August 23, 2007
Subs with "Conventional Class": APL Team Tests New Undersea Weapons Platform
After three years of careful planning, a small team in the Global Engagement Department's (GED's) Shipboard Systems Group recently completed a series of tests for the SSGN — a new class of submarines that will provide the Navy and joint forces with conventional firepower in a virtually undetectable vessel.
SSGNs are modified Ohio-class, nuclear Trident subs, which are now capable of carrying up to 154 cruise missiles and as many as 66 special operations personnel. Two of four SSGNs, USS Florida (SSGN 728) and USS Ohio (SSGN 726), completed a series of shakedown operations verifying the crew and weapons systems were ready for deployment. Additionally, USS Florida wrapped up its strike operational evaluation in May.
Through several in-port and at-sea exercises, APL helped the Navy replicate what the crew will experience once the vessels are deployed, testing its reactions to a multitude of situations.
"No two exercises were alike," says J. Patton, APL's SSGN Attack Weapons System Evaluation project manager. "There were three or four simulated strike exercises each day at sea, and each one had a unique APL-developed strike package that included simulated target information for each missile."
Acting as Tomahawk strike coordinator, the team added realism by inserting faults or casualties into the test to gauge both hardware and crew responses. "Timing is critical," Patton says. "We had to trigger certain events at just the right time or risk delaying the whole exercise."
APL-developed software aboard each sub was used to collect data, which the teams are now analyzing. "Our software was also used to assess system performance and help other organizations troubleshoot any anomalies detected during the tests," Patton says.
Once deployed, the submarine crews will run additional tests and send data back to the Laboratory for analysis, following in-depth procedures APL developed for the sailors.
"Analyzing operational data is part of the long-term SSGN evaluation capability, similar to what we developed years ago for Trident," Patton says. "This will help the Navy determine if any modifications are needed to the submarine's strike weapons systems."
Path to Success
Preparation was key to the successful trials, team members say. "We've worked closely with the Navy's Strategic Systems Programs Office and other participating organizations to develop objectives for testing this complex weapon system," says J. Humphreys, APL's SSGN program manager. "We helped the Navy meet comprehensive test objectives and minimize redundancy by combining tests for both the shakedown and operational evaluation, for example."
"Our 30 years of experience in Trident submarine evaluations and operations, along with our hydrodynamic expertise and our synergy with the Tomahawk folks in the Precision Engagement Business Area, make APL a natural choice to spearhead the SSGN tests," Humphreys says. "APL is really the only place where you have all this expertise in one location."
It's likely that SSGNs will eventually house different payloads, such as an unmanned underwater vehicle. "When the sponsor looks at future missions or weapons that can be placed aboard the SSGN, we fully expect to play a significant role in this process," Humphreys says.
The remaining two SSGNs — USS Michigan (SSGN 727) and USS Georgia (SSGN 729) — will undergo their shakedown tests in early 2008 and 2009, respectively, once their overhauls are complete. The GED team anxiously awaits its next opportunity to work at sea.
Despite the incredibly hectic pace and the challenges of living and working for several days in a sub's tight quarters, none of the team would trade the experience. "It's a unique feeling working aboard a ship or submarine, knowing the system you're working on will someday be used in the field," Patton says.