DAHLGREN, Va. – Navy leaders and local officials cut the ribbon for a new facility considered vital to the nation’s Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Program, here, Nov 1.
Three guest speakers – Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, and Virginia Del. Margaret Ransone – described the Missile Support Facility as crucial to the top-priority SLBM program responsible for the bulk of the nation's nuclear deterrent capability.
“This is quite an honor and privilege the United States Navy bestowed on us with all their priorities and we’re very grateful,” said John Fiore, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) technical director, in his welcoming remarks to several hundred government, contractor and military personnel, mostly SLBM employees, in the process of transitioning into the new facility, as well as their retired counterparts, including pioneers who were key in establishing the program at Dahlgren.
SLBM systems have provided a reliable, secure strategic deterrent for the nation since 1960.
“From the beginning, the Navy looked to Dahlgren for solutions,” Fiore told the audience while recounting the command’s role in the first launch of a Polaris missile from a submarine – the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) – that accurately struck its target 1,100 miles downrange 58 years ago. “As a testament to the high quality of work performed at Dahlgren, the commander of the USS George Washington relayed to President Eisenhower the success of the first submarine launched ballistic missile: ‘Polaris – from the deep to target – perfect’.”
Over the years, the Polaris Ballistic Missile Program evolved to the Poseidon Program and then to the Trident Program, each with more stringent requirements.
The facility features state-of-the-art labs, offices, and equipment for more than 300 NSWCDD Strategic and Computing Systems Department scientists, engineers, and technical experts who develop, test, and maintain critical portions for current and future missile systems.
“The men and women of NSWC Dahlgren have stood with us side-by-side for 60 plus years and will continue to stand with us side-by-side for the next 66 years,” said Wolfe – director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs – in reference to the Columbia (SSBN-826) class strategic nuclear submarine program the Navy anticipates will be in effect until 2084.
The first of 12 Columbia nuclear submarines – designed to replace the Trident missile-armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines – is scheduled to begin construction in 2021.
The Navy has identified the Columbia-class program as the Navy’s top priority program. Currently, NSWCDD is in the research and development phase of the program. The future submarine is being designed to have a longer service life, better operational availability, and better survivability than its predecessors.
Columbia will serve as a sea-based strategic deterrence while rehosting the Trident II D5(LE) missile system, providing the most survivable leg of the nation’s nuclear triad.
The nuclear triad comprises platforms and weapons that serve as the backbone of U.S. national security. The triad – Ohio-class nuclear submarines, strategic bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles – provides the nation with significant deterrent and decisive response capabilities.
“As we’ve gone through Polaris, Poseidon, Trident I, Trident II, and whatever comes after Trident II, we are going to continue to rely on this unique critical skill that you have in this program,” said Wolfe. “We know that we can always count on you to deliver.”
Dahlgren’s SLBM experts will be able to collaborate more frequently and effectively as they deliver technologies that foster rapid development of SLBM capabilities in addition to the incorporation of new capabilities in existing software.
“The building is really the opportunity and the tool that’s needed for each and every one of you to do the spectacular job that you do,” said Wittman, chairman of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. “We are in an amazing turning of the page in the chapter of our strategic defense in this nation. Our triad is the most resilient and foundational element of what we do to protect this nation and I would argue that our SLBM is the most critical part of that triad.”
With almost unlimited cruising range, the triad’s SLBM nuclear submarines are capable of extended submerged operations in the international waters of the world. The Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile system provides the U.S. with a powerful deterrent against a global war.
“Today’s ribbon cutting expands our capacity to sustain our weapons system into the future, keeping the Navy on the cutting edge of weapons systems technology,” said Jeff Kunkler, deputy program director for SLBM at Dahlgren in his remarks as master of ceremonies, pointing out the command’s work on the Columbia-class submarine. “We are beginning the planning for a life extension program for the Trident missile. We are also implementing several significant initiatives resulting from the recent Nuclear Posture Review, as we continue to sustain and support the current Fleet.”
The Nuclear Posture Review is a legislative-mandated review undertaken by the Department of Defense that outlines U.S. nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities and force posture for the next five to 10 years.
Kunkler recollected the changes he has seen over 37 years at the previous SLBM building, once the most coveted place to work where the satellite and global positioning system programs as well as the command’s computer support division were located.
“We had a Polaris fire control system, a Poseidon fire control system, and, at that time, a brand new formidable Trident I system,” said Kunkler about the capabilities when he started his career in 1981. “We hosted two of the most powerful and modern mainframe computers in the Navy at the time. These computers were used to perform the extensive computations required to calculate the SLBM and satellite trajectories. Each computer occupied several cabinets in large rooms. The only method of human interface was operators feeding in punched cards.”
Representing the future at the ceremony were two groups of students – eight Spotsylvania Post Oak Middle School students and 11 King George High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets.
“I think it’s wonderful to see their participation,” said Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone. “We should all enjoy seeing the young people and inspire these young men and women to enter into the defense industry.”
After the ceremony, the JROTC cadets along with the Post Oak Middle School students and three of their teachers joined guests and NSWCDD personnel who toured the new facility.
“You take time out of your schedules when you get off work to go out and engage our local students and get them interested in the jobs that you are doing,” said Ransone in her speech, regarding NSWCDD scientists and engineers who mentor science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students in the schools and during the command’s annual STEM summer academy.
“The goal is to inspire our youth through robotics, mathematics and the Sea Perch programs, and many times, those students end up competing nationally. Your hope is to inspire them to become innovative scientists and engineers but also to introduce them to the range of work here at Dahlgren so we’re protecting their future,” she said.
Certainly, SLBM technological innovation and support is among the range of work available to current and future employees who will continue developing the next generation of submarines under the Columbia Program.
“We envision that this facility will empower our teams with the ability to collaborate real-time, face-to-face, to arrive at mutual understanding of complex strategic products in support of the warfighter,” said project lead Kathryn Dawson. “This human interaction, this exchange of diverse ideas, this unleashing of human energy, is vital to the future success of our program.”