JASON is an independent advisory panel of elite scientists that was created in 1960 to address a wide range of scientific and technical issues, primarily for the U.S. military. Originally, the JASON panel had about 20 members, known informally as Jasons, increasing to about 40 members by the 1970s. JASON maintains its independence by requiring that new members be selected by its existing members rather than by external sponsors.
JASON is a very controversial organization with a very low public profile. For a good introduction to JASON, I recommend Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book, “The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite,” which is available from Amazon and other booksellers. You can watch an hour-long video created by Microsoft Research with Ann Finkbeiner providing an excellent narrative overview (no Powerpoint slides) on JASON here:
Ann Finkbeiner notes: “Working in secrecy to solve highly classified problems for the Department of Defense, CIA, and NSA is an elite group of scientific advisors who provide the government with analyses on defense and arms control and they call themselves JASON. Named for the hero in Jason and the Argonauts, the group grew out of the Manhattan Project and counts as its members scientists such as Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann. Of the roughly one hundred Jasons over time, 43 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, eight have won MacArthur awards, one a Field’s Medal, and 11 have won Nobel Prizes. Its members have gathered every summer since 1960, working in absolute secrecy and with unparalleled freedom. The Jasons’ work poses vital questions: what role should the government play in scientific research? At what point is the inventor accountable for the hazards of the invention?”
You’ll find a list of JASON research topics compiled on Wikipedia here:
Since the late 1970s, the JASONs have been assigned tasks and been funded via Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts managed by MITRE Corporation. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) issued MITRE’s most recent five-year IDIQ contract for managing JASON tasking and funding. Task Orders are issued under the main IDIQ contract and the actual work is performed according to the individual task orders. The IDIQ contract structure broadly allows government agencies to commission a JASON study and fund it via a new task order. MITRE’s IDIQ contract expired on 31 March 2019. A follow-on IDIQ contract was in the works, but OSD cancelled that solicitation on short notice on 28 March 2019.
On 10 April 2019, the article, “Pentagon Cancels Contract for JASON Advisory Panel,” written by Steven Aftergood, was posted on the FAS website at the following link:
FAS speculated that, “The Pentagon move to cancel the JASON contract appears to be part of a larger trend by federal agencies to limit independent scientific and technical advice.” This trend appears to include the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), which is the Navy counterpart to the Army Science Board and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.
On 5 April 2019, Steve Aftergood reported that, “This week the U.S. Navy abruptly terminated its own scientific advisory group, depriving the service of a source of internal critique and evaluation. The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) was established by legislation in 1946 and provided science and technology advice to the Navy for the past 73 years. Now it’s gone. The decision to disestablish the Committee was announced in a March 29 Federal Register notice.” You can read this report on the FAS website here:
Efforts are underway on several fronts to attempt to restore funding for JASON and NRAC. Hopefully funding can be restored and these independent advisory groups can continue providing important scientific and technical advice to the U.S. government.
Additional resources related to JASON:
Joel Shurkin, “True Genius: The Life and Work of Richard Garwin, the Most Influential Scientist You’ve Never Heard of,” Prometheus Books, 21 February 2017
At meeting #65 of the Lyncean Group in August 2011, the subject of our presentation was “Experience with the JASONs.” See more at the following link: https://lynceans.org/talk-65-82411/
Update 26 April 2019
It appears that the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) intends to take over the contract for the Jason Group. See the article, “After Pentagon Ends Contract, Top-Secret Scientists Group Vows To Carry On,” on the NPR website at the following link:
On 19 January 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the production of an atomic bomb. At that time, most of the technology for producing an atomic bomb still needed to be developed and the US had very little infrastructure in place to support that work.
The Manhattan Engineer District (MED, aka the “Manhattan Project”) was responsible for the research, design, construction and operation of the early US nuclear weapons complex and for delivering atomic bombs to the US Army during World War II (WW II) and in the immediate post-war period. The Manhattan Project existed for just five years. In 1943, 75 years ago, the Manhattan Project transitioned from planning to construction and initial operation of the first US nuclear weapons complex facilities. Here’s a very brief timeline for the Manhattan Project.
13 August 1942: The Manhattan Engineer District was formally created under the leadership of U.S. Army Colonel Leslie R. Groves.
2 December 1942: A team led by Enrico Fermi achieved the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in a graphite-moderated, natural uranium fueled reactor known simply as Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1).
1943 – 1946: The Manhattan Project managed the construction and operation of the entire US nuclear weapons complex.
16 July 1945: The first nuclear device was successfully tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, NM, less than three years after the Manhattan Project was created.
6 & 9 August 1945: Atomic bombs were employed by the US against Japan, contributing to ending World War II.
1 January 1947: The newly formed, civilian-led Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) took over management and operation of all research and production facilities from the Manhattan Engineer District.
25 August 1947: The Manhattan Engineer District was abolished.
The WW II nuclear weapons complex was the foundation for the early US post-war nuclear weapons infrastructure that evolved significantly over time to support the US mutually-assured destruction strategy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Today, the US nuclear weapons complex continues to evolve as needed to perform its critical role in maintaining the US nuclear deterrent capability.
2. A Closer Look at the Manhattan Project Timeline
You’ll find a comprehensive, interactive timeline of the Manhattan Project on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) OSTI website at the following link:
The Atomic Heritage Foundation is dedicated to “supporting the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and capturing the memories of the people who harnessed the energy of the atom.” Their homepage is here:
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park was authorized by Congress in December 2014 and subsequently was approved by the President to commemorate the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is an extended “park” that currently is comprised of three distinct DOE sites that each had different missions during WW II:
Los Alamos, New Mexico: Nuclear device design, test and production
Oak Ridge, Tennessee: Enriched uranium production
Hanford, Washington: Plutonium production
On 10 November 2015, a memorandum of agreement between DOE and the National Park Service (NPS) established the park and the respective roles of DOE and NPS in managing the park and protecting and presenting certain historic structures to the public.
You’ll find the Manhattan Project National Historical Park website here:
Following is a brief overview of the three sites that currently comprise the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
3.1. Los Alamos, New Mexico
Los Alamos Laboratory was established 75 years ago, in early 1943, as MED Site Y, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer. This was the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons laboratory, which was created to consolidate in one secure, remote location most of the research, design, development and production work associated producing usable nuclear weapons to the US Army during WW II.
The first wave of scientists began arriving at Los Alamos Laboratory in April 1943. Just 27 months later, on 16 July 1945, the world’s first nuclear device was detonated 200 miles south of Los Alamos at the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, NM. This was the plutonium-fueled, implosion-type device code named “Gadget.”
During WW II, the Los Alamos Laboratory produced three atomic bombs:
One uranium-fueled, gun-type atomic bomb code named “Little Boy” was produced. This was the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945, making it the first nuclear weapon used in warfare. This atomic bomb design was not tested before it was used operationally.
