BREMERTON — The arrival of a new generation of ballistic-missile submarines, along with a once-in-a-generation modernization of the nuclear missiles they carry, will require the Navy to invest in new facilities and upgrade existing infrastructure at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in the coming decade.
Navy Vice Adm. Johnny R. Wolfe, Jr., visiting Bremerton as the grand marshal for the annual Armed Forces Day parade, said the Navy's local installations are and will continue to be "extremely important" amid rising tensions with Russia and China. The area will be home to the Navy's newest ballistic-missile submarine, the Columbia class. The Trident missiles it carries are also due for modernization, he said.
"We've really done nothing but nibble at the edges," Wolfe said of those missiles in an interview with the Kitsap Sun. "We haven't been able to develop new systems."
To prepare, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor will need overhauls to its Trident Training Facility for educating sailors and the Trident Refit Facility, which helps maintain the subs, and more, Wolfe said. And with the production of the updated Trident missile slated for the 2040s, that construction will need to begin in 2027 to be ready for it, a local investment Wolfe estimated would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Threats posed in a new era of the "great power competition" by China and Russia make the northwest "an incredibly important region" for the Navy, Wolfe said. It's for that reason that the majority of the nation's nuclear weapon-armed ballistic-missile submarines — eight out of 14 in the Ohio class — are based here, he noted.
How many of the 12 incoming Columbia class submarines will be based here has yet to be determined.
The Navy's plan is to send to retirement each Ohio class submarine as one of the new Columbia class subs becomes ready to deploy. But given a tight schedule, the Navy is considering the possibility of extending the lives of up to five Ohio class submarines.
"But the real focus is keeping Columbia on time," Wolfe said.
The first Columbia class submarine — the USS Columbia — will be based at Kings Bay, Georgia. Its proximity to where it was built is important and affects both Columbia and the second, the USS Wisconsin, Wolfe said. It will be ready to deploy in 2031, following rigorous testing and training including a "Demonstration and Shakedown Operation" or DASO, when the sub will fire a test missile at sea.
"We are going to be building the biggest, quietest, most capable submarine the nation's ever built," said Rear Adm. Scott W. Pappano at a talk hosted this month by the Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance Deterrence Center. "That's no small task."
Concurrently, Wolfe's office is working to develop the next life extension of the strategic weapons the Columbia class will carry. An updated Trident D5 missile is needed to maintain the Navy's ballistic-missile program through much of the 21st century, Wolfe said.
Fitting the footprint
The nation's "nuclear triad" — which includes submarines, land-launched missiles and bombers — is in the midst of a three-decades-long modernization effort estimated to cost $1.2 trillion.
The submarine-launched ballistic missile is viewed as advantageous given its mobility and secrecy under the ocean. Bangor is home to the largest deployed stockpile of nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
Each of the 20 missiles the subs possess can fly 6,500 nautical miles and has explosive energy of up to 455 kilotons. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II, by contrast, had the power of about 15 kilotons.
The missile launches from the sub underwater before its solid rocket boosters propel it above the surface. There, it flies to a height five times higher than the International Space Station. It achieves a speed of Mach 5, and, as it races toward its target, is propelled back to earth by "Mother Nature and physics at that point," Wolfe said.
Meanwhile, the Columbia class has been developed with similar standards to its predecessor Ohio class for the purposes of maintenance and repair work. While Columbia will be heavier — about 21,000 tons to Ohio's 18,000 — the boat is shaped similarly.
"We designed it ... to make sure we fit it within the footprint of the Ohio class," Pappano said.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: New facilities coming to Bangor as Navy prepares sub, missile upgrades