A key Navy leader said his service should cooperate with the Air Force on modernizing strategic missiles to cut costs.
Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Program, in a breakfast speech last week said, “In the past, it’s been, ‘the Navy designs [submarine-launched ballistic missiles], the Air Force designs [intercontinental ballistic missiles], and never shall they talk,’” Breaking Defense reported. “I’m trying to break down those walls. … We should be required to talk at the design and development phase.”
Benedict said NASA’s decision to end its Space Shuttle program has had a huge impact on the domestic rocket-engine industry because the space agency was the biggest purchaser of solid-fuel rocket boosters, which are also used in the Navy’s Trident nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. As a result, industry prices have risen.
The vice admiral said if the Navy is unable to persuade NASA to keep purchasing solid-fuel boosters for other space programs it could try to convince the Air Force to continue using such boosters in its updated land-based missile force. The Navy cannot switch to a liquid-fuel model for its missiles because the propellant is not safe within the narrow confines of a submarine, according to the online defense magazine.
The Air Force is expected by the end of the month to wrap up an “analysis of alternatives” for maintaining a future ICBM capability. The service has said it will look to “buy the most economical and enduring option” for each component of its updated land-based strategic missile.
Benedict said he would like to see the development of a rocket “propellant mix that uses common constituents, so that we can get the cost advantage of bulk buys, and then mix them potentially in slightly different formulations [for each user].”