Two plutonium-fueled, implosion-type atomic bombs code named “Fat Man” were produced. These bombs were very similar to Gadget. One of the Fat Man bombs was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945. The second Fat Man bomb could have been used during WW II, but it was not needed after Japan announced its surrender on 15 August 1945.
The highly-enriched uranium for the Little Boy bomb was produced by the enrichment plants at Oak Ridge. The plutonium for Gadget and the two Fat Man bombs was produced by the production reactors at Hanford.
Three historic sites are on Los Alamos National Laboratory property and currently are not open to the public:
Gun Site Facilities: three bunkered buildings (TA-8-1, TA-8-2, and TA-8-3), and a portable guard shack (TA-8-172).
V-Site Facilities: TA-16-516 and TA-16-517 V-Site Assembly Building
Pajarito Site: TA-18-1 Slotin Building, TA-8-2 Battleship Control Building, and the TA-18-29 Pond Cabin.
You’ll find information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Los Alamos here:
Land acquisition was approved in 1942 for planned uranium “atomic production plants” in the Tennessee Valley. The selected site officially became the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW) in January 1943 and was given the MED code name Site X. This is where MED and its contractors managed the deployment during WW II of the following three different uranium enrichment technologies in three separate, large-scale industrial process facilities:
Liquid thermal diffusion process, based on work by Philip Abelson at Naval Research Laboratory and the Philadelphia Naval Yard. This process was implemented at S-50, which produced uranium enriched to < 2 at. % U-235.
Gaseous diffusion process, based on work by Harold Urey at Columbia University. This process was implemented at K-25, which produced uranium enriched to about 23 at. % U-235 during WW II.
Electromagnetic separation process, based on Ernest Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron at the University of California Berkeley in the early 1930s. This process was implemented at Y-12 where the final output was weapons-grade uranium.
The Little Boy atomic bomb used 92.6 pounds (42 kg) of highly enriched uranium produced at Oak Ridge with contributions from all three of these processes.
The nearby township was named Oak Ridge in 1943, but the nuclear site itself was not officially renamed Oak Ridge until 1947.
The three Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Oak Ridge are:
X-10 Graphite Reactor National Historic Landmark
Y-12 complex: Buildings 9731 and 9204-3
The S-50 Thermal Diffusion Plant was dismantled in the late 1940s. This site is not part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
Following is a brief overview of X-10, K-25 and Y-12 historical sites. There’s much more information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Oak Ridge here:
X-10 was the world’s second nuclear reactor (after the Chicago Pile, CP-1) and the first reactor designed and built for continuous operation. It was intended to produce the first significant quantities of plutonium, which were used by scientists at Los Alamos to characterize plutonium and develop the design of a plutonium-fueled atomic bomb.
X-10 was a large graphite-moderated, natural uranium fueled reactor that originally had an continuous design power rating of 1.0 MWt, which later was raised to 3.5 MWt. Originally, it was intended to be a prototype for the much larger plutonium production reactors being planned for Hanford. The selection of air cooling for X-10 enabled this reactor to be deployed more rapidly, but limited its value as a prototype for the future water-cooled plutonium production reactors.
The X-10 reactor core was comprised of graphite blocks arranged into a cube measuring 24 feet (7.3 meters) on each side. The core was surrounded by several feet of high-density concrete and other material to provide radiation shielding. The core and shielding were penetrated by 1,248 horizontal channels arranged in 36 rows. Each channel served to position up to 54 fuel slugs in the core and provide passages for forced air cooling of the core. Each fuel slug was an aluminum clad, metallic natural uranium cylinder measuring 4 inches (10.16 cm) long x 1.1 inches (2.79 cm) in diameter. New fuel slugs were added manually at the front face (the loading face) of the reactor and irradiated slugs were pushed out through the back face of the reactor, dropping into a cooling water pool. The reactor was controlled by a set of vertical control rods.
The basic geometry of the X-10 reactor is shown below.
Site construction work started 75 years ago, on 27 April 1943. Initial criticality occurred less than seven months later, on 4 November 1943.
Plutonium was recovered from irradiated fuel slugs in a pilot-scale chemical separation line at Oak Ridge using the bismuth phosphate process. In April 1944, the first sample (grams) of reactor-bred plutonium from X-10 was delivered to Los Alamos. Analysis of this sample led Los Alamos scientists to eliminate one candidate plutonium bomb design (the “Thin Man” gun-type device) and focus their attention on the Fat Man implosion-type device. X-10 operated as a plutonium production reactor until January 1945, when it was turned over to research activities. X-10 was permanently shutdown on 4 November 1963, and was designated a National Historic Landmark on 15 October 1966.
K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant
Preliminary site work for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant began 75 years ago, in May 1943, with work on the main building starting in October 1943. The six-stage pilot plant was ready for operation on 17 April 1944.
The K-25 gaseous diffusion plant feed material was uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) from natural uranium and slightly enriched uranium from both the S-50 liquid thermal diffusion plant and the first (Alpha) stage of the Y-12 electromagnetic separation plant. During WW II, the K-25 plant was capable of producing uranium enriched up to about 23 at. % U-235. This product became feed material for the second (Beta) stage of the Y-12 electromagnetic separation process, which continued the enrichment process and produced weapons-grade U-235.
As experience with the gaseous diffusion process improved and additional cascades were added, K-25 became capable of delivering highly-enriched uranium after WW II.
You can take a virtual tour of K-25, including its decommissioning and cleanup, here:
Construction on the second Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion plant, K-27, began on 3 April 1945. This plant became operational after WW II. By 1955, the K-25 complex had grown to include gaseous diffusion buildings K-25, K-27, K-29, K-31 and K-33 that comprised a multi-building, enriched uranium production chain collectively known as the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP). Operation of the ORGDP continued until 1985.
Additional post-war gaseous diffusion plants based on the technology developed at Oak Ridge were built and operated in Paducah, KY (1952 – 2013) and Portsmouth, OH (1954 – 2001).
Y-12 Electromagnetic Separation Plant
In 1941, Earnest Lawrence modified the 37-inch (94 cm) cyclotron in his laboratory at the University of California Berkeley to demonstrate the feasibility of electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes using the same principle as a mass spectrograph.
The initial industrial-scale design agreed in 1942 was called an Alpha (α) calutron, which was designed to enrich natural uranium (@ 0.711 at.% U-235) to >10 at.% U-235. The later Beta (β) calutron was designed to further enrich the output of the Alpha calutrons, as well as the outputs from the K-25 and S-50 processes, and produce weapons-grade uranium at >88 at.% U-235.
