles.
While today, that would greatly increase the Navy’s Tomahawk launch capacity, the increase will come just in time to replace Tomahawks expected to be lost because of the planned retirement of another type of U.S. submarine.
Starting in the 2020s, the Navy plans to start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines — the largest in the U.S. fleet — each able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles.
The four Ohio-class subs — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia — were originally nuclear-armed ballistic missile subs before being converted to conventionally armed guided-missile subs in the 2000s. (All Tomahawks are conventionally armed since the nuclear version was phased out.)
The Ohio-class submarines are scheduled to be replaced by a new ballistic-missile sub, the Columbia Class, starting around 2031. But in the meantime, the newer Virginia submarines will take up most of the slack.
“The Virginia class is helping replace that (Tomahawk capacity), with an eye toward the loss of those Ohio-class subs, and the Columbias which will be replacing those Ohios pretty much on a one-for-one basis,” Adams said.
“The Columbia class will have pretty substantial capacity of Tomahawk-capable missile tubes,” he said, adding that by the time the Ohios retire, there will be a small net decrease in Tomahawk capacity.
While work on the Virginia Tomahawk upgrades is led by Electric Boat and doesn’t represent a big contract opportunity for Raytheon, it’s important work that continues a tradition of constant technology evolution for the Tomahawk, which has been fired in combat more than 2,300 times.
“Tomahawk is a very dynamic program with evolution and development in multiple dimensions, and some are in the weapon itself and some have to do with the platforms where we’re deployed,” Adams said.
With latest Tomahawk Block IV, the Navy and Raytheon have improved the weapon’s communications and navigation capabilities, while adding a multi-mode seeker so it can hit high-value moving targets at sea.
Those upgraded Tomahawks are on track to deploy beginning in 2019 and are expected to be in the Navy arsenal beyond 2040.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

North Korea Planning Ballistic Missile Test From Submarine, US Intelligence Says

21 July 2017 

US intelligence indicates that North Korea is possibly planning to launch its next missile underwater as Pyongyang’s submarine has been found sailing some 100 kilometers out to sea in international waters.
A 65 meter-long North Korean submarine was spotted in international waters in last 48 hours, two defense officials said. It has exhibited "unusual deployment activity", the officials were quoted as saying by CNN Thursday.
The vessel has sailed farther than it has before into international waters, travelling 62 miles to the Sea of Japan.
North Korea is heading forward to test components and missile control facilities for another ICBM or intermediate launch from a submarine, however the US intelligence assessment says that the program is still in early stages.
In addition to that US satellites detected new imagery and satellite-based radar emissions. The US is watching in particular for further testing of North Korean radars and communications that could be used in a launch. The next test launch would be the first since North Korea launched an ICBM on July 4.
This activity follows weeks after Pyongyang completed on the Fourth of July, what Washington has considered its first successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch. Whereas, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un called the launch a "gift package" for the US on the anniversary of its Independence Day.
Kim also claimed that the Hwasong-14 missile tested most recently is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, and some experts say that a missile from the North could have the capability to reach the US west coast in only a couple of years.

