Navy Director Says ‘Brexit’ Won’t Affect U.S.-U.K. Nuclear Cooperation
His comments came the day after Britons shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. The British exit, known as Brexit, roiled global financial markets and led to the political downfall of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, a strong U.S. ally who wanted Britain to remain in the EU. Analysts have warned about longer-term economic and political fallout.
“I think that was a decision based on [Britain’s] relationship with Europe in the EU, not its relationship with the United States and certainly not the nuclear deterrence programs that we have been true partners with for the last 50 years,” Vice Adm. Terry Benedict said of the referendum outcome during a conference at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.
Benedict spoke with his British counterpart the morning after the polls closed, he noted.
“I have no concerns about that. I see … yesterday’s vote in the United Kingdom having no effect on our relationship in the nuclear world,” he said at the conference.
The U.S. and U.K. navies have been cooperating on nuclear issues for decades. The Polaris Sales Agreement enables the British to buy strategic systems from the United States for their ballistic missile submarines, which are capable of launching nuclear warheads.
The HMS Vengeance completed its midlife refueling and overhaul earlier this year and will soon receive strategic onload of nuclear weapons at Kings Bay, Georgia, Benedict said.
“We are tightly coupled both programmatically and technically to ensure that both nations provide the most cost-effective, technically capable nuclear strategic deterrent for our nations,” he said.
Both navies use the Trident II D-5 missile system and are co-developing a common missile compartment that will later be equipped on the U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class replacement and the U.K.’s Vanguard follow-on.
“This is truly unique as both nations will have the capability to build the CMS in their respective shipyards,” Benedict said.
The joint effort is shifting from design to construction, he said. Construction of the first 17 missile tubes began in 2015, and the contract for the next 36 tubes will be awarded “shortly” through program executive office submarines, he noted.
“We will continue to maintain this strong strategic relationship to ensure a credible and reliable strategic weapon system is deployed today on our Ohio-class and U.K. Vanguard-class as well as in the future on respective follow-on platforms,” he said.
The Navy is also seeking more cooperation with the U.S. Air Force when it comes to building the next generation of missile systems. The Air Force is planning to replace the Minuteman III, and the Navy is considering what might follow the D-5.
“With the budget pressures we face today, it is only prudent to assess areas where we the Navy and the Air Force should begin to seek intelligent commonality to reduce both the cost and the risk as both services modernize the ballistic missile legs of the triad,” Benedict said.
Last year the two services were directed to conduct detailed assessments of potential areas where commonality might be viable. A joint working group was set up that included senior technical and programmatic experts.
According to an unclassified PowerPoint slide provided to National Defense, areas of potential commonality that were examined include: avionics, post-boost system, ordnance, controls, booster, flight test and range, reentry system, structures, and ground/shipboard systems.
“The team concluded that subsystem and component-level commonality has the potential to reduce both cost and risk to the Air Force and the Navy future missile programs by leveraging the substantial resources already invested,” Benedict said.
The services need to start incorporating the results of the study into their respective acquisition strategies, particularly for the Minuteman III replacement in the near term, he added.
Benedict has advised the Air Force to take advantage of Navy program products and processes that were recently developed as part of the D-5 life-extension program. He also recommended criteria for commonality be included in the Air Force’s source-selection evaluation of industry responses to requests for proposals.
“Acquisition decisions will make or break the effective implementation of commonality,” he said.There are hurdles to overcome when it comes to Navy-Air Force cooperation on missile programs, Benedict noted.
“We have different cultures, and both [services] have long histories of success working largely independently,” he said.
The Air Force is preparing to replace the Minuteman III, but it could be awhile before the Navy develops its next-generation missile system. The Ohio-class replacement, which is slated to enter service in 2031, will initially be equipped with the D-5, he said.
“That’s still all in the process” of being worked out, Benedict told reporters after the conference when asked about timelines for a follow-on system. “That’s a fairly complicated equation in terms of aging, obsolescence, budgets, schedules, you name it.”