The calutrons required large magnet coils to establish the strong electromagnetic field needed to separate the uranium isotopes U-235 and U-238. The shape of the magnet coils for both the Alfa and Beta calutrons resembled a racetrack, with many individual calutron modules (aka “tanks”) arranged side-by-side around the racetrack. At Y-12, there were nine Alpha calutron “tracks” (5 x Alpha-1 and 4 x Alpha-2 tracks), each with 96 calutron modules (tanks), for a total of 864 Alpha calutrons. In addition, there were eight Beta calutron tracks, each with 36 calutron modules, for a total of 288 beta calutrons, only 216 of which ever operated.
Due to wartime shortages of copper, the Manhattan Project arranged a loan from the Treasury Department of about 300 million Troy ounces (10,286 US tons) of silver for use in manufacturing the calutron magnet coils. A general arrangement of a Beta calutron module (tank) is shown in the following diagram, which also shows the isotope flight paths from the uranium tetrachloride (UCl4) ion source to the ion receivers. Separated uranium was recovered by burning the graphite ion receivers and extracting the metallic uranium from the ash.
Construction of Buildings 9731 and 9204-3 at the Y-12 complex began 75 years ago, in February 1943. By February 1944, initial operation of the Alpha calutrons had produced only 0.44 pounds (0.2 kg) of U-235 @ 12 at.%. By August 1945, the Y-12 Beta calutrons had produced the 92.6 pounds (42 kg) of weapons-grade uranium needed for the Little Boy atomic bomb.
After WW II, the silver was recovered from the calutron magnet coils and returned to the Treasury Department.
3.3. Hanford, Washington
On January 16, 1943, General Leslie Groves officially endorsed Hanford as the proposed plutonium production site, which was given the MED code name Site W. The plan was to construct three large graphite-moderated, water-cooled plutonium production reactors, designated B, D, and F, in along the Columbia River. The Hanford site also would include a facility for manufacturing the new uranium fuel slugs for the reactors as well as chemical separation plants and associated facilities to recover and process plutonium from the irradiated uranium slugs.
After WW II, six more plutonium production reactors were built at Hanford along with additional plutonium and nuclear waste processing and storage facilities.
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Hanford are:
B Reactor, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 19 August 2008
The previous Hanford High School in the former Town of Hanford and Hanford Construction Camp Historic District
Bruggemann’s Agricultural Warehouse Complex
White Bluffs Bank and Hanford Irrigation District Pump House
A brief overview of the B Reactor and the other Hanford production reactors is provided below. There’s more information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Hanford here:
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park does not include the Hanford chemical separation plants and associated plutonium facilities in the 200 Area, the uranium fuel production plant in the 300 Area, or the other eight plutonium production reactors that were built in the 100 Area. Information on all Hanford facilities, including their current cleanup status, is available on the Hanford website here:
The B Reactor at the Hanford Site was the world’s first full-scale reactor and the first of three plutonium production reactor of the same design that became operational at Hanford during WW II. B Reactor and the similar D and F Reactors were significantly larger graphite-moderated reactor than the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge. The rectangular reactor core measured 36 feet (11 m) wide x 36 feet (11 m) tall x 28 feet (8.53 m) deep, surrounded by radiation shielding. These reactors were fueled by aluminum clad, metallic natural fuel slugs measuring 8 inches (20.3 cm) long x 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter. As with the X-10 Graphite Reactor, new fuel slugs were inserted into process tubes (fuel channels) at the front face of the reactor. The irradiated fuel slugs were pushed out of the fuel channels at the back face of the reactor, falling into a water pool to allow the slugs to cool before further processing for plutonium recovery.
Reactor cooling was provided by the once-through flow of filtered and processed fresh water drawn from the Columbia River. The heated water was discharged from the reactor into large retention basins that allowed some cooling time before the water was returned to the Columbia River.
Construction of B Reactor began 75 years ago, in October 1943, and fuel loading started 11 months later, on September 13, 1944. Initial criticality occurred on 26 September 1944, followed shortly by operation at the initial design power of 250 MWt.
B Reactor was the first reactor to experience the effects of xenon poisoning due to the accumulation of Xenon (Xe-135) in the uranium fuel. Xe-135 is a decay product of the relatively short-lived (6.7 hour half-life) fission product iodine I-135. With its very high neutron cross-section, Xe-135 absorbed sufficient neutrons to significantly, and unexpectedly, reduce B Reactor power. Fortunately, DuPont had added more process tubes (a total of 2004) than called for in the original design of B Reactor. After the xenon poisoning problem was understood, additional fuel was loaded, providing the core with enough excess reactivity to override the neutron poisoning effects of Xe-135.
On 3 February 1945, the first batch of B Reactor plutonium was delivered to Los Alamos, just 10 months after the first small plutonium sample from the X-10 Graphite Reactor had been delivered.
Regular plutonium deliveries from the Hanford production reactors provided the plutonium needed for the first ever nuclear device (the Gadget) tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, NM on 16 July 1945, as well as for the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945 and an unused second Fat Man atomic bomb. These three devices each contained about 13.7 pounds (6.2 kilograms) of weapons-grade plutonium produced in the Hanford production reactors.
From March 1946 to June 1948, B Reactor was shut down for maintenance and modifications. In March 1949, B Reactor began the first tritium production campaign, irradiating targets containing lithium and producing tritium for hydrogen bombs.
By 1963, B Reactor was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt. B Reactor continued operation until 29 January 1968, when it was ordered shut down by the Atomic Energy Commission. Because of its historical significance, B Reactor was given special status that allows it to be open for public tours as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The Other WW II Production Reactors at the Hanford Site: D & F
During WW II, three plutonium reactors of the same design were operational at Hanford: B, D and F. All had an initial design power rating of 250 MWt and by 1963 all were permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.
D Reactor: This was the world’s second full-scale nuclear reactor. It became operational in December 1944, but experienced operational problems early in life due to growth and distortion of its graphite core. After developing a process for controlling graphite distortion, D Reactor operated successfully through June 1967.
F Reactor: This was the third of the original three production reactors at Hanford. It became operational in February 1945 and ran for more than twenty years until it was shut down in June1965.
D and F Reactors currently are in “interim safe storage,” which commonly is referred to as “cocooned.” These reactor sites are not part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
Post-war Production Reactors at Hanford: H, DR, C, K-West, K-East & N
After WW II, six additional plutonium production reactors were built and operated at Hanford. The first three, named H, DR and C, were very similar in design to the B, D and F Reactors. The next two, K-West and K-East, were of similar design, but significantly larger than their predecessors. The last reactor, named N, was a one-of-a kind design.
H Reactor: This was the first plutonium production reactor built at Hanford after WW II. It became operational in October 1949 with a design power rating of 400 MWt and by 1963 was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt. It operated for 15 years before being permanently shut down in April 1965.