Next generation Russian subs will be of 3 kinds

21 July 2017 

The Russian navy is taking a page out of the U.S. Navy’s playbook as it develops its family of next-generation nuclear submarines.
Tentatively called Project Husky, the new submarines will be built in three variants — a basic attack submarine model, an expanded guided-missile submarine or SSGN version, and an enlarged ballistic missile submarine or SSBN variant, writes Ilya Kramnik, a defense reporter with
The new vessels are expected to start construction in the 2020-2021 timeframe.
The Russians are trying to ensure that all three versions of the Husky retain the maximum amount of commonality. In many respects, the new submarines are similar in concept to the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class SSNs that were developed after the end of the Cold War when the extremely potent Seawolf-class boats proved to be far too expensive.
The Virginia class started off as a basic SSN design, but has evolved into an SSGN with the addition of the Virginia Payload Module, or VPM, in future boats of the class.
Moreover, in many ways, the U.S. Navy’s forthcoming Columbia-class SSBNs are also a direct evolution of the Virginia-class design — leveraging most of the older SSN design’s technology and systems onboard a larger hull.
The Husky will follow a similar path as the Virginia-class design, Kramnik notes.
 The Russians expect to start off with a basic SSN design that would displace between 8,000 and 9,000 tons and have speed of between 32 to 33 knots. The vessel would be armed with torpedoes and sea mines, but could launch cruise missiles via its torpedo tubes. The Russians also want the vessel to be able to deliver and recover special operations forces and their gear — just like the Virginia class.
The SSGN version and the SSBN variant would be built by stretching the submarine and adding an extra hull section — similar to how the VPM adds four payload tubes each capable of launching seven cruise missiles from a “multiple all-up-round canister,” or MAC, by means of a hull plug.
The Russians, too, are looking at developing a MAC canister that would rapidly enable the SSBN version to switch payloads over to carrying cruise missiles in packs of five to seven weapons per tube. That’s similar in concept to America’s four Ohio-class SSGNs that were originally armed with Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Presumably, the Husky SSBN variant would be scaled-up from the SSN and SSGN versions in a manner similar to how the Columbia class is essentially a larger derivative of the Virginia in terms of its sensors and most of its machinery.
Indeed, Kramnik states that all of the Husky-class variants would have the same sensors and propulsion systems — including the same life-of-the boat pressurized water reactor — all of which are advanced derivatives of systems onboard the Project 995A Borei-class SSBN and Project 885M Yasen-class SSGNs.
The Russians hope that the Husky will be significantly more affordable than the Project 885M SSGNs, which are excellent submarines, but are extremely expensive. Indeed, given the economies of scale in terms of common parts and systems, the Russians hope to bring the cost of the Husky down to a level where they can build a minimum of 16 to 20 of the attack and SSGN versions of the boat — and possibly more.
The Russians would ideally like to be able to order one new boat every two years with deliveries taking no more than four and a half years from the start of construction. If all goes as planned, the first Husky would be delivered in 2025 while the last would be delivered in the 2030s.
The SSBN version would be built after the last of the Project 995A Borei-class ballistic missile submarines are delivered. According to Kramnik, the next generation boomer would help Russia to continue upgrading its nuclear forces in the 2020s if Moscow can’t reach further nuclear arms control agreements with the United States.
However, U.S. analysts such as Center for Naval Analyses researcher Michael Kofman are somewhat puzzled by the Russians’ desire to build another SSBN class.
“It’s unclear why they need a new SSBN,” Kofman told The National Interest.
“I think an SSN is really a stronger priority.”
If Russia realizes its vision for the Husky, it should provide a design the Kremlin can build in large quantities to replace the Soviet-era vessels that still comprise the bulk of its fleet. But even with the addition of the advanced Husky class, the Russian undersea force — though armed with potent new vessels — will not be the menace that the massive Soviet fleet once was.

 Underwater Bloodhounds: DARPA’s Robot Subs

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
19 July 2017

Run silent, run deep — and now, run in packs? Submarines are traditionally lone wolves, but the rise of robotics is starting to change that. Just yesterday, defense contractor BAE announced a $4.6 million award from DARPA to build an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) to accompany manned submarines, helping them spot targets by sending out active sonar pulses.
While the contract is tiny by Pentagon standards, it’s a harbinger of things to come underwater. Done right, the sonar drone could give bubbleheads a new advantage at a time when Russia and China are copying our old ones. But there are plenty of technical and tactical hurdles to overcome. The first is cramming a sufficiently high-powered sonar, an underwater datalink, and an adequate power source in a drone small enough to launch from a torpedo tube. If you can do all that, then you have to make sure the sonar and datalink aren’t too powerful, or they’ll give away the drone’s location —  or even help the enemy find the manned submarine itself.
Known as MOCCA (Mobile Offboard Clandestine Communications & Approach), the sonar UUV would help the manned mothership detect enemy submarines at greater distances, without being detected in return. Active sonar, which sends out a pulse of sound — that loud “PING” you hear in war movies — has a much longer range than passive sonar, which merely listens. But submarines generally rely on passive sensors, because the enemy can home in on active pulses. If the sub can launch an unmanned underwater vehicle with active sonar, though, the UUV can move a safe distance away before it starts pinging. Yes, the enemy may well detect the drone, but even if they destroy it, the manned sub is safe.

