[FPSPACE] If anyone wonders whether NASA has an effect on the Dept. of Defense....

Peter Pesavento pjp961 at svol.net
Mon Jun 16 14:25:36 EDT 2014


I thought that this would be a very interesting story to provide fpspacers
here.

 

Solid rocket fuel boosters (whether or not) ordered/developed by NASA
affects US Navy's ability to have its SLBMs for the Trident submarine
program.

 

>From breakingdefense.com

 

 

http://breakingdefense.com/2014/06/fading-solid-fuel-engine-biz-threatens-na
vys-trident-missile/

 


 
<http://breakingdefense.com/2014/06/fading-solid-fuel-engine-biz-threatens-n
avys-trident-missile/> Fading Solid Fuel Engine Biz Threatens Navy's Trident
Missile 


By  <http://breakingdefense.com/author/sydney-j-freedberg-jr/> Sydney J.
Freedberg Jr. on June 16, 2014 at 10:07 AM

 

CAPITOL HILL: "Failure to launch" isn't a metaphorical concern when you work
on nuclear
<http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/how-to-fix-our-broken-nuclear-weapons-en
terprise-dod-must-take-over/>  weapons. That's why the director of the
Navy's euphemistically named Strategic Systems Program (SSP) is a worried
man. What has Vice Adm. Terry Benedict worried is something neither he, nor
the Navy nor the entire Defense Department directly control. It's the
viability of what Benedict called "an already fragile industry" that
produces the solid-fuel rocket boosters for the Navy's Trident
submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The worst part is that the
solid fuel rocket engine business is an industry that will live or die not
on the military's own decisions, but on NASA
<http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/navy-seeks-sub-replacement-savings-from-
nasa-rocket-boosters-to-reused-access-doors/> 's.

"NASA is the large procurer in this whole equation, so what NASA does
affects everyone," from the Navy to the custodian of the nation's spy
satellites, the National Reconnaissance Organization, Benedict told me after
the Peter Huessy Congressional Breakfast here. The retirement of the Space
Shuttle already hit US rocket-motor manufacturers hard and raised prices for
the industry's remaining customers, including the Trident program. Yes, in
theory you could import rocket boosters from abroad, but in practice the big
seller is
<http://breakingdefense.com/2014/06/russias-information-war-latvian-ambassad
or-finnish-strategist-warn-on-cyber/> Russia, which is a problematic partner
on rocket
<http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/pentagon-mulls-building-all-american-roc
ket-engines-dropping-russian-rd-180s/>  programs (and other things) right
now. "I don't think we'd ever procure Trident motors outside the United
States," Benedict said bluntly when I raised the prospect.

Next, in 2016, NASA will decide whether its new boosters will use liquid
fuel, solid propellant, or a mix. If they go all or mostly liquid, that's a
potential death blow for domestic solid fuel manufacturing, and the
Trident's a solid-fuel missile. Even if the Navy could afford to design a
replacement, it would still have to use solid propellant, because liquid
rocket fuel is simply unsafe in the tight confines of a submarine.

That's a unique Navy dilemma. In the
<http://breakingdefense.com/2014/03/change-how-we-test-care-feed-air-force-i
cbm-crews/>  Air Force ICBM program, for instance, "they do use liquids
today in their upper stage," Benedict told me. "Liquid [fuels] are a
prohibited item on submarines."

This isn't a problem Benedict or his bosses at the Pentagon can fix by
themselves. "I don't think this is an SSP issue, an Navy issue, a Department
of Defense issue: This is a national issue," Benedict said. "If you want to
have that capability, it should not be on SSP's back" to keep the industry
alive until someone else decides to start buying again.

That sounds awfully similar to the argument that Benedict's shipbuilding
colleagues make about the submarine that will carry the Tridents when the
current Ohio--class SSBN becomes too old to operate in the 2030s: The
<http://breakingdefense.com/2012/10/navy-fears-pentagon-neglects-new-missile
-sub-ssbn-x-must-survi/>  Ohio Replacement Program (formerly SSBN(X)) is too
expensive and too important for the Navy budget to have to carry alone, they
argue. Congressional supporters are moving to set up a special account for
ORP outside the Navy budget, but actually finding the funding will be much
harder.

The service has already decided to save money by pouring old wine into new
bottles. It will equip the future sub with the existing Trident D-5 missile
- already 25 years old this December - rather than design a new one. That
plan will keep the D-5 in service "more than twice as long as any previous
missile program," Benedict told the breakfast audience. "We will be entering
uncharted territory."

It's up to Benedict and SSP to keep the Trident functional for decades to
come. They're working hard on overhauling and replacing aging components,
from the flight controls to the navigation system to the rocket motor. SSP
is buying least 12 new boosters a year to replace ones getting too old to
safely use. (Trident fuel contains nitroglycerine and, unlike wine and
cheese, definitely does not improve with age). But SSP is a relatively small
player in the rocket motor market.

So what's Plan B? If the Navy can't convince NASA to keep buying solid
propellant, maybe it can convince the Air Force to do so when it eventually
builds the new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent. Currently the Air Force has
fully modernized its inventory of rocket motors and stopped procurement,
Benedict said, but it is conducting an official Analysis Of Alternatives
(AOA) for the future GBSD missile, and Benedict's staff are participating.

"In the past, it's been, 'the Navy designs SLBMs, the Air Force designs
ICBMs, and never shall they talk,'" Benedict said at breakfast. "I'm trying
to break down those walls..We should be required to talk at the design and
development phase."

There are even commercial users of solid propellant - but they use
lower-powered varieties than the Navy requires, so a single formula won't
work for civilians, sailors, and Air Force missileers. "You'd love it to be
common across everybody; I'm not sure that's realistic," Benedict said. "But
can we create a 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]? That's exactly the R
<http://breakingdefense.com/tag/research-and-development/> &D that we're
running with the Air Force and with industry right now, and quite frankly
it's giving us some pretty positive returns."

 

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