DR Reactor: This reactor originally was planned as a replacement for the D Reactor and was built adjacent to the D Reactor site. DR became operational in October 1950 with an initial design power rating of 250 MWt. It operated in parallel with D Reactor for 14 years, and by 1963 was permitted to operate at the same maximum power level of 2,090 MWt. DR was permanently shut down in December 1964.
C Reactor: Reactor construction started June 1951 and it was completed in November 1952, operating initially at a design power of 650 MWt. By 1963, C Reactor was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,310 MWt. It operated for sixteen years before being shut down in April 1969. C Reactor was the first reactor at Hanford to be placed in interim safe storage, in 1998.
K-West & K-East Reactors: These larger reactors differed from their predecessors mainly in the size of the moderator stack, the number, size and type of process tubes (3,220 process tubes), the type of shielding and other materials employed, and the addition of a process heat recovery system to heat the facilities. These reactors were built side-by-side and became operational within four months of each other in 1955: K-West in January and K-East in April. These reactors initially had a design power of 1,800 MWt and by 1963 were permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 4,400 MWt before an administrative limit of 4,000 MWt was imposed by the Atomic Energy Commission. The two reactors ran for more than 15 years. K-West was permanently shut down in February 1970 followed by K-East in January 1971.
N Reactor: This was last of Hanford’s nine plutonium production reactors and the only one designed as a dual-purpose reactor capable of serving as a production reactor while also generating electric power for distribution to the external power grid. The N Reactor had a reactor design power rating of 4,000 MWt and was capable of generating 800 MWe. The N Reactor also was the only Hanford production reactor with a closed-loop primary cooling system. Plutonium production began in 1964, two years before the power generating part of the plant was completed in 1966. N Reactor operated for 24 years until 1987, when it was shutdown for routine maintenance. However, it never restarted, instead being placed in standby status by DOE and then later retired.
Four of these reactors (H, DR, C and N) are in interim safe storage while the other two (K-West and K-East) are being prepared for interim safe storage. None of these reactor sites are part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reported that the nine Hanford production reactors produced 67.4 metric tons of plutonium, including 54.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, through 1987 when the last Hanford production reactor (N Reactor) was shutdown.
4. Other Manhattan Project Sites
There are many MED sites that are not yet part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. You’ll find details on all of the MED sites on the American Heritage Foundation website, which you can browse at the following link:
Another site worth browsing is the interactive world map created by the ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues on Google Maps to show the locations and provide information on offices, mines, mills, plants, laboratories, and test sites of the US nuclear weapons complex from World War II to 2016. The map includes over 300 sites, including the Manhattan Project sites. I think you’ll enjoy exploring this interactive map.
Hanford site, plutonium production reactors and processing facilities:
“Hanford Site Historical District: History of the Plutonium Production Facilities 1943-1990,” DOE/RL-97-1047, Department of Energy, Hanford Cultural and Historical Resources Program, June 2002 https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/807939
In previous posts on 24 May 2015 and 28 June 2016, I reported on the TOP500 rankings of the world’s supercomputers.
In June 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho topped this this worldwide ranking with an Rmax Linpack score of 33 petaflops/second and retained the first place position for two years. In June 2016, the new leader was another Chinese supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight at the National Supercomputer Center in Wuxi. TaihuLight delivered an Rmax Linpack score of 93 petaflops/second and remained at the top of the worldwide ranking for two years, until it was eclipsed in June 2018 by the US Summit supercomputer, then with an Rmax rating of 122.3 petaflops / second.
In the latest TOP500 ranking, the new leaders are two US supercomputers: Summit (#1) and Sierra (#2).
Summit supercomputer. Source: NVIDIA
The IBM Summit improved its past Linpack score to achieve an Rmax of 143.5 petaflops / second in the current ranking. Summit is located at the Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.
873 megawatts peak power
Sierra supercomputer. Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory / Randy Wong
The IBM Sierra also improved its past Linpack score to achieve an Rmax of 94.64 petaflops / second and move into second place, marginally ahead of China’s TaihuLight. Sierra is located at the DOE Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.
438 megawatts peak power
The Summit and Sierra supercomputer cores are IBM POWER9 central processing units (CPUs) and NVIDIA V100 graphic processing units (GPUs). NVIDIA claims that its GPUs are delivering 95% of Summit’s performance. Both supercomputers use a Linux operating system.
China’s Sunway TaihuLight was ranked 3rd, and Tianhe-2A was ranked 4th. A total of five DOE supercomputers were in the top 10 positions.
You’ll find the complete 52ndedition (November 2018) TOP500 ranking here:
20 February 2019 Update: Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) plans new supercomputer
The TOP500 ranking places LANL’s Trinity supercomputer (a Cray XC40) as the #6 fastest supercomputer in the world, but its performance (Rmax of 20.16 petaflops / second) is far below that of the #1 Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge national Laboratory and the #2 Sierra supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Not to be outdone, LANL issued a request for proposal (RFP) in February 2019 for a new supercomputer, to be named Crossroads, to support the lab’s missions for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). A LANL spokesperson reported that, “High performance computing across the NNSA complex is used to assure the safety, security and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; to analyze and predict the performance, safety, and reliability of nuclear weapons and certify their functionality.” Responses to the RFP are due by 18 March 2019. Crossroads is expected to go online in 2021.
In 2015, I compiled the first edition of a resource document to support a presentation I made in August 2015 to The Lyncean Group of San Diego (www.lynceans.org) commemorating the 60thanniversary of the world’s first “underway on nuclear power” by USS Nautilus on 17 January 1955. That presentation to the Lyncean Group, “60 years of Marine Nuclear Power: 1955 –2015,” was my attempt to tell a complex story, starting from the early origins of the US Navy’s interest in marine nuclear propulsion in 1939, resetting the clock on 17 January 1955 with USS Nautilus’ historic first voyage, and then tracing the development and exploitation of marine nuclear power over the next 60 years in a remarkable variety of military and civilian vessels created by eight nations.
Here’s a quick overview at worldwide marine nuclear in 2018.
Source: two charts by author
In July 2018, I finished a complete update of the resource document and changed the title to, “Marine Nuclear Power: 1939 –2018.” Due to its present size (over 2,100 pages), the resource document now consists of the following parts, all formatted as slide presentations:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2A: United States – Submarines
Part 2B: United States – Surface Ships
Part 3A: Russia – Submarines
Part 3B: Russia – Surface Ships & Non-propulsion Marine Nuclear Applications
Part 4: Europe & Canada
Part 5: China, India, Japan and Other Nations
Part 6: Arctic Operations
The original 2015 resource document and this updated set of documents were compiled from unclassified, open sources in the public domain.