U.S. Navy Fires First Tomahawk Cruise Missiles From New Submarine Payload Tubes

Staff, Aerotech News
19 July 2017

TUCSON, Ariz.–For the first time, the U.S. Navy test fired two Raytheon-built Tomahawk cruise missiles from new submarine payload tubes on the Virginia-class USS North Dakota (SSN-784).
The tests, in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida, proved the submarine’s ability to load, carry and vertically launch Tomahawk missiles from the new Block III Virginia Payload Tube.
The upgraded tubes feature fewer parts and will be even more reliable.
In addition to the new payload tubes, the Navy is also developing a new Virginia Payload Module. The new modules will triple the number of Tomahawk missiles that Virginia-class submarines can carry, dramatically increasing each sub’s firepower.
“As the Navy continues to modernize its subs, Raytheon continues to modernize Tomahawk, keeping this one-of-a-kind weapon well ahead of the threat,” said Mike Jarrett, Raytheon Air Warfare Systems vice president. “Today’s Tomahawk is a far cry from its predecessors and tomorrow’s missile will feature even more capability, giving our sailors the edge they need for decades to come.”
The U.S. Navy continues to upgrade the Tomahawk Block IV’s communications and navigation capabilities, while adding a multi-mode seeker so it can hit high-value moving targets at sea. These modernized Tomahawks are on track to deploy beginning in 2019 and will be in the U.S. Navy inventory beyond 2040.
Fired in combat more than 2,300 times, Tomahawk cruise missiles are used by U.S. and British forces to defeat integrated air defense systems and conduct long-range precision strike missions against high-value targets. Surface ships and other classes of submarines can carry more than 100 Tomahawks when needed.

DARPA, BAE Systems Developing Small Unmanned Underwater Vehicles to  Hunt Enemy Submarines 

Megan Eckstein, USNI
18 July 2017 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded BAE Systems a $4.6 million contract for an unmanned underwater vehicle that would help U.S. Navy submarines detect adversary subs while minimizing their own risk of being detected.
Whereas surface ships conducting anti-submarine warfare can use a combination of active and passive sensors, submarines use passive detection systems to listen to their surroundings without putting out any pings, to maintain their own stealth. According to a Broad Agency Announcement released last year at the start of DARPA’s Mobile Offboard Clandestine Communications and Approach (MOCCA) program, MOCCA would leverage the benefits of active sonar systems while protecting the submarine’s location, since the pings would be coming from a UUV at some unknown distance from the submarine.
“The MOCCA program seeks active sonar solutions that will mitigate the limits of passive submarine sonar sensors. The objective is to achieve significant standoff detection and tracking range through the use of an active sonar projector deployed offboard a submarine and onboard an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV). The submarine will need the ability to coordinate the operational functions of the supporting UUV. Thus, the program must also demonstrate the ability to achieve reliable clandestine communications between the host submarine and supporting UUV without sacrificing submarine stealth,” according to the BAA.
The contract award for MOCCA Phase 1 covers the development of an active sonar suitable for small UUV operations and a secure communications link to connect the UUV to its host submarine. The UUV itself would be 21 inches in diameter or smaller, and may operate in littoral waters, the bottom of the ocean and other challenging environments.
“Advances in maritime technology are critical to the Department of Defense and an area where the U.S. military can continue to strengthen its advantage,” Geoff Edelson, director of Maritime Systems and Technology at BAE Systems, said in a company news release.
“With the resurgence of near-peer competitors and an increasing number of submarines, MOCCA technology will provide Navy submariners with a vital asymmetrical advantage against a rapidly proliferating undersea threat.”
On the sonar side, the BAA notes that “a small UUV is disadvantaged as a host for an active sonar projector” because the small size and power output means that “high-output transducer materials” and an energy-efficient projector are required. The BAA also notes that advancements in the sonar processing and “precision localization capability” are needed – the latter because imprecise active sonar usage could accidentally illuminate the host U.S. Navy submarine, compromising its stealth.
This Phase 1 effort should yield “development of compact and efficient acoustic projectors and novel sonar receiver processing to maximize sonar detection range, reverberation and clutter rejection, and target discrimination and tracking,” the BAA reads.
On the communications side, “the communications link between the host submarine and the UUV will be used to control the UUV and its sonar payload, and to
communicate information generated on the UUV back to the host platform. The MOCCA system will be used during an engagement, so proper control of the UUV is critical,” according to the BAA. “Link throughput, delay, and reliability trades should consider the need for reliable operation during combat. An ideal link would have a low probability of intercept and of exploitation and provide high link reliability. The MOCCA communications link cannot degrade submarine stealth.”
The comms link could leverage acoustic, optical, and relayed Radio Frequency (RF) signaling modalities, according to the BAA, must have significant range and will be evaluated for its Low Probability of Intercept and Low Probability of Exploitation characteristics.
The BAA outlined a 51-month, three-phase program, which starts with this contract award to BAE Systems for a 15-month Phase 1 research and development effort of the communication link and the sonar, with sub-system prototypes developed and demonstrated. If successful, DARPA could compete another contract for Phase 2 – at-sea system-level demonstrations of MOCCA technologies – and an option for Phase 3, an 18-month effort to integrate and test MOCCA with a submarine at sea.