I acknowledge the great amount of work done by others who have published material in print or posted information on the internet pertaining to international marine nuclear propulsion programs, naval and civilian nuclear powered vessels, naval weapons systems, and other marine nuclear applications. My resource document contains a great deal of graphics from many sources. Throughout the document, I have identified the sources for these graphics.
You can access all parts of Marine Nuclear Power: 1939 – 2018 here:
The Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research, also known as GUGI and Military Unit 40056, is an organizational structure within the Russian Ministry of Defense that is separate from the Russian Navy. The Head of GUGI is Vice-Admiral Aleksei Burilichev, Hero of Russia.
Source. Adapted from Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, http://eng.mil.ru/en/index.htm
Vice-Admiral Aleksei Burilichev at the commissioning of GUGI oceanographic research vessel Yantar. Source: http://eng.mil.ru/
GUGI is responsible for fielding specialized submarines, oceanographic research ships, undersea drones and autonomous vehicles, sensor systems, and other undersea systems. Today, GUGI operates the world’s largest fleet of covert manned deep-sea vessels. In mid-2018, that fleet consisted of eight very specialized nuclear-powered submarines.
There are six nuclear-powered, deep-diving, small submarines (“nuclear deep-sea stations”), each of which is capable of working at great depth (thousands of meters) for long periods of time. These subs are believed to have diver lockout facilities to deploy divers at shallower depths.
One Project 1851 / 18510 Nelma (aka X-Ray) sub delivered in 1986; Length: 44 m (144.4 ft.); displacement about 529 tons submerged. This is the first and smallest of the Russian special operations nuclear-powered submarines.
Two Project 18511 Halibut (aka Paltus) subs delivered between 1994 – 95; Length: 55 m (180.4 ft.); displacement about 730 tons submerged.
Three Project 1910 Kashalot (aka Uniform) subs delivered between 1986 – 1991, but only two are operational in 2018; Length: 69 m (226.4 ft.); displacement about 1,580 tons submerged.
One Project 09851 Losharik (aka NORSUB-5) sub delivered in about 2003; Length: 74 m (242.8 ft.); displacement about 2,100 tons submerged.
The trend clearly is toward larger, and certainly more capable deep diving special operations submarines. The larger subs have a crew complement of 25 – 35.
Kashalot notional cross-section diagram. Source: adapted from militaryrussia.ru
Kashalot notional diagram showing deployed positioning thrusters, landing legs and tools for working on the bottom. Source: http://nvs.rpf.ru/nvs/forum
The Russian small special operations subs may have been created in response to the U.S. Navy’s NR-1 small, deep-diving nuclear-powered submarine, which entered service in 1969. NR-1 had a length of 45 meters (147.7 ft.) and a displacement of about 400 tons submerged, making it roughly comparable to the Project 1851 / 18510 Nelma . NR-1 was retired in 2008, leaving the U.S. with no counterpart to the Russian fleet of small, nuclear-powered special operations subs.
GUGI operates two nuclear-powered “motherships” (PLA carriers) that can transport one of the smaller nuclear deep-sea stations to a distant site and provide support throughout the mission. The current two motherships started life as Delta III and Delta IV strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The original SSBN missile tubes were removed and the hulls were lengthened to create large midship special mission compartments with a docking facility on the bottom of the hull for one of the small, deep-diving submarines. These motherships probably have a test depth of about 250 to 300 meters (820 to 984 feet). They are believed to have diver lockout facilities for deploying divers.
General arrangement of a Russian mothership carrying a small special operations submarine. Source: http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2015/08/russias-own-jimmy-carter-special-ops.html
The motherships also are believed capable of deploying and retrieving a variety of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), including the relatively large Harpsichord: Length: 6.5 m (21.3 ft.); Diameter 1 m (3.2 ft.); Weight: 3,700 kg (8,157 pounds).
These nuclear submarines are operated by the 29th Special Submarine Squadron, which is based along with other GUGI vessels at Olenya Bay, in the Kola Peninsula on the coast of the Barents Sea.
Olenya Bay is near Murmansk. Source: Google Maps
Russian naval facilities near Murmansk. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org
Mothership BS-136 Orenburg at Oleyna Bay. Source: Source: http://www.air-defense.net/
The GUGI fleet provides deep ocean and Arctic operating capabilities that greatly exceed those of any other nation. Potential missions include:
Conducting subsea surveys, mapping and sampling (i.e., to help validate Russia’s extended continental shelf claims in the Arctic; to map potential future targets such as seafloor cables)
Placing and/or retrieving items on the sea floor (i.e., retrieving military hardware, placing subsea power sources, power distribution systems and sonar arrays)
Maintaining military subsea equipment and systems
Conducting covert surveillance
Developing an operational capability to deploy the Poseidon strategic nuclear torpedo.
In time of war, attacking the subsea infrastructure of other nations in the open ocean or in the Arctic (i.e., cutting subsea internet cables, power cables or oil / gas pipelines)
Analysts at the firm Policy Exchange reported that the world’s undersea cable network comprises about 213 independent cable systems and 545,018 miles (877,121 km) of fiber-optic cable. These undersea cable networks carry an estimated 97% of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted by cables under the ocean.
Since about 2015, NATO has observed Russian vessels stepping up activities around undersea data cables in the North Atlantic. None are known to have been tapped or cut. Selective attacks on this cable infrastructure could electronically isolate and severely damage the economy of individual countries or regions. You’ll find a more detailed assessment on this matter in the 15 December 2017 BBC article, “Russia a ‘risk’ to undersea cables, Defence chief warns.”
GUGI also is responsible for the development of the Poseidon (formerly known as Status-6 / Kanyon) strategic nuclear torpedo and the associated “carrier” submarines.
Poseidon, which was first revealed on Russian TV in November 2015, is a large, nuclear-powered, autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that functionally is a giant, long-range torpedo.
The Russian TV “reveal” of the Oceanic Multipurpose System Status-6 November 2015. Source: https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/tag/9m730/
It is capable of delivering a very large nuclear warhead (perhaps up to 100 MT) underwater to the immediate proximity of an enemy’s key economic and military facilities in coastal areas. It is a weapon of unprecedented destructive power and it is not subject to any existing nuclear arms limitation treaties. However, its development would give Russia leverage in future nuclear arms limitation talks.
The immense physical size of the Poseidon strategic nuclear torpedo is evident in the size comparison chart below.
The Bulava is the Russian submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) carried on Russia’s modern Borei-class SSBNs. The UGST torpedo is representative of a typical torpedo launched from a 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tube, which is found on the majority of submarines in the world. An experimental submarine, the B-90 Sarov, appears to be the current testbed for the Poseidon strategic torpedo. Russia is building other special submarines to carry several Poseidon strategic torpedoes. One is believed to be the giant, highly modified Oscar II submarine KC-139 Belogrod, which also will serve as a mothership for a small, special operations nuclear sub.The other is the smaller Project 09851 submarine Khabarovsk, which appears to be purpose-built for carrying the Poseidon.
For more information on GUGI, Russian special operations submarines and other covert underwater projects, refer to the Covert Shores website created by naval analyst H. I. Sutton, which you’ll find at the following link:
The latest U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), is the first of a new class (the Ford-class) of carriers that is intended to replace the already-retired USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and all 10 of the Nimitz-class carriers (CVN-68 to CVN-77) as they retire after 49 years of service between 2024 to 2058. Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a Division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, built all U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and is the prime contractor for the Ford-class carriers.
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) was authorized in fiscal year 2008. Actual construction took almost four years from keel laying on 13 November 2009 to launching on 11 October 2013. NNS uses a modular construction process to build major subassemblies in industrial areas adjacent to the drydock and then move each modular unit into the drydock when it is ready to be joined to the rapidly growing structure of the ship.
Overview of the NNS shipyard and CVN-78 in January 2012. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding / Chris OxleyCVN-78 under construction in the NNS drydock. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding
NNS created a short video of an animated 3-D model of CVN-78 showing the arrival and placement of major modules during the 4-year construction period. Highlights are shown in the screenshots below, and the link to the NNS animated video is here:
In this video, you’ll see major subassemblies, like the entire bow structure and the island superstructure moved into place with heavy-lift cranes.
CVN-78 lower bow unit being moved into place in 2012. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding / Ricky ThompsonCVN-78 “island” superstructure being moved into place. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding
After launching, another 3-1/2 years were required for outfitting and testing the ship dockside, loading the two Bechtel A1B reactors, and then conducting sea trials before the ship was accepted by the Navy and commissioned in July 2017.
CVN-78 underway. Source: U.S. Navy
Since commissioning, the Navy has been conducting extensive operational tests all ship systems. Of particular interest are new ElectroMAgnetic Launch System (EMALS) and the electro-mechanical Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system that replace the traditional steam catapults and hydraulic arresting gear on Nimitz-class CVNs. If all tests go well, USS Gerald R. Ford is expected to be ready for its first deployment in late 2019 or early 2020.
So, how much did it cost to deliver the USS Gerald R. Ford to the Navy? About $12.9 B in then-year (2008) dollars, according Congressional Research Service (CRS) report RS-20643, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” dated 9 August 2017. You can download this CRS report here:
Milestones for the next two Ford-class carriers are summarized below:
CVN-79, USS John. F. Kennedy: Procured in FY 2013; scheduled for delivery in September 2024 at a cost of $11.4 B in then-year (2013) dollars.
CVN-80: USS Enterprise: To be procured in FY 2018; scheduled for delivery in September 2027 at a cost of about $13 B in then-year (2018) dollars.
To recapitalize the entire fleet of 10 Nimitz-class carriers will cost more than $130 B by the time the last Nimitz-class CVN, USS George H.W. Bush, is scheduled to retire in 2058 and be replaced by a new Ford-class CVN.
The current Congressional mandate is for an 11-ship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier fleet. On 15 December 2016, the Navy presented a new force structure assessment with a goal to increase the U.S. fleet size from the currently authorized limit of 308 vessels to 355 vessels. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength reported that the Navy’s actual fleet size in early 2017 was 274 vessels, so the challenge of re-building to a 355 ship fleet is much bigger than it may sound, especially when you account for the many planned retirements of aging vessels in the following decades. The Navy’s Force Structure Assessment for a 355-ship fleet includes a requirement for 12 CVNs. The CRS provided their commentary on the 355-ship fleet plans in a report entitled, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” dated 22 September 2017. You can download that report here:
As the world’s political situation continues to change, there may be reasons to change the type of aircraft carrier that is procured by the Navy. Rand Corporation provided the most recent assessment of this issue in their 2017 report entitled, “ Future Aircraft Carrier Options.” The Assessment Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations sponsored this report. You can download this report at the following link:
The United States Air Force began investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the fall of 1947 under a program called Project Sign, which later became Project Grudge, and in January 1952 became Project Blue Book. As you might expect, the USAF developed a reporting protocol for these projects.
Starting in 1951, the succession of Air Force documents that provided UFO reporting guidance is summarized below:
Headquarters USAF Letter AFOIN-C/CC-2
This letter, entitled, “Reporting of Information on Unidentified Flying Objects,” dated 19 December 1951, may be the original guidance document for UFO reporting. So far, I have been unable to find a copy of this document. The Project Blue Book archives contain examples of UFO reports from 1952 citing AFOIN-C/CC-2.
Air Force Letter AFL 200-5
The first reporting protocol I could find was Air Force Letter AFL 200-5, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting,” dated 29 April 1952, which was issued on behalf of the Secretary of the USAF by Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the USAF.
Defines UFOs as, “any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type.”
UFO reporting is treated as an Intelligence activity (denoted by the 200-series document number)
Provides brief guidance on report content, which was to be submitted on AF Form 112, “Air Intelligence Information Report,” and not classified higher than RESTRICTED.
The local Commanding Officer is responsible for forwarding FLYOBRPTS to the appropriate agencies. FLYOBRPT is an acronym for FLYing OBject RePorT.
Responsibility for investigating UFOs was assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. ATIC was a field activity of the Directorate of Intelligence in USAF Headquarters.
AFL 200-5 does not indicate that it superseded any prior USAF UFO reporting guidance document, but it is likely that it replaced USAF letter AFOIN-C/CC-2, dated 19 December 1951.
In 1953, the AITC issued “How to Make FLYOBRPTs,” dated 25 July 1953, to help improve reporting required by AFL 200-5.
This guidance document provides an interesting narrative about UFOs through 1953, explains how to collect information on a UFO sighting, including interacting with the public during the investigation, and how to complete a FLYOBRPT using four detailed data collection forms.
Ground Observer’s Information Sheet (9 pages)
Electronics Data Sheet (radar) (5 pages)
Airborne Observer’s Data Sheet (9 pages) and,
Supporting Data form (8 pages)
This report showed that the USAF had a sense of humor about UFO reporting.
Download “How to Make FLYOBRPTs” at the following link:
Superseded AFR 200-2 dated 26 August 1953 and Change 200-2A
Identifies the USAF interest in UFOs as follows: “Air Force interest in unidentified flying objects is twofold: First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces, and secondly, to determine technical aspects involved.”
Defines an expected report format that is less comprehensive than the guidance in “How to Make FLYOBRPTs.”
Clarifies that Headquarters USAF will release summaries of evaluated data to the public. Also notes that it is permissible to respond to local inquiries when the object is positively identified as a “familiar object” (not a UFO). In other cases, the only response is that ATIC will analyze the data.
Download this version of AFR 200-2 at the following link:
AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 5 February 1958
Supersedes the version dated 12 August 1954
Broadens the USAF interest in UFOs: “First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces; second, to determine the technical or scientific characteristics of any such UFOs; third, to explain or identify all UFO sightings…”
Updates report formats and provides additional guidance on reporting
Download this version from the CIA website at the following link:
AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 14 September 1959
Supersedes the version dated 5 February 1958
AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 20 July 1962
Supersedes the version dated 14 September 1959
Superseded by AFR 80-17
Air Force Regulation AFR 80-17
In 1966, the USAF issued AFR 80-17, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 19 September 1966
Supersedes AFR 200-2 dated 20 July 1962.
Two changes were issued:
AFR 80-17, Change 80-17A, dated 8 November 1966
AFR 80-17, Change 1, dated 26 October 1968, superseded AFR 80-17A, 8 November 1966
No longer considers UFO reporting as an intelligence activity, as denoted by the 80-series number assigned to the AFR
Places UFO reporting under the Research and Development Command. This is consistent with recasting ATIC into the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) of the Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson AFB.
Broadly redefines UFO as “any aerial phenomenon which is unknown or appears out of the ordinary to the observer.”
Orders all Air Force bases to provide an investigative capability
Change 80-17A assigned University of Colorado to conduct an independent scientific investigation of UFOs. Physicist Edward U. Condon would direct this work.
Download AFR 80-17, with change 80-17A and change 1 here:
In late October 1968, the University of Colorado’s final report was completed and submitted for review by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. The panel approved of the methodology and concurred with Edward Condon’s conclusion:
“That nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”
In January 1969, a 965-page paperback version of the report was published under the title, “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.”
On 17 December 1969, Air Force Secretary Robert C. Seamans, Jr., announced the termination of Project Blue Book.
You’ll find a good history by of the U.S. Air Force UFO programs written by Thomas Tulien at the following link:
This year is the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists describes as follows:
“The Doomsday Clock is a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.”
You’ll find an overview on the Doomsday Clock here:
The Clock was last changed in 2015 from five to three minutes to midnight. In January 2016, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand did not change.
On 26 January 2017, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates, decided to reset the Doomsday Clock to 2-1/2 minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has been to midnight in 64 years, since the early days of above ground nuclear device testing.
The Science and Security Board warned:
“In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater (than in 2015 and 2016), the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”
You can read the Science and Security Board’s complete statement at the following link:
Their rationale for resetting the clock is not based on a single issue, but rather, the aggregate effects of the following issues, as described in their statement:
A dangerous nuclear situation on multiple fronts
Stockpile modernization by current nuclear powers, particularly the U.S. and Russia, has the potential to grow rather than reduce worldwide nuclear arsenals
Stagnation in nuclear arms control
Continuing tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan
North Korea’s continuing nuclear development
The Iran nuclear deal has been successful in accomplishing its goals in its first year, but its future is in doubt under the new U.S. administration
Careless rhetoric about nuclear weapons is destabilizing; for example, the U.S. administration’s suggestion that South Korea and Japan acquire their own nuclear weapons to counter North Korea
The clear need for climate action
The Paris Agreement went into effect in 2016
Continued warming of the world was measured in 2016
S. administration needs to make a clear, unequivocal statement that it accepts climate change, caused by human activity, as a scientific reality
Nuclear power: An option worth careful consideration
Nuclear power a tempting part of the solution to the climate change problem
The scale of new nuclear power plant construction does not match the need for clean energy
In the short to medium term, governments should discourage the premature closure of existing reactors that are safe and economically viable
In the longer term, deploy new types of reactors that can be built quickly and are at least as safe as the commercial nuclear plants now operating
Deal responsibly with safety issues and with the commercial nuclear waste problem
Potential threats from emerging technologies
Technology continues to outpace humanity’s capacity to control it
Cyber attacks can undermining belief in representative government and thereby endangering humanity as a whole
Autonomous machine systems open up a new set of risks that require thoughtful management
Advances in synthetic biology, including the Crispr gene-editing tool, have great positive potential, but also can be misused to create bioweapons and other dangerous manipulations of genetic material
Potentially existential threats posed by a host of rapidly emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated and managed.
Reducing risk: Expert advice
The Board is extremely concerned about the willingness of governments around the world— including the incoming U.S. administration—to ignore or discount sound science and considered expertise during their decision-making processes
Prior to the formal decision on the 2017 setting of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin took a poll to determine public sentiment on what the setting should be. Here are the results of this public pole.
On 18 January 2017, Senator John McCain, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), issued a white paper entitled, “Restoring American Power,” laying out SASC’s defense budget recommendations for the next five years; FY 2018 – 2022.
You can download this white paper at the following link:
The white paper starts by describing how the Budget Control Act of 2011 failed to meet its intended goal (reducing the national debt) and led to a long series of budget compromises between Congress and Department of Defense (DoD). These budget compromises, coupled with other factors (i.e., sustained military engagements in the Middle East), have significantly reduced the capacity and readiness of all four branches of the U.S. military. From this low point, the SASC white paper defines a roadmap for starting to rebuild a more balanced military.
If you have read my posts on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (18 December 2016) and the Columbia Class SSBN (13 January 2017), then you should be familiar with issues related to two of the programs addressed in the SASC white paper.
For a detailed assessment of the white paper, see Jerry Hendrix’s post, “McCain’s Excellent White Paper: Smaller Carriers, High-Low Weapons Mix, Frigates and Cheap Fighters,” on the Breaking Defense website at the following link:
On 14 December, 2016, the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced that the new class of U.S. fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines will be known as the Columbia-class, named after the lead ship, USS Columbia, SSBN-826 and the District of Columbia. Formerly, this submarine class was known simply as the “Ohio Replacement Program”.
Columbia-class SSBN. Source: U.S. Navy
There will be 12 Columbia-class SSBNs replacing 14 Ohio-class SSBNs. The Navy has designated this as its top priority program. All of the Columbia-class SSBNs will be built at the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT.
Background – Ohio-class SSBNs
Ohio-class SSBNs make up the current fleet of U.S. FBM submarines, all of which were delivered to the Navy between 1981 and 1997. Here are some key points on the Ohio-class SSBNs:
Electric Boat’s FY89 original contract for construction of the lead ship, USS Ohio, was for about $1.1 billion. In 1996, the Navy estimated that constructing the original fleet of 18 Ohio-class SSBNs and outfitting them with the Trident weapons system cost $34.8 billion. That’s an average cost of about $1.9 billion per sub.
On average, each SSBN spend 77 days at sea, followed by 35 days in-port for maintenance.
Each crew consists of about 155 sailors.
The Ohio-class SSBNs will reach the ends of their service lives at a rate of about one per year between 2029 and 2040.
The Ohio SSBN fleet currently is carrying about 50% of the total U.S. active inventory of strategic nuclear warheads on Trident II submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In 2018, when the New START nuclear force reduction treaty is fully implemented, the Ohio SSBN fleet will be carrying approximately 70% of that active inventory, increasing the strategic importance of the U.S. SSBN fleet.
It is notable that the Trident II missile initial operating capability (IOC) occurred in March 1990. The Trident D5LE (life-extension) version is expected to remain in service until 2042.
Columbia basic design features
Features of the new Columbia-class SSBN include:
42 year ship operational life
Life-of-the-ship reactor core (no refueling)
16 missile tubes vs. 24 on the Ohio-class
43’ (13.1 m) beam vs. 42’ (13 m) on the Ohio-class
560’ (170.7 m) long, same as Ohio-class
Slightly higher displacement (likely > 20,000 tons) than the Ohio class
Electric drive vs. mechanical drive on the Ohio-class
X-stern planes vs. cruciform stern planes on the Ohio-class
Accommodations for 155 sailors, same as Ohio
Design collaboration with the UK
The U.S. Navy and the UK’s Royal Navy are collaborating on design features that will be common between the Columbia-class and the UK’s Dreadnought-class SSBNs (formerly named “Successor” class). These features include:
Common Missile Compartment (CMC)
Common SLBM fire control system
The CMC is being designed as a structural “quad-pack”, with integrated missile tubes and submarine hull section. Each tube measures 86” (2.18 m) in diameter and 36’ (10.97 m) in length and can accommodate a Trident II SLBM, which is the type currently deployed on both the U.S. and UK FBM submarine fleets. In October 2016, General Dynamics received a $101.3 million contract to build the first set of CMCs.
CMC “quad-pack.” Source: General Dynamics via U.S. Navy
The “Submarine Shaftless Drive” (SDD) concept that the UK is believed to be planning for their Dreadnought SSBN has been examined by the U.S. Navy, but there is no information on the choice of propulsor for the Columbia-class SSBN.
Design & construction cost
In the early 2000s, the Navy kicked off their future SSBN program with a “Material Solution Analysis” phase that included defining initial capabilities and development strategies, analyzing alternatives, and preparing cost estimates. The “Milestone A” decision point reached in 2011 allowed the program to move into the “Technology Maturation & Risk Reduction” phase, which focused on refining capability definitions and developing various strategies and plans needed for later phases. Low-rate initial production and testing of certain subsystems also is permitted in this phase. Work in these two “pre-acquisition” phases is funded from the Navy’s research & development (R&D) budget.
On 4 January 2017, the Navy announced that the Columbia-class submarine program passed its “Milestone B” decision review. The Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) was signed by the Navy’s acquisition chief Frank Kendall. This means that the program legally can move into the Engineering & Manufacturing Development Phase, which is the first of two systems acquisition phases funded from the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. Detailed design is performed in this phase. In parallel, certain continuing technology development / risk reduction tasks are funded from the Navy’s R&D budget.
The Navy’s proposed FY2017 budget for the Columbia SSBN program includes $773.1 million in the shipbuilding budget for the first boat in the class, and $1,091.1 million in the R&D budget.
The total budget for the Columbia SSBN program is a bit elusive. In terms of 2010 dollars, the Navy had estimated that lead ship would cost $10.4 billion ($4.2 billion for detailed design and non-recurring engineering work, plus $6.2 billion for construction) and the 11 follow-on SSBNs will cost $5.2 billion each. Based on these cost estimates, construction of the new fleet of 12 SSBNs would cost $67.6 billion in 2010 dollars. Frank Kendall’s ADM provided a cost estimate in terms of 2017 dollars in which the detailed design and non-recurring engineering work was amortized across the fleet of 12 SSBNs. In this case, the “Average Procurement Unit Cost” was $8 billion per SSBN. The total program cost is expected to be about $100 billion in 2017 dollars for a fleet of 12 SSBNs. There’s quite a bit if inflation between the 2010 estimate and new 2017 estimate, and that doesn’t account for future inflation during the planned construction program that won’t start until 2021 and is expected to continue at a rate of one SSBN authorized per year.
The UK is contributing financially to common portions of the Columbia SSBN program. I have not yet found a source for details on the UK’s contributions and how they add to the estimate for total program cost.
Operation & support (O&S) cost
The estimated average O&S cost target of each Columbia-class SSBN is $110 million per year in constant FY2010 dollars. For the fleet of 12 SSBNs, that puts the annual total O&S cost at $1.32 billion in constant FY2010 dollars.
An updated schedule for Columbia-class SSBN program was not included in the recent Navy announcements. Previously, the Navy identified the following milestones for the lead ship:
FY2017: Start advance procurement for lead ship
FY2021: Milestone C decision, which will enable the program to move into the Production and Deployment Phase and start construction of the lead ship
2027: Deliver lead ship to the Navy
2031: Lead ship ready to conduct 1st strategic deterrence patrol
Keeping the Columbia-class SSBN construction program on schedule is important to the nation’s, strategic deterrence capability. The first Ohio-class SSBNs are expected start retiring in 2029, two years before the first Columbia-class SSBN is delivered to the fleet. The net result of this poor timing will be a 6 – 7 year decline in the number of U.S. SSBNs from the current level of 14 SSBNs to 10 SSBNs in about 2032. The SSBN fleet will remain at this level for almost a decade while the last Ohio-class SSBNs are retiring and are being replaced one-for-one by new Columbia-class SSBNs. Finally, the U.S. SSBN fleet will reach its authorized level of 12 Columbia-class SSBNs in about 2042. This is about the same time when the Trident D5LE SLBMs arming the entire Columbia-class fleet will need to be replaced by a modern SLBM.
You can see the fleet size projections for all classes of Navy submarines in the following chart. The SSBN fleet is represented by the middle trend line.
Source: U.S. Navy 30-year Submarine Shipbuilding Plan 2017
Based on the Navy’s recent poor performance in other major new shipbuilding programs (Ford-class aircraft carrier, Nimitz-class destroyer, Littoral Combat Ship), their ability to meet the projected delivery schedule for the Columbia-class SSBN’s must be regarded with some skepticism. However, the Navy’s Virginia-class attack submarine (SSN) construction program has been performing very well, with some new SSNs being delivered ahead of schedule and below budget. Hopefully, the submarine community can maintain the good record of the Virginia-class SSNs program and deliver a similarly successful, on-time Columbia-class SSBN program.
For more information, refer to the 25 October 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service, “Navy Columbia Class (Ohio Replacement) Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” which you can download at